Tablet sales are missing expectations – but is this true for the enterprise?

James is editor in chief of TechForge Media, with a passion for how technologies influence business and several Mobile World Congress events under his belt. James has interviewed a variety of leading figures in his career, from former Mafia boss Michael Franzese, to Steve Wozniak, and Jean Michel Jarre. James can be found tweeting at @James_T_Bourne.

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Mobility is changing the enterprise. But what does this mean aside from the continued rise of the smartphone?

For PCs and tablets, the outlook appears less than rosy. The former is certainly less than surprising – and some may say not before time. A note published yesterday by analyst house Gartner showed global PC shipments declined by almost 10% in the first quarter of 2016, with the overall number mirroring figures from 2007.

In its defence, Lenovo has showed double digit growth in the US over the past four quarters. But while the overall synopsis for PCs was always expected to be bleak, the growth of tablet sales appears to have been somewhat exaggerated. As Re/Code’s Arik Hesseldahl pointed out earlier this week, Gartner’s prediction that annual tablet shipments would pass 300 million units by the end of 2015 has fallen short, with Apple recently surpassing that milestone after six years of iPad sales.

Entrepreneurial-based companies such as Uber are made possible due to one thing – mobility 

For the enterprise market, it’s not for the want of trying; Strategy Analytics argued in August that the iPad Pro would launch a surge of enterprise tablet growth, while IDC insisted in November that the retail and hospitality markets in Europe would significantly benefit from tablet deployments by 2018.

This may of course still happen; and for Mitch Black, president of managed mobility services provider MOBI, those predicting the death of the tablet – at least in an enterprise context – may need to keep their patience a little longer.

“Based on feedback from our customers, we forecast a rise in tablet usage and management,” he tells Enterprise AppsTech. “This can be attributed to the increase in mobile applications and its direct availability to various employees. This increases the employees, and thus the company’s, efficiencies and further increases customer satisfaction.”

Black cites retail as a key example – employees using tablets as point of sale and enabling checkout anywhere with the store. Indeed, field sales certainly makes sense. Yet he explains part of the slowdown at present is due to enterprises using tablets more frequently as secondary end user devices. Putting all of their chips on red will come soon enough, however. “Mobile first workplaces place an emphasis and priority on mobility within the workplace,” says Black. “Think Uber. These entrepreneurial-based companies are possible due to one thing – mobility.

“As these businesses continue to become more prevalent, so will the usage of more mobile devices – tablets included,” he adds.

Naturally, the uptake of tablets in the enterprise needs to be correlated with the greater sophistication of the devices. The iPad Pro and the Microsoft Surface Pro – which was “just not there yet” according to IDC analyst Tom Mainelli in 2013 – are clear cases in point. The various hacks opportunistic companies came out with in trying to create a more rounded working experience, from printing to keyboards, have been addressed.

Black sees another sticking point. “As Microsoft, and Apple, and other tech giants continue to emphasise the usage of tablets in the enterprise by offering Office 365 on iPads and Android tablets, tablet usage will inevitably increase,” he says. “In the past few years, the number of tablets that we manage has increased by nearly 20% year over year. I imagine that trend is going to stay steady.”

In the past few years, the number of tablets we manage has increased nearly 20% year over year – I imagine that trend is going to stay steady

Looking further ahead, Black argues the expectation for employees will be that ‘core work functions’ can be completed from mobile devices, be they tablets, smartphones, and to an extent, wearables – with apps the jewel in the crown. “The convergence of mobile business applications that operate across multiple devices will contribute to the tablets increasing popularity,” he explains. “These complicated, connected, and multi-faceted deployments of devices will require tighter management and greater corporate visibility, but they will contribute to the overall deeper functionality that enables professionals to utilise tablets, smartphones, [and] wearables.”

But to misquote Benjamin Franklin, is nothing certain in this world apart from death, taxes, and declining PC sales? Black argues desktops will still have their purpose, but notes: “Large PCs with hard drives and cords to connect to the Internet are a thing of the past. Larger screens now allow for desk work to be easily completed on a tablet.”

So despite the doom and gloom at the overall tablet market, maybe the analysts will be proved right after all.

 

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