Led by the Apple iPad, the tablet device is changing the face of both domestic and enterprise computing.

The latest estimates from Gartner put 2011 worldwide media tablet sales at 63.6 million units, a 261.4 per cent increase from 2010 shipments of 17.6 million units. The analyst firm believes that media tablet sales will continue to experience strong growth through to 2015 when sales are forecast to reach 326.3 million units. Apple's iPad is projected to account for 73.4 per cent of worldwide media tablet sales in 2011, down from 83 per cent share in 2010. Android tablets are on pace to ship 11 million units in 2011, accounting for 17.3 per cent of tablet sales. Beyond the Apple iOS and Android operating systems, Gartner does not expect any other platforms to have more than five per cent share of the tablet market in 2011.

There is no dispute that the initial appeal of tablets was for home users. However, Deloite's analysis of top technology trends for 2011 forecasts that more than a quarter of such devices sold this year will be bought by enterprises. The report predicts that, by the end of 2011, a "significant number" of firms may be willing to pay for their employees tablets and data plans leading to millions of 'prosumers' having tablet connected by data plans at least partially subsidised by their employers.

According to Deloite, millions more tablets will be purchased by companies as PC alternatives. It notes that, while PC sales are set to hit 400 million in 2011, the combined sales of Smartphones, tablets and non-PC netbooks are set reach a "tipping point" and overtake traditional PCs in terms of unit shipments for the first time.

However market experts agree that the PC is not set to be knocked off its enterprise throne in the immediately foreseeable future. Gartner estimates that worldwide PC unit shipments will reach 364 million units in 2011, a 3.8 per cent increase from 2010. Shipments are forecast reach 404 million units by the end of 2012 - a 10.9 per cent increase from 2011.

Freeform Dynamics agrees that tales of the PC's death are greatly exaggerated. According to the analyst firm's June 2011 report Mobile Computing Checkpoint by Dale Vile and Andrew Buss, full-function PCs are the most important client device for business computing today. The importance is expected to actually increase, not decrease over the coming three years as continued price and power/performance improvements encourage broader laptop (including notebook) PC adoption.

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The Freeform Dynamic research cited data from a recent poll of 664 global IT decision makers indicating that that Smartphones have emerged as the most important second devices, with tablets trailing as an "optional third". Looking ahead three years, the participants in the study indicated that tablets will be important, but not as important as PCs and Smartphones. While most respondents acknowledged a need for mobile workers to use two devices, there was significantly less emphasis on the need to support more. The study states that, while tablets may play a critical role in some scenarios, they are likely to represent a 'nice to have' third device for more general professional use, at least in the short to medium term.

This view was mirrored by the May 2011 Gartner report, How to Choose the Right Enterprise Tablet for Your Employees, which advises CIOs to deploy tablets in place of PCs only when the ergonomic features of traditional notebook computers would compromise a task — for example, when the job function requirements include working while standing or walking. Other role-related and vertical-industry computing applications that would suit tablets include where paper documents need to be consolidated and where there are unique presentation requirements.

Looking beyond tablet hardware Deloite expects the trend of enterprise tablet adoption to gather pace as enterprise software providers respond to business customer requests for tablet specific software. Large players in enterprise resource planning (ERP), enterprise content management (ECM) and customer relationship management (CRM) are combining with desktop virtualisation providers to create secure enterprise-grade apps that can be rapidly and seamlessly deployed into businesses' IT environments, Deloite noted. However the consultancy goes on to caution that the cost of developing bespoke applications, which ranges from $5,000 to $500,000, and securing the devices are significant barriers to enterprise adoption.

The importance of tablet security was flagged up Aberdeen Group which warned that the "apparent rush" to deliver on potential productivity benefits of tablets has led to three-quarters of what it designates as best-in-class organisations deploying the devices without rolling out even basic supporting security systems - such as the ability to lock and/or wipe lost tablets. According to Andrew Borg, Aberdeen Group senior research analyst, wireless & mobility, CIOs need to treat tablets in the same way as Smartphones when it comes to IT security.

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Tablet security "came up time and time again" for respondents in the previously referenced Freeform Dynamics report, which pointed out that -beyond data-centric security - a need exists to consider what is safe when a device attempts to connect to the network. User authentication is identified as an obvious requirement, which will often shine the spotlight on identity and access management. Freeform Dynamics advises IT managers to consider restricting what can be done with the tablet over a public network depending on how secure the device and connection are deemed to be.

Even those CIOs who have implemented policies to ban staff from using tablets at work would do well to sit up and pay attention to the broader impact that the devices are having; especially if they are responsible for any web-based retailing operations. A July 2011 report by Forrester analysts Sucharita Mulpuru and Sarah Rotman Epps entitled Why Tablet Commerce May Soon Trump Mobile Commerce, notes that a significant percentage of consumers who currently own tablets report shopping on the devices. Furthermore, many of these shoppers indicated that they prefer to browse web stores and purchase on their tablets instead of on their PCs or smartphones. The analyst company believes that the most innovative web retailers will also accelerate the tablet commerce trend by using tablets to supplement existing sales tools (e.g., kiosks, POS devices, even sales associates) in stores.

It is clear that the mainstream arrival of tablets is having, and will continue to have, a very real impact on enterprise IT strategy. And while it seems clear that the venerable enterprise PC is not going to be overtaken by these new kids on the IT block in the near future, the disruption that tablets are causing CIOs will remain profound.