Which tablet will win in the enterprise?

Last month I wrote about the rise of mobile computing platforms and the need for enterprises to adopt them within the next three years just to stay in line with the grow of mobile traffic for business. Today, Michael V. Copeland, Senior Editor of Fortune/CNN Money, published a segment on five potential iPad competitors. I took a look at these–from the perspective of a current enterprise provider and former enterprise buyer–to see which of them had the potential to win at the enterprise level.

The Target: The iPad Itself

Apple iPad (from the Apple Store)

This is the prize fighter to beat–in the consumer (and potentially) small business market. However iPhones have not penetrated as deeply in the enterprise space (as many consumers would hope) due to a lack of the ability to lock them down as much as other phones (and due to a lack of partner channels that exist for BlackBerry and Windows Mobile).

  • What is in Its Favor: It has a great user experience and form factor. It has a great browser and battery life. It has a huge network of app developers. It has a 3G option.
  • What is Not: Lack of historical familiarity with enterprise IT managers. Lack of a partner channel to drive integration of their use.

Contender #1: The Archos Internet 5 Tablet

Archos Internet 5 (from Archos)

Archos’ Internet 5 essentially combines the power of a miniaturized PC with a sleek form factor and great multimedia capability (HD video and video recording!)–all at a nice price (USD $250).

  • What is in Its Favor: Power. Great add ons to make this better than those giant sales projects (but at a fraction of the price). Linux OS (solid, dependable and secure)
  • What is Not: While it has WiFi it does not yet have a 3G or even GSM partner. This limits is use “off campus” unless you have an external USB wireless modem. (Note: there are some rumors of an Android version of this–if so, would it join with partners like Verizon?)

Contender #2: Asus T91mt Eee PC

Asus T91mt – In Closed Form (from Asus)

The Asus T91mt Eee PC (a name that sounds like a background character from Star Wars) combines the classic Tablet PC model with a sold state drive and better battery life.

  • What is in Its Favor: It IS a PC (Windows 7). This makes it easy for enterprises to use and leverage existing networks and suppliers (such as a wireless internet card to make up for a lack of a 3G or GSM partner). It has a real-sized screen (8.9″) and a stylus
  • What is Not: It IS a PC (with all the form factor and UX elements we have grown to live with over time. You will need to add devices to make it mobile-capable. At this point is becomes a net book or small laptop.

Contender #3: HP Slate

HP Slate (from HP)

The HP Slate (at least some used the name “slate”) also combines the basics of a PC (Window 7) with the form factor of tablet devices. Unfortunately, it is not out yet (hence no hyperlink).

  • What is in Its Favor: It has the core of a PC (Windows 7). This makes it easy for enterprises to use and leverage existing networks and suppliers (such as a wireless internet card to make up for a lack of a 3G or GSM partner). It is by HP (someone with many links into corporate buyers). However, it has a very iPad-like form factor and UX. It has Flash.
  • What is Not: It has the heart of a PC (hopefully they have calibrated power of the CPU with the Graphics Processor and battery so it has more of an Apple-like battery life. It has now native 3G or GSM capability (you will need to tether off of a wireless or Bluetooth modem)

Contender #4: Panasonic Toughbook H1 Field

Toughbook H1 Field (from Panasonic)

The Toughbook H1 Field the tank of the bunch (essentially a Toughbook in Tablet form). Unfortunately, it is not out yet as well (hence no hyperlink).

  • What is in Its Favor: It is indestructible (although this may be a better fit for the military than many enterprises). It has a Windows 7 PC heart (tapping the enterprise ecosystem). Adding a GSM or 3G (or even military-grade satellite model) will not noticeably alter its size and form factor (see “What is Not (in Its Favor)” below)
  • What is Not: It is large and heavy (3.4 pounds) and very expensive (over USD $3,000). At this size, it is hard to view it a tablet (unless it is the tablet in your HUMVEE–Hummer H1).

Note: This one may be a winner with many military organizations (or corporations that operate in extreme environments like oil exploration).

Contender #5: Toshiba Portege M780-S7220

Toshiba Portege (from Toshiba)

The Toshiba Portege is essentially a laptop (vs. a true tablet). The big think it adds is expanded user interfaces: both a stylus and a touch screen

  • What is in Its Favor: As a true PC, it represents the option to take a gradual step: adding tablet-like stylus and touch screen interfaces without sacrificing literally anything you would get from a PC
  • What is Not: As it is the size, weight and cost of a PC it is unlikely to viewed as anything but one. It, too, does not have native GSM or 3G (like a PC, you will need a wireless modem–at least you have many card and USB slots

My Call

It is always hard to predict the future. However, I think none of these (including the iPad) will be the “Combined iPad/iPhone of the Corporate World.” Why? None of them offer the complete ecosystem. (Think about when people finally started to use downloadable music: when Apple provided an entire system of hardware, client software and online services. Think about what is holding the electric care back: no electric stations on every corner.)

To be the Champion a Tablet must provide the the following:

  • Easy enterprise integration (technical, sales and procurement)
  • True tablet form factor
  • Small size
  • Great graphics and power
  • Native wireless on — and OFF — campus (i.e., a 3G or GSM partnership)

Two or three come close. Hopefully at least two of them (or two others not listed here) will. Why two? Competition is always good for everyone.

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