Note: Originally published in February, 2014. This refers to 2014 as emerging to be the year of tablet alternatives. Surely 2015 is securing it's place in history. More to follow, especially after Microsoft's Windows 10 Device event October 6 in New York City.
Another market evolution for field-based mobile computing will occur in the year of 2014 — the advent of alternatives and more functionality in Intel/Windows-based thin and light tablets. You’ll soon witness the vast partner ecosystem from Intel and Microsoft delivering devices of form factors and functionality that the enterprise has demanded.
In the last five to seven years, Apple shook the foundation of mobile computing for both consumers and the business world with their innovative thin and light phones and tablets with breakthrough user interface. Coupled with innovative apps, the benefits of these devices include better user acceptance of technology deployment by field users. Overall, the mass adoption of tablets is driving prices down. It’s led to Apple having become a significant, if not dominant, force in a few mobile enterprise applications like field sales, hospitality, and retail. However, there are drawbacks — for example, as a consumer-oriented company, Apple tends not to be as flexible and supportive of the enterprise.
Rugged Tablets Have Been Displaced, But Have a Future
Traditional Windows-based rugged tablets have been displaced in the market at least temporarily and relatively speaking to the mass market (consumers). While many of these devices have proven to have a lower total cost of ownership than the iPad counterparts, they have historically been heavy and not appealing to some classes of users as a field tool. Rugged tablets have been relegated to niche applications in the enterprise. How long? Not long.
At long last, another phase in the evolution of the mobile device market is upon us. While Apple’s iPad innovation has spurred the market of enterprise tablet deployments the last few years, in 2014, Intel and Microsoft are finally delivering on a strategy that encompasses thin and light device innovation with compelling user interfaces. This means that you’ll begin seeing devices introduced with functionality and user acceptance comparable to the iPad, but built specifically to help enterprises get more done with their field users.
Enabled by Microsoft Windows 8.1 and the next generation Intel CPUs, the new “Wintel” devices will provide a much broader spectrum for enterprises to find that right tool, that is, the right tablet for the job at hand. They include everything from extremely durable and high-functional tablets, to medium durability yet functional tablets, to light duty thin and light tablets. And the Windows platform provides many benefits iOS can’t deliver.
Many iPad deployments are in reality dual-device deployments, one being the iPad (for portability and user interface) and the other being a laptop the user still has for other core line-of-business applications. However, the new thin and light Windows devices will be able to serve as a single platform, eliminating the need to carry and maintain two devices.
Here are some exciting features and functionality you can expect the Windows and Intel devices arriving to the market in 2014 to offer:
- Better responsiveness, touch performance in cloud and client apps
- Quicker app development and easier troubleshooting with better debugging capability, especially with developers’ experience in Windows platform
- Support of multiple applications — both tablet and PC/ laptop software, such as Excel and PowerPoint
- Investment protection supporting installed printers with standard interfaces, as opposed to cumbersome adapter cables and when Airprint is not feasible
- Ability to leverage mobile device management (MDM) solutions built for Windows
- Field-swappable batteries
- Ability to connect devices with USB ports
- A variety of form factors to meet specific needs including rugged tablets, built-in bar code scanning, attached keyboards (2 in 1 class), etc.
- Enterprise-level warranties, support, and customer service
- The benefit of the stable Windows OS and hardware environments
- Accessories for the enterprise, including docks and industrial bar code scanners
One thing is sure — as the market begins finally delivering a variety of powerful thin and light Windows/ Intel tablets, your options will expand drastically. The question is, how quickly can the development and delivery of mobile applications be brought to market to support this new variety of tablets? Stay tuned.