During these holidays I was going through some (very) old docs lying in my archive directory (there's stuff dating back 1996 in there) and one of the directories struck me immediately: "Wearable Computing".
For those unfamiliar with this term, it's something that the industry tried to convince us we needed back in the late '90s, early '00s, where so-called visionaries envisioned that all the people of the future had to wear small personal computers (sometimes with glass-mounted HUD) to keep us, people of the future, always connected. Big names like MIT Media Lab and IBM Research invested (sometimes heavily) in wearable computing research but the actual products that hit the market resembled something like this neat example:
Creepy isn't it? 🙂 – Photo credit: Wikipedia
Obviously, nobody in his right mind would have worn such a thing, but there were some useful business applications, like in the aerospace field where field engineers could have access to big manuals without leaving the service area.
But let's go back to 2011, we saw the rise of the iPad in the consumer space last year, with impressive numbers and with enterprises all around the world eager to find new uses for this new Apple's brainchild.
After the iPad success, Cisco, HP and RIM jumped on the (new) tablet bandwagon (I will just ignore the previous tablet experiments, like the ones running Windows XP for Tablet on Acer hardware) but we still have to see how really WebOS, Android and the new QNX-based RIM platform are suitable for a tablet (I personally tried a Dell Streak last November and I was unimpressed to say the least).
But let's focus on the enterprise tablet concept for a moment: as others have said before (there's a nice article from Greg Ferro over at Etherealmind.com) the iPad is the "cool kid" of the tablet block, everybody wants it, even just because it's plain cool, so HP and Cisco will have an hard time fighting Apple on the "wow" factor. Beside that, Apple closed iOS ecosystem is something that resemble the "holy grail" of IT, a walled garden where the user cannot cross over.
Now, one of the objections that people make against the use of iPads in the enterprise is that the device is not intended to create content, just to consume it.
I partially agree on that.
Partially because business applications are one the best example of legacy UI in the IT world today, consider that some of the most widely used business apps are Microsoft Excel worksheets you can understand why a tablet isn't a good fit for the enterprises. The real breakthrough is with business apps with an UI specifically designed for touch tablets.
Let's make a practical example; Oracle is investing in a wide range of client applications for their CRM, ERP and BI offering. They already debuted on iPhone and they're making their way into iPad quickly (Siebel CRM is an example), right now they're mainly aimed at managers but the trend is set, a swarm of iPad business apps is getting ready to invade the App Store (many are still developing) and Apple is, in my opinion, moving forward to permit a real "Company App Store" to be run inside the company premises, this is what the Private Cloud is going to be.
In the end, I envision a mighty battle between Apple, Cisco and RIM in the enterprise tablet space, with Apple enhancing its support to enterprises to consolidate its early advantage, RIM will enforce its huge installed base to push their tablet into the blackberry-dependent enterprises while Cisco will probably have an hard time entering this market with the exception of the unified communication field where Cisco is already king.