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Media tablets are presenting a variety of new opportunities for businesses, but they are also requiring a new set of policies, technologies and skills for enterprises, according to Gartner, a market tracking firm.

"CIOs are determined not to make the same mistakes they made with smartphones, which were often written off early as expensive and frivolous toys, or executive status symbols - which then left room for more inventive leaders who saw the competitive advantage that mobile applications would bring," said David Willis, research vice president at Gartner.

The impact of the media tablet in the eyes of the public is much greater than would be believed from the number of units shipped. Gartner expects media tablet shipments to be approximately 69 million in 2011, which is only a small fraction of the total number of application-capable mobile devices, such as smartphones. Yet already the impact of the device on other forms of computing is great.

The media tablet device itself is only part of the story. Gartner analysts said the packaging of hardware and software that Apple created with the iPad, along with the ecosystem of applications and media that surrounded it has made the real difference. Media tablets present a variety of new opportunities for business, while supplementing traditional uses of notebooks and smartphones, according to the observers.

"The iPad, and the larger wave of media tablets, has captured the imagination of business leaders. Some companies have issued them to business and IT leaders in the spirit of exploration. Others see areas in which they can use media tablets to bring computing into settings that were not practical or were too cumbersome to use traditional approaches," said Mr. Willis.

Mr. Willis pointed out that companies that had already recognized the flood of consumer devices coming into business, and had figured out a way to leverage it rather than fight it, have been more-prepared to support media tablets. Those who embraced "managed diversity" and figured out how to manage and secure iPhones, were developing strategies to manage and keep iPads within weeks of its launch.

Gartner has long maintained that media tablets are neither "better laptops," nor "better smartphones," but complement both. When compared with laptops, media tablets activate instantly, allowing a user to get right to what he or she needs, immediately, without long and frustrating startup times. They have exceptional battery life and are responsive, tactile and inviting. However, in a common mobile-worker scenario, employees may travel with a media tablet during the day, but then return to their laptops in the evening for heads-down data entry or content creation.

"Sales leaders are clamoring to adopt media tablets with their sales teams, as a more engaging way to share sales collateral and promotional materials. And it won't stop there: Next will come customer relationship management systems, and order entry and sales configuration applications. For sales managers, media tablets will be a natural platform for business analytics and performance dashboards. In other settings, the intimacy of using a media tablet supports more personal interactions. The opportunities are huge," said Mr. Willis.

However, just as media tablets won't replace PCs, Gartner does not believe that they will replace mobile phones as voice devices, even in the smaller form factors, such as those with 7" displays. Nevertheless media tablets still have enormous potential in the workplace, although who stands to benefit most from the phenomenon remains to be seen.

"Fundamentally, the market battle will not hinge on features and specifications; on the fit and finish of a given device; or even on a device at all. The platform that will prevail will have a strong supporting ecosystem of developers producing a wide range of applications. And in this area, Apple is far ahead of any competition," Mr. Willis said.

Tags: iPad, Galaxy Tab, TouchPad, PlayBook, LePad

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