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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.