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With the market for tablet computing devices exploding over the past year, value added resellers (VARs) have many opportunities to tap into the market to supply their customers with these versatile and mobile computers, which offer many advantages over desktop PCs and notebooks. Channel partners should also keep in mind the inherent challenges and limitations associated with tablet computers: With the market still in a nascent stage, it is important to carefully research the manufacturers, features, and operating systems offers on these devices.

Steve Robb, the vice president and general manager of LaSalle Solutions, a VAR based in Rosemont, IL, explained through Tech Data that because of the fantastic sales of the iPad, the tablet market would eventually explode in the business world. “Early adopters enabling the business world to see the value these and similar devices can bring by providing easier access to mission-critical applications across an enterprise,” he said.

Indeed, according to analysts at IT research firm Gartner, enterprises should be making moves towards tablet adoption. While the fast-rising adoption of smartphones by consumers saw IT managers scrambling to keep the unsupported devices out of their enterprises, IT leaders, "in the spirit of exploration," should figure out how to support tablets and leverage their perks rather than fight them, Gartner said.

Tech Data vice president of corporate systems development Greg Parsonson wrote tablets like the iPad and others represent the consumerization of the workplace, a trend known as "bring your own technology" in which consumer technology finds its way into the corporate realm, explained

"The consumerization of IT is an exciting new trend VARs need to watch closely," Parsonson said. "Devices like the Apple iPad and iPhone, as well as all the feature-rich smartphones on the market are raising the bar considerably from a user-experience perspective. People are now demanding the same degree of form and function in the workplace. We expect to see increased interest in tablet and slate PCs as work tools as users gain experience with similar devices in their personal lives.”

Recent research from industry analyst IDC recently predicted that worldwide media tablet shipments would grow from 7.6 million units in 2010 to more than 46 million units in 2014, representing a compound annual growth rate of 57.4 percent. In comparison, IDC expects 398 million portable PCs will be shipped in 2014.

Channel partners have a variety of tablet devices to offer businesses as the field becomes increasingly crowded. In addition to the 800-pound gorilla in the room, Apple’s iPad device, more business-centric devices from Research in Motion and Panasonic are hitting the market. RIM has priced the PlayBook at $499 for the 16GB model, $599 for the 32GB model and $699 for the 64GB version. That places the device roughly in the middle of pricing for the tablet market, and toe-to-toe with the iPad 2, whose 16GB version retails for $499, 32GB for $599, and 64GB for $699. 

Panasonic Solutions Company, whose focus is on building rugged IT solutions for government and commercial enterprises, is going after road warriors and field workers with the Google Android-based Toughbook tablet, with an XGA screen that will boast high brightness and is suitable for viewing in the daylight. This will allow corporate road warriors to use their tablets regardless of the lighting differentials in their travels.

Sheila O’Neil, vice president of channel sales with Panasonic, said most of the demand for tablets is from the utilities, healthcare and telecommunications markets, as well as any industry with field-based service teams, such as engineering, agriculture and law enforcement. "It is important for resellers to understand the challenging operating conditions of these industries and how only a rugged tablet PC will be able to withstand them," O’Neil said.

However, tablets also carry security risks that channel partners should be aware of. Tablet users, it turns out, are transferring sensitive information at a greater rate than even smartphone owners, according to a March report from Harris Interactive. According to the Harris poll, 18 percent of those surveyed said they were extremely confident about the security of the data they transferred over their device, while 15 percent said they "were not at all confident" that the data was secure.