The initial popularity of new slate-type tablets such as the iPad has created a lot of buzz, with some going so far as to predict the end of the traditional PC as we know it. As with many things new, this wave of optimism and expectation of fundamental change is expected and normal. However, the reality is that few new products - unless they create brand-new markets - have the power to truly sweep aside what has gone before.
With this in mind, we recently conducted a survey, called Mobile Computing Checkpoint, into the future of mobile computing in the enterprise. What emerged is that the PC is here to stay, despite predictions of its imminent demise.
There has been a marked shift to laptops from desktops, with increasing performance and decreasing size and prices. For many companies it makes sense to provide laptops to users even if they have a low need for mobility.
Laptops will be accompanied by smartphones
Our survey revealed that in most companies laptops will be accompanied by the smartphone. But the laptop will remain an essential element, and getting all the parts working together will be where the true value lies.
The tablet will primarily be a ‘nice to have'. Of course, there will be markets where tablets are the preferred choice, particularly in verticals such as field service, logistics and healthcare - but the tablet is unlikely to drive the bulk of mobile projects for some time.
Mobile solutions focusing only on the smartphone and tablet, therefore, will fall short of the requirements of the mobility mainstream. And investing in tablet support early may be counterproductive because the IT landscape changes so quickly - although more workers are using their own kit for work and consumerisation may force support earlier than you think.
This fact that consumerisation is often led by senior management makes it difficult to resist. Support must for this must improve, however painful this might be. This raises other concerns, such as how to manage the security of company information on personal devices outside the control of IT.
A major challenge is what to do about lost devices or when an employee leaves. Wiping a personal device completely may lead to the loss of personal settings and information. We have heard of users not reporting lost devices because they fear the loss of their data. This widens the window of opportunity for serious information breaches. Separating business and personal information and managing them independently may help.
A mobility strategy may well take the approach of supporting a core subset of devices -- rather than everything on offer -- to limit the overall complexity. Some devices may be better suited to business because they have more comprehensive management and security features.
Being able to better manage both laptops and smartphones in a consistent and automated way will be key to adding value to a mobile solution.
This is perhaps easier said than done. While laptops are quite mature and management tools have good functionality, smartphones and tablets are emerging almost weekly with new platforms, operating systems and capabilities. PC management tools are often way behind, too, requiring specialist tools from other vendors that add to the complexity.
Our survey also confirmed that it is not really about faster processors and better displays. What's really needed is more of a focus on device-side security, manageability and battery life.
So this is an opportunity to bring integration skills to the problem, helping companies develop a mobility strategy, creating a platform to help manage the merging of traditional and new.
Andrew Buss is service director at Freeform Dynamics
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