View From Above

April 20, 2011  3:15 PM

Be Afraid: Bipartisan Cloud Legislation Proposed

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
Even if you don’t love the cloud, if you support the idea of innovation in the cloud, you had to shiver a little bit at the news of bipartisan legislation to regulate the Cloud — especially when one of the sponsors is Senator Orin Hatch, the 77 year old Republican senator from Utah, who I’m guessing probably still has his emails printed out for him.

The legislation, which was filed along with Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat from Minnesota, who according to a post in the Twin Cities Business blog — and I’m not making this up — introduced the legislation at the Richfield, MN Best Buy store. I guess Senator Klobuchar thought that a consumer electronics store was the best place to introduce legislation about something she probably knows little or nothing about. I would have loved to have had a seat at the planning meeting for this event.

Senator Klobuchar (and her staff) obviously understands technology as proven by her insightful quote introducing the legislation in which she stated, “This legislation will clarify the rules of the road to make it safer and more convenient for both consumers and companies to zoom along on the information superhighway. It’s pro-consumer, pro-business, and pro-innovation.”

It’s all those road analogies and pro-thingies. How wonderful. And just to show how technologically hip she really is she then handed it over to Best Buy Geek Squad members to offer a cloud demonstration. Golly, that must have been fascinating.

As for Senator Hatch, he’s the guy who in 2003 suggested that copyright owners should be able to destroy the computer equipment of anyone suspected of copyright infringement. He backed off a few days later, when it was discovered his own official web site was, ahem, infringing on someone’s copyright. I’m thinking his depth of technology understanding probably hasn’t evolved that much in 8 years that he’s the best person to drive legislation about regulating the Cloud.

The legislation itself is about providing security in the cloud. I’m guessing the senators heard or read that there are concerns about cloud security and they decided to be proactive and do something about it, to save the world from hackers and other miscreants (like those pesky copyright violators).

But if you ever want to kill innovation in a New York minute, let the United States Congress regulate a technology they know absolutely nothing about. I’m sure it would be entertaining watching C-Span for the debate just to see what our elected officials had to say on the matter.

All joking aside, however, cloud computing is a very real and still developing industry. Yes, countries have to find ways to share information across borders and processes have to be worked out to ensure data security, but maybe instead of having two senators with no technology background whatsoever designing that system, just maybe we should let the standards bodies have a go at it. I’m still shaking at the thought of the US Senate doing it.

Photo by manwithface on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

April 18, 2011  5:41 AM

RIM Appears to Botch PlayBook Launch

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
This was supposed to be a huge week for Research in Motion (RIM) as it released its new PlayBook to an audience of IT pros waiting with breathless anticipation for a tablet that was finally designed specifically for them, but what they got was a powerful piece of hardware with some huge and unforgivable software holes, and excutives who mishandled press criticism.

When you think about RIM, you think of a company that has messaging down cold. The famous Blackberry phone has had a place in board rooms, airport waiting areas, and halls of power for years, being the of choice (at least until recently) for retrieving corporate email on a mobile device. That’s why you would think the one thing RIM would get right on the new PlayBook tablet would be messaging.

That’s why I was shocked to read Walt Mossberg’s Playbook review in the Wall Street Journal and learn that you can’t retrieve email or use Blackberry messaging unless you tether your Blackberry phone via Bluetooth connection to the PlayBook to do so. As Mossberg writes they left out a few key ingredients for any device hoping to make it as a corporate tablet:

This first edition of the PlayBook has no built-in cellular data connection and lacks such basic built-in apps as an email program, a contacts program, a calendar, a memo pad and even RIM’s popular BlackBerry Messenger chat system.

Yes, you read this correctly. Although Mossberg points out that there are plans to add all of these missing functions later in the year, this device really had no business going to market without them.

RIM seems to have to gone to great lengths to build superior hardware and a fast operating system, yet released it to the buying public without basic functionality associated with the RIM brand.

As David Pogue put it in the New York Times, rather humorously: “The PlayBook, then, is convenient, fast and coherently designed. But in its current half-baked form, it seems almost silly to try to assess it, let alone buy it.”

If ever there were a company in need of a home run, this was it. Yet co-CEO (I’m wondering why they have two) Jim Balsillie complained to Bloomberg that criticism such as Pogue’s and Mossberg’s was misguided and unfair (yes, unfair) because it failed to take into consideration RIM’s base. Apparently he was trying to make the argument that linking the phone and the tablet in this fashion to get basic business functions was a natural match.

