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2011: War of the Tablets Part 2 – What the Future Holds

     

CES just showed us a multitude of new tablets releasing soon and foreshadowing the brutal war that is about to take place. I say “brutal” because not all of the players will survive this war and the consequences of not surviving on the mobile front are severe.

Millions will purchase tablets this year and many of them will be used at work. What’s tablet mean for enterprise? Can they be productive at work, or are they just a fad? How is 2011 going to be different than the last 10+ years for software development projects?

Well, lucky for you I have a crystal ball that can answer those questions.

In my last post I covered what we’ve learned from tablets and smartphones (primarily the iPad) in 2010.  Now, I’m warming up my crystal ball to tell you what I think is going to happen in 2011 (and beyond) in the world of tablets.

First, let’s look at the players for 2011.

What is it? Development Environment
iPad 2 Take the current iPad, add a dual core processor, higher resolution display and dual cameras. Objective C, HTML5,
Adobe Air
Android 3.0 The first Android OS meant for tablet.  Expect to see a multitude of sizes, features and prices from all the major players. Java, HTML5, Adobe Air
BlackBerry Playbook RIM FINALLY thinks outside the Blackberry!  Powerful dual-core hardware, powerful new OS and a platform developers might actually code for. C++, HTML5, Adobe Air
HP Palm

WebOS 2.0

The sexy Palm WebOS running on an HP Slate.  I just got goosebumps! HTML5
Microsoft? If ever there were a sleeping giant, it’s Microsoft! They got caught with their pants down with the introduction of the iPad.  They were so focused on a successful launch of Windows Phone 7 that they simply were not ready for tablets and are now scrambling for a solution.  Whatever the case this sleeping giant is now awake and will do whatever it takes to be successful on the mobile front.

I would hope a more complete version of Phone 7, better office apps, and a browser that supports HTML5 is coming in 2011 on a tablet.

Microsoft .Net C#, SilverLight, Adobe Air, HTML5

Tablets in the workplace … what are they good for?

Tablets are great at consuming and presenting information, but not for creating it.  After using an iPad for the past six months, this is how I rank its abilities in the workplace:

Great Mediocre Use a PC
Mobility & Connectivity X
Email X*
Consuming RSS Feeds X
Presentations X
Reading X
Photos and Video (Viewing) X
Photos and Video (Editing) X X
Internet X
Note Taking X*
Enterprise Software Platform X
Viewing Office Docs X
Editing Office Docs X X
Creating Office Docs X
Remote Desktop X X
Content Creation X
Utilizing Enterprise Systems X

*When using with a physical keyboard.

Personally, I don’t use the iPad that much for actual work. My needs require a much more powerful machine with true multitasking, large screen(s) and much more powerful software. My top-of-the-line 17” MacBook Pro with an Intel i7 currently fills that need very well, although I sometimes crave even more power wishing I were on a workstation class machine for certain tasks. The point is it’s going to be awhile before tablets will rival a real computer.

When I travel, however, the iPad always comes with and I do a lot of e-mail, web, brainstorming and note taking with it. Of course, it’s also amazing for games, reading and movies when you want to get your mind off of work for awhile.

It’s all about the Apps!

Just like smartphones, tablets are nothing without a wide selection of good apps to install on them. Any platform that fails to attract app developers will struggle to gain market share and ultimately be a failure. Microsoft, for example, is investing millions into attracting and supporting the development community for Windows Phone 7. They learned from Apple and Android how vital a successful app store is to their platform’s success.

Tablets are very capable of doing a range of productivity tasks thanks to the amazing development community writing apps for them and the unique hardware at a developer’s disposal. GPS, Accelerometer, Cellular Data and Camera are just a few of the unique hardware services available for developers on mobile devices that enable them to build apps that are smarter and better than their PC counterparts.

Zillow, for example, uses GPS to zoom in on your current location, showing home listings around you without entering an address. As you drive down the street, the map moves and the listings update. It’s a superior experience to Zillow on the PC and just one of many examples out there.

Now, take that example and apply it to your enterprise needs and a whole new software world opens up to better support your employees and end-users. Your developers finally have the tools in place to offer employees real-time, location-aware, context-aware applications intelligent enough to give your users what they want, when they want it, and often without asking them for any input. It’s incredibly exciting and your users will worship your IT department for giving them these intelligent tools.

And the cherry on top is that software development on mobile devices is relatively EASY thanks to the amazing developer tools available for each platform, and the fact that you probably already have most of the back-end systems in place to support what you want to do on a mobile device. If you are lucky, your enterprise can mandate a single mobile platform to develop for. If you are like MarketStar and must develop for multiple platforms, this is where it gets a bit tricky and setting a solid strategy NOW will reward you in the future. I’ve learned some great lessons in mobile development during the past year, and I’ll share some of them with you in my next blog.

Beyond 2011 and Into the Cloud

Remember Star Trek The Next Generation? Captain Picard had a tablet way before the iPad! He touched its screen like the iPad, it looked a lot like an iPad, some even say Apple got the iPad idea from Star Trek.

But what he mostly did, unlike the iPad, was he talked to the USS Enterprise’s computer and it talked back. Picard would issue voice commands, the Star Ship’s computer would interpret those commands, ask questions and provide an appropriate response. And just like Gene Rodenberry foreshadowed, I believe that is the trek we are on with tablets.

You can already see it with many of the things Google is doing with voice input and their push into cloud computing on ChromeOS. In Google’s future world, hardware is only the interface to computing and all of the storage and processing is in the cloud. Tablets will become an extension of the cloud. You’ll talk to the cloud through your tablet, the cloud will then interpret what you’ve said, process it and return the intended results back to your tablet.

If you want to see one of the best examples of this on mobile, check out what Siri has done:

Embedded YouTube video may be blocked by some firewalls.

Conclusion

Tablets are in no way going to replace PCs in 2011, except in very unique cases.  At MarketStar, for example, hundreds of our field employees will replace their notebooks with tablets by LG, RIM, HTC and HP to do their daily work.

Worldwide adoption will explode in 2011 and lots of people will be figuring out how to incorporate them into their daily work lives. Once the novelty wears off, however, a lot of people will stop using tablets at work and go back to PC. But, for those who have a need to be mobile in their work day or happen to find a killer app they cannot live without, you’re going to see them using tablets more and more and lug around a notebook less and less.

In my next blog I’m going to talk about enterprise software development for mobile devices, why it’s crucial you begin developing for mobile yesterday, and strategies to help you develop for the ever-growing list of mobile devices out there without breaking your budget.

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