Uncommon Wisdom

May 20 2011   6:18PM GMT

Tablet evolution depends on consumer and enterprise uses

Tom Nolle Tom Nolle Profile: Tom Nolle

Some data from Nielson suggests that tablet users are perhaps more focused on social media than on streaming video. The data shows that while e-readers outnumber tablets by an enormous margin, people are relatively unlikely to be e-reading while watching TV, but are rather likely (presuming they have a tablet) to be using a tablet. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that if reading a book is difficult while the TV is on, reading an e-reader is likewise. However, it’s probably even more difficult to watch a video on a tablet while watching TV. This means that all these tablet-TV crossovers are really doing Facebook or Twitter, and the larger form factor makes social network access easier.

This doesn’t mean that video streaming to tablets is without adherents. Verizon is going to provide free hotspot services to offload traffic from its 3G/4G network, and that trend is accelerating worldwide. WiFi is a great strategy for pulling cellular traffic out of expensive 3/4G facilities in locations where users are likely to settle for a while. I’ve been calling tablet users “migratory” rather than mobile users because most tablet use will come in sites where users can sit and focus—home, work or hospitality. Some providers and some tablet players believe that there’s a strong tablet opportunity