All well and good I suppose, but RIM has been a company losing market share in bunches for some time now as end users flock to Android and iOS smart phones. The most recent figures from comScore show a 4.6 percent drop for the most recent period from November 2010 through February 2011. And these figures have been dropping consistently over time.

I’m thinking they really don’t have to cater to their base at all at this point. They need to expand outside of it and this is a device that clearly had the potential to do that. Unfortunately, RIM seems to have screwed up the initial launch, whether they are willing to admit it or not.

If the base hardware and OS are as good as reviewers say, perhaps there’s still time to recover, but with HP not far behind and many more Android devices in the wings, along with initial bad reviews, RIM might have blown its best chance to make a tablet splash.

Better to be late to market with a device that’s ready, than early with one that’s not. And RIM broke that rule big time here. Time will tell if they pay the price.

Photo by The Game Way on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

April 11, 2011  6:02 AM

10,000 Core Computer Proves Cloud Scalability

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
Last week, Network World ran a story about a company that built a 10,000 core Linux super computer in the cloud. If that doesn’t prove cloud scalability and the infinite possibilities it brings, nothing will.

Just about every IT pro probably has the secret day-dream project, the one they might build with unlimited budget and resources. Until the cloud came along, such dreams weren’t possible because hardware was simply too expensive.

It’s something that James Hamilton from Amazon’s Web Services team has been talking about for some time. Given that he sells these services for a living, you might justifiably question his motives, but all of that aside, Hamilton has a point (and he is after all a geek at heart, no matter who is paying him every month).

What services like Amazon’s have done is to take the hardware cost out of the equation, or at the very least put it within reach of people (or an Enterprise IT department) who have a dream, but don’t have the benefit of a venture capitalist or angel investor. Instead of deferring that dream, an individual can begin to build a company with a credit card, a laptop and an Internet connection.

It’s a fascinating, and according to the Network World article, Cycle Computing decided to test just how scalable this cloud service model might be. CEO Jason Stowe asked his engineers to build a 10,000 core Linux Super Computer using Amazon’s Elastic Cloud Service.

But Stowe being a business man didn’t just want to satisfy his geeky curiosity (although I’m betting that was part of it), he wanted to find a customer that could actually use that kind of computing power. And find it he did. Turns out San Francisco-based biotech company Genentech was actually interested in using such a virtual machine to learn how proteins bind to each other. (Whatever floats your boat, right?)

What’s amazing is they built it, Genentech used it and it provided the ultimate proof of the viability of cloud computing. It built up to the scale that was required — and in this case it was a pretty darn impressive level — and it was used for as long as Genentech needed it, and no longer. In other words, the client only paid for what it used and no more.

I can hear some of you saying, sure I remember time-sharing in the 70s and 80s, and to some extent it’s an apt comparison, but only to a certain point because there was a limited amount of computing power on those old mainframes. What makes today’s cloud services different is the ability to scale up and back in this manner.

Whether you’re a fan of the Cloud or not, you have to at least admit that this exercise was an impressive one, and it ultimately showed the power and the beauty of cloud computing. If you can think it, chances are you can build it now and without a huge investment to make it happen. Even if it’s a 10,000 core super computer.

Photo by Uriah Welcome on Flickr. Used under the Creative Commons License.

April 4, 2011  5:24 AM

Enterprise-friendly cell phones continue to lose market share

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
comScore came out with February, 2011 US mobile marketshare statistics last week and there was some interesting data, especially for IT pros, as phones traditionally thought of as enterprise-friendly continued to bleed market share.

Probably to nobody’s surprise, Android was the biggest winner for the period with a 7 point gain. The other winner was Apple with a more modest, 0.2 percentage point change. What was more interesting are the two companies that lost market share: RIM and Microsoft, which lost 4.6 and 1.3 percent respectively.

You can see the data for yourself below:

Share (%) of Smartphone Subscribers
Nov-10 Feb-11 Point Change
Total Smartphone Subscribers 100.0% 100.0% N/A
Google 26.0% 33.0% 7.0
RIM 33.5% 28.9% -4.6
Apple 25.0% 25.2% 0.2
Microsoft 9.0% 7.7% -1.3
Palm 3.9% 2.8% -1.1
* source comScore Mobile Lens

These are supposed to be the enterprise-friendly devices, the ones that IT pros can feel reasonably good about giving out to employees, and that in many cases tie nicely into the IT infrastructure. The RIM’s Blackberry remains a staple device at many firms, and should you travel at all, you still see many of them in the hands of users in the airport waiting areas. So how to account for a whopping 4.6 percent market share loss in such a short period of time?

