Tablet, Shmablet! Why iPad, Tablets Are Just a Fad

By Pedro Pereira  |  Print this article Print

A sales rep may show charts or a demo on an iPad or other tablet. Retail stores and restaurants can show prices and specials. Chances are, however, you'll want to use a real computer to create that content.

Mark me down as a skeptic of all the tablet hoopla. Sure iPads are cool, but most other tablets have failed to rouse any real interest in the market, so don’t toss your laptops to the junk heap just yet.

The iPad is no iPhone. It’s more like the iPod and, as such, will likely turn out to be a singular phenomenon – a limited-use product that only Apple can build excitement around. As we have already seen, competitors’ tablets have struggled, and Hewlett Packard could only sell out of its TouchPads after discontinuing the product and dropping the price to $99 from $499.

Hey, people love a bargain. But given the choice between a TouchPad and iPad, I suspect most people will go for the Apple product. There is a wide gap in the "cool factor" between HP and Apple.

Still, as successful as Apple has been over the past decade, the coolness hasn’t yet translated to serious business cred. Go to the Genius Bar some time, and you’ll notice many of the other customers seeking help are kids who dropped their iPods in the toilet.

Being cool is one thing, but gaining acceptance in the stuffy halls of corporate groupthink is quite another. A hip office worker has to shed "cool" at the door and most likely stuff her iPad in a briefcase for use at lunch break or on the train ride home. But while in the office, chances are you’re spending your day in front of a PC, not leaning over an iPad or even sitting in front of a Mac. For the latter, you have my sympathy.

So let’s be real about this tablet craze. Are tablets useful? Yes. Will they replace the laptop? Sure, if you like typing on a piece of glass and having to find a wall to lean the damn thing on every time you want to show somebody something on the iPad.

I’ve read some glossy analyses by observers and channel players about the prospects of tablet use in business. To be sure, a tablet has some useful applications. A sales rep may find it easier to show a client some charts or a demo. Retail stores and restaurants can use them to great effect for daily prices and specials. Chances are, however, that you will want to create the content you’re presenting with the tablet on a real computer.

A recent Computing Industry Technology Association (CompTIA) report indicated that while companies are amenable to using tablets for some functions, the devices aren’t likely to replace smartphones or laptops. Only 6 percent of 290 end-user participants in CompTIA’s "Third Annual Small and Medium Business Technology Adoption Trends" said they would replace other devices with tablets.

So let’s think about this for a second: Sure, your employer may let you use a tablet or even issue it to you, but you’ll also have to carry around a smartphone and a laptop. Between the laptop and the smartphone you get all the functions the tablet delivers, so what’s the point? Besides, if you want to draft a report, put together a sales proposal or write website content, you’ll want a keyboard and a screen that can stand at a 90-degree angle.

With all this in mind, I was surprised by a recent study by CIT Group indicating that 52 percent of solution providers selling into the SMB market believe tablets will replace laptops for most executives by 2013. Say what?

Well, I won’t presume to know better than what solution providers are seeing out there in the trenches, but I am simply not convinced. While some executives may actually replace their laptops with tablets, chances are many of them will end up going back to a laptop once they realize the tablet’s shortcomings.

I can only guess some providers are buying into the hype, though they may see a business opportunity in tablets. There is one, to be sure, but not in selling tablets to replace laptops. Rather, it is in protecting networks from the potential threats to which tablets and smartphones expose them. You see, even with limited tablet use, there will be a need to enhance security, especially since some users have started tapping their employers’ networks with their own personal tablets.

So in that sense, tablets aren’t useless from a solution provider point of view. But whether the tablet is a revolutionary device like the iPhone is very doubtful. Tablets will find a limited niche and stay there.


Pedro Pereira is a columnist for Channel Insider and a freelance writer. He can be reached at pedrocolumn@gmail.com.