Tablet Computers Go Corporate, Distributors Say

By Jennifer Lawinski

While devices like the iPad and eagerly-anticipated Samsung Galaxy Tab tablet are taking the consumer market by storm, distributors say the new technology has the potential to be the next big thing in business computing. And resellers would be smart to start planning on how to incorporate the devices into their solutions for SMBs, public sector and enterprise customers alike.

 "We work very closely with all of our vendor partners and we see many of them, if not all of them, coming to market by Q1 – end of January or early February – with some type of slate-based device. We see the platforms varying from Windows to Android. Of course there’s the Apple OS," said Greg Parsonson, VP of Client Systems at Tampa, Fla.-based distributor Tech Data.  "We’re seeing everything across the board here."

The market, Parsonson said, is exploding after the success of a singular product – the iPad, and that as the devices move from consumer to business use, they’ll move from desktop add-ons to stand-alone devices that users take with them wherever they go. Vendors from Samsung to Lenovo, HP, Toshiba and Asus are all offering or planning to offer tablets by mid-2011.

"I have seen applications already that apply to both enterprise verticals and SMB. We’ve seen them provide as part of SMB solutions – to school systems, individual private schools … up to major enterprises. I think that the scope of these devices and the slate family is really limitless in its application," said Parsonson. "The limit is the applications."

Mike Erwin, Sr. Director, Vendor Management, for Ingram Micro U.S. , Santa Clara, Calif., said the distributor is seeing an increasing demand for tablets in the wake of the iPad’s success.

"It’s an exciting new form factor with great wireless capabilities and portability – all of which makes it more functional and yet affordable," he said. "The opportunity for the VAR is to bring this technology in-house to the business world.  It’s a sexy product that has a lot of potential in the business world – again especially in vertical markets."

Ingram Micro’s tablet lineup includes products from Acer, HP, Lenovo, Panasonic, Toshiba, Samsung and Apple.

Jeff Davis, senior VP of sales at D&H Distributing in Harrisburg, Pa., said that while it’s uncertain exactly how disruptive the tablet will be, it’s likely to have an impact in the SMB space.

"There’s a fair amount of pent up interest in the tablet to see where that’s going to. I think it has the possibility to cross between personal use and consumer use and business use – that’s one of the things I think we’re starting to see with the iPad. A lot of these purchases start off as consumer purchases but they quickly integrate them into their work," he said.

Medical and real estate tablet solutions are likely to be popular with customers in those verticals, he said.

"We think it’s going to be a category that’s going to emerge in the first quarter really come to fruition in the second quarter and it will definitely be a hot product for next year," Davis said. "The netbook came on the scene and quickly got a lot of penetration very early on, and as they started to improve them and make them bigger, it started to get a whole new class of people into the tablets."

Android products, he said, should be marketplace successes as developers create more apps for the platform and more companies come out with Android 3.0 devices that come in different sizes, like Android-base cell phones.

HP could also bring a breakthrough product to market, Davis said, if they leverage the technology they acquired with Palm. "I think that’s got a real shot at competing with the Apple iPad and anything Android comes out with, if it’s done right. With the power of HP and that web OS operating system is very good. It depends on how they translate that to the tablet."

Not all VARs, however, think the new tablets will be game changers.

"There is a general misconception about what a tablet is and people really need to understand what a tablet is, said Armen Sarani, owner of Laptop Authority, in Omaha, Ne. Laptop Exchange carries Fujitsu and Lenovo tablet PCs to healthcare, finance and insurance customers.

Resellers and customers need to distinguish between products like the iPad and Samsung Galaxy and tablet PCs capable of running a full Windows OS, Sarani said. "They’re not fully functioning computers. They do have some productive software there, but it’s not really for everyone like the regular PC computer."  

This article was originally published on 2010-11-18