Perhaps it has to do with fewer companies buying new devices for employees. That could be because of a trend, one I’ve discussed here before, the consumerization of IT. As part of this trend, users would prefer to use the devices they want to use, not the ones that IT dictate they use. This isn’t true in every company of course because plenty are still using Blackberries, but it must be true in enough that it’s having a serious impact on the sale of new units.

That brings us to Microsoft, which after all introduced Windows Phone 7 during this time period, yet still lost market share. Sure it was a less precipitous drop than that of RIM, but Microsoft also owned far less of the market when it started, and it was a time period in which Microsoft was pushing their new phone OS hard.

When I commented about this on Twitter Saturday afternoon, veteran technology journalist Charles Arthur from The Guardian suggested it was probably due to the sunsetting of the old Windows Mobile OS, rather than any reflection on the new one, which he suggested had been released too recently to judge fairly at this point.

Instead, Arthur believes in order to truly measure the impact of the Windows Phone 7 OS, we have to wait until Nokia begins selling phones equipped with the Microsoft OS in earnest, perhaps toward the end of this year. But I wonder what would have happened had that deal never gone through. Would that mean that Windows Phone 7 would have continued to languish? Did it take the Nokia deal to make it relevant?

It’s hard to know, but one thing is clear. Enterprise-friendly cell phones seem to be in decline and that means you better be prepared to support Android and iOS because if the numbers are to be believed, it appears that they are coming soon to an enterprise near you, whether you’re ready or not.

Photo by judy_breck on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

March 31, 2011  5:47 AM

One Year Later, The iPad Has Changed Everything

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
On April 3, 2010, Apple released the iPad to a waiting public. One year and more than 15 million units later, along with an upgrade that reportedly sold another million in the first weekend, we have what can only be called a truly disruptive device.

I have to admit when I was speculating about what the iPad might be in the months after the January, 2010 release announcement, I was skeptical. I *had* an iPhone in my pocket, I recall scoffing. What do I need what amounts to a larger iPhone (the common criticism at the time; I don’t claim I made it up). But then I bought one for my wife (no really, I got it for her–I did) and I tried it and I saw immediately that it wasn’t simply a large iPhone. It was so much more.

And it seems I wasn’t alone. The touch interface on a device smaller than a laptop and larger than a phone was surprisingly handy and interactive and intuitive and fun. And the Apps came fast and furious — tuned specifically for the iPad screen.

I like to the tell story of my friend’s three year old who upon using the iPad immediately understood how it worked, then expected the entire world to operate that way. He began touching the TV screen for instance expecting it to be a touch screen. To be honest, I’ve found myself doing that too at the ATM. (Huh? Why isn’t this working — Oh, it’s not a touch screen).

The ease of use had a profound effect on IT in general. Suddenly, ease of use became paramount — even in the enterprise. People suddenly demanded that enterprise software work as simply and easily as these apps. Clunky software and hardware simply was no longer acceptable to end users. There was a full-scale revolt that even has a label called the “Consumerization of IT.”

Sure it’s a buzz word, but there was a real movement behind the buzz and a real sea change in end user expectations and the role of IT in the organization– and it’s on-going.

When I saw a touch screen scanner a few weeks ago from Sharp, I knew the iPadization (there’s a new word for the Real Story Group’s buzz word slide) was complete. Using your finger on a touch screen you could adjust documents just as though you were using…wait for it…the iPad.

When you think about it, the iPad has had revolutionary impact on computing on all levels from consumers to the enterprise, and that’s not just hyperbole talking — it’s a fact. We are at the one year anniversary and it’s hard to imagine that it’s only one year old on April 3rd. These devices have become that ingrained into our social fabric.

That success has begotten many wannabes of course, whether it’s the Samsung Galaxy Tab, the Motorola Xoom, the RIM Playbook or any of the myriad of devices coming out. Each one is supposed to be the “iPad killer.” And they may have better specs, but there’s one thing they’re all not, and that’s what Apple is selling.

A couple of weeks ago, shortly after the iPad 2 came out, I went to my local Best Buy to check it out and I was impressed once again by Apple’s ability to make the upgrade so different and so desirable as to make the first iPad look like an also-ran.

That’s Apple’s unique ability and one year and many millions of units later, I think it’s OK to stop for a second and marvel at the influence of this device. It’s easy to say, but this thing really did change everything — and that’s especially true for IT pros. And one year ago, I don’t think even the most optimistic fanboi would have predicted that.

Photo by yto on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

March 28, 2011  9:34 AM

Writing on the Wall for Symbian Developers

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
Symbian developers got a “Dear John” letter last week from Nokia. It went something like this:

Dear Symbian Developers,

We still love you, but we’ve found a new OS. While we’ll still be here for you — for a while anyway, you might want to start looking for a new line of work.
Friends forever,

OK, it didn’t say it like that exactly, but it might as well have. You see Nokia has made it crystal clear that Symbian is not part of its long term plans. There are many phones still in development and that momentum will carry them into 2012, but Nokia has a new love — a long-distance romance in Redmond, Washington, and that will be the focus of its energy moving forward.

And Nokia was not shy about its intentions. When it comes time to upgrade, they hope customers will get a Nokia phone running Windows Phone 7 — not Symbian.

That’s not to say, however, they are ready to kick poor Symbian to the curb just yet. As they like to say on Facebook, “it’s complicated.” That’s because Nokia does a lot of business in a lot of places where Symbian is firmly entrenched. It may be losing ground in the US and western Europe, but it’s still all that and a bag of chips in India, China, Turkey and Russia. It would be foolish to simply walk away from these lucrative developing markets, so Nokia will be dare I say, be torn between two lovers for a while.

Where does that leave Symbian developers exactly? Well, obviously not in a good position. As Harry Fairhead wrote on I Programmer, it’s not looking promising:

The letter then goes on to say that there are many Symbian devices in the pipeline and a lot of existing Symbian users. Most programmers view this as just the inertia left in the system as the motor driving the flywheel is shut off.”

Indeed. Nokia didn’t make nice with Microsoft for nothing. Like any love triangle, there is a time to extricate yourself from the older lover while moving on to the new one. Microsoft has reportedly paid Nokia a lot of money, so one can presume reasonably that they want some semblance of exclusivity eventually.

It doesn’t leave those who make their living off the Symbian ecosystems in a terribly comfortable position. There will be opportunities to be sure, but there is little doubt that Nokia is going in a new direction.

In the end, like many long-term relationships coming to an end with a new, more desirable lover in the picture, the end will likely be slow and painful, but make no mistake, the end is coming.

And if you’re all in with Symbian, you might want to think about exploring other options sooner than later because your sugar daddy is moving on.

Photo by quinn.anya on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

March 21, 2011  4:00 AM

HP Declares its (web)Os Independence

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
London calling to the faraway towns
Now that war is declared-and battle come down
~The Clash, London Calling

Last week at
HP CEO’s Leo Apotheker’s coming out party, he came off as a smart, competent leader with a vision for taking his organization forward, while helping us leave the whole sordid Mark Hurd affair in the rear view.

I wrote a post (HP Jumps on Cloud Bandwagon) concentrating on Apotheker’s cloud vision, but there was much more to the speech than that, chiefly a declaration of (web)OS Independence from Microsoft with a promise of webOS running on every HP consumer device (including printers).

After I wrote the piece, friend and fellow technology journalist Tom Henderson wrote me an amusing email, which for all intents and purposes told me I missed the real news, and it seems he was right.

As Henderson pointed out, Apotheker, in so many words put Microsoft on notice that that his company’s little $1.2 billion Palm purchase last year turned them from beggars to players for what amounts to enterprise pocket change. To be fair to my own analytical skills, I did recognize at the time of the purchase that this was about competing with Google, Microsoft and Apple, but I saw it as a pure mobile play when it appears to be much more than that.

As I wrote at the time: “Make no mistake though, this is all about getting the best of Microsoft, Google and Apple. And with this purchase, HP gave notice it was grabbing a place at the mobile table.”

Turns out HP had bigger fish to fry.  While Apotheker made lots of noise about how Microsoft was a great partner, he let them know in no uncertain terms that HP was going to be a player in its own right with plans to put webOS on every device in the ecosystem.

The implications of this are clear. First of all, HP is no longer beholden to Redmond in any way, shape or form. What’s more, Microsoft is now a direct competitor for both customers and developers. If the vision carries through to fruition, every developer on the planet has to start paying attention to webOS, just for the numbers alone.

And that’s precisely what makes it a brilliant, if risky play. Apple has succeeded with iOS by making it impossible to ignore. HP is banking on the same strategy. You can’t ignore an OS that’s has a potential base of 100 million devices (if you believe the hyperbole).

Regardless, it’s also a strategy that leaves HP hanging out alone in the cold, cruel marketplace. Does IT want to deal with supporting yet another OS? Will general consumers want to buy PCs with an unfamiliar operating system? It’s impossible to say until we watch it play out.

But one thing is very clear, Apotheker  has decided to take a stand with a bold vision for the company. If it succeeds, it’s a brilliant play. If it fails, it has exposed one of the world’s great technology companies to serious risk.

One thing’s for sure, I haven’t written about HP in months and I just wrote two successive blog posts about them. Apotheker has succeeded in getting us to talk about his company and, for that he has won the first battle. The war for hearts and minds is another matter altogether, and HP has decided to go it alone.

March 16, 2011  11:52 AM

HP Hops on Cloud Bandwagon

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller

The Cloud Bandwagon

The Cloud Bandwagon

New CEO Leo Apotheker made clear in a speech yesterday that HP plans to build a new cloud business where it will offer services for developers to build and host applications in the cloud. In fact, HP is going far beyond its current mission selling hardware to competing with services like Verizon, Rackspace and Amazon in the Infrastructure as a Service business (IaaS) business.Apotheker said his company would help customers build a hybrid cloud where part of the data and hardware remains behind the firewall and part of it in the cloud, and would also provide a full range of cloud services including Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS – hosted server and storage) along with Platform as a Service (Paas – a Cloud service for building applications).

HP is already well behind the competition, especially IBM and the previously mentioned pure play cloud infrastructure providers. But Apotheker addressed that saying straight out, “I don’t think we’re playing catch up with anyone, certainly not when it comes to IBM.”

Of course he can put up a brave front for the world, but it doesn’t hide the fact the HP faces an uphill battle here. As Apotheker himself pointed out, they need to build to a huge scale to make this cost effective and that means building data centers around the world. It will involve a huge capital investment and it will take time and money.

And while HP builds out its Cloud business, the other are forging ahead with theirs. There’s no way to sugar coat that.

It’s all well and good for Apotheker to recognize that he has to move his company into the Cloud to be a strategic player moving forward, but getting them there is another matter, and the speech was short on details.

In fact, Forrester analyst Frank Gillett as quoted on said the Cloud announcement left him scratching his head because of the lack of substance.

But of course Apotheker wasn’t just announcing his company’s new cloud initiative, he also took the opportunity to talk about the new line of mobile phones and tablets running WebOS that will be coming out this year. And make no mistake, there is an obvious link between its mobile vision and its cloud one.

Apotheker left no doubt that he considered WebOS a world class mobile platoform (but then what you expect him to say?) and would be running every HP device including tablets, smart phones, PCs and printers by 2012.

Much like with Microsoft, HP is a big company with a lot of money and big microphone, but it takes more than words to build this kind of business. It takes a huge commitment of internal employee resources and capital expenditures.

This from a company, which under former CEOs Carly Fiorina and the disgraced Mark Hurd, made more news sucking up to Wall Street investors with  cost cut-backs and layoffs instead of innovation and investment.

It will be interesting to see if Apotheker can take HP and return it to its glory days as an innovative company that’s not afraid to invest in R&D. One thing’s clear though: It will take more than a good speech to make HP a serious cloud player.

Photo by cpeachok on Flickr Used under Creative Commons License.

March 14, 2011  8:54 AM

Microsoft’s Mixed Cloud Message

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
You have to give Microsoft credit for one thing: they understand the future is in the Cloud and they want you to know it. They are almost literally screaming it from the rooftops just in case you aren’t clear. It’s in their speeches, press conferences and ads, but I still can’t help but feel there is a mixed message coming from Redmond.

When I was at CeBIT in Hannover, Germany a couple of weeks ago, I saw that dual personality on full display. Microsoft held a high-profile press conference where they were touting their cloud credentials with all the enthusiasm they could muster. Yet at the same time, I couldn’t help noticing it was always tied to their desktop mainstays Windows and Office.

Even though Microsoft clearly recognizes the value of cloud services, it seems incapable of weaning itself from its desktop darlings. Sure, you can use the cloud to accomplish all sorts of interesting things. Just don’t forget that it all comes back to Windows and Office.

Meanwhile, Forbes Magazine reports on a recent speech by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to oil and gas executives in which he predicted that Microsoft’s Kinect gaming tool would have a big role in Microsoft’s cloud computing platform in the future. Blogger Christopher Helman wrote:

“…Ballmer explained that the Kinect technology could eventually help bring oil reservoir engineers together from all over the world to study and manipulate a 3-d rendering of an oilfield. The sensors, said Ballmer, will eventually be integrated into PCs and smartphones and powered by the cloud-based Windows Azure platform. “

That sounds great, but when given the opportunity to demonstrate that kind of round-trip potential today between the cloud and connected devices (leaving Kinect out of it for now), Microsoft failed to do it. A case in point is the new Windows Intune system due out later this month.

It’s an interesting new cloud service aimed at IT Pros that lets you monitor your company’s Windows PCs from a web console. For instance, if a PC on the system needs an update (such as a Windows patch), you can distribute the update and the machine is updated via the cloud without having to be connected to the network.

So far so good, but even though it lets you receive email alerts when the system detects a problem, it lacks a Windows Phone 7 app that mimics the web console. It seems this would be a perfect scenario to connect the desktop, web and smart phone via the Cloud, but they didn’t take advantage.

And even as they tout the Cloud, some of their blog posts seem to question its value. Take for example, the Success is a Marathon, Not a Sprint piece posted by Tom Rizzo on the Why Microsoft blog last month. While seeming to support the cloud, and of course Microsoft’s approach to it, the post recycles many standard cloud fears.

I’m not sure how you can be all in with the Cloud while reciting tired arguments against it (even if it’s to build up a case for your cloud services). If you need further proof of Microsoft’s cloud angst, look to the fact that the man hired to be the company’s chief cloud architect, Ray Ozzie, quit long before the Cloud strategy had a chance to develop fully.

I know I’m confused by all of this. Seems that Microsoft wants it every which way. They want to say they are in the cloud all the way, while protecting their lucrative desktop market. As long as they play it this way, they will be telling two stories and they can’t be surprised when that creates confusion in the marketplace.

March 10, 2011  10:41 AM

Corporate Tablets Need to Be More Than Keyboardless Laptops

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
There was no shortage of tablets on display this year at the CeBIT Technology Fair, held last week in Hannover, Germany. Each one was trying in its own way to find an audience and differentiate itself from the mighty iPad.

At the iPad 2 release party last Wednesday in San Francisco, Apple CEO Steve Jobs explained that it would be a mistake for competitors to see the tablet form factor as another kind of PC. In his view, it is much more than a laptop without a keyboard. Yet that’s precisely how some manufacturers here seemed to see it.

Many tablet designs are trying to find their niche by being more enterprise-friendly and that means coming equipped with Microsoft software just like on the desktop and laptop. Fujitsu for instance showed off a prototype of a new tablet due for release in April running Windows 7 with a stylus for pen and mouse input (shown below).

It also boasted a finger print reader and a PC Card slot along with USB ports. The idea is to make it secure and IT-friendly. It’s immensely practical, but it certainly doesn’t have the sex appeal of the iPad 2 and that could be a problem (especially for status conscious executives).

As I watched several presentations throughout the week from high-profile technology company executives, I couldn’t help but notice that speakers repeatedly referred to the iPad and iPhone as examples of disruptive technology. Several indicated they owned both devices themselves. The fact is that if CEOs at major corporations own Apple devices, then chances are IT is finding a way to deal with the security issues associated with using Apple technology in the enterprise.

Asus took a different tact, offering a variety of enterprise-friendly tablets including one running Google Honeycomb with a slide-out keyboard, sensing perhaps that people want to have keyboard input to be a truly useful business device. Indeed, one executive speaking a the conference last week indicated that he carried an iPhone, iPad and laptop because he preferred to do his writing work with a keyboard.

Asus also had models that had bluetooth keyboard stands and a monster 12 inch tablet running Windows 7 they were marketing as an executive tablet.

Yet as interesting and attractive as these devices were (and each one did have some great features), they fell into that trap that Jobs warned about by trying to be a PC instead of a tablet. Sure, it’s great that you can run Microsoft Office on your tablet and use a finger print identifier for security purposes, but is that really what the tablet is all about?

What separates Apple from the pack in my view is its design, its app store and its crystal clear understanding that this is a very different device where, as Jobs said, “the hardware and software intertwine.”

Undoubtedly there are IT shops out there who want to provide tablets for their users, running their standard business software and who fear using external apps such as those found in the Apple App Store, for many reasons including productivity and security concerns. In Germany, for instance, from what I heard, IT tends to be extremely conservative in this regard and these tablets are being developed precisely for this type of market.

There will be organizations around the world that demand a high level of security and familiarity, and these tablets should provide that for them, but it might be at the cost of what makes the tablet special. If you are truly that concerned about these issues, a nice laptop might be money better spent.

Full Disclosure Department: CeBIT paid my travel expenses to attend the conference.

Photo Credit: Ron Miller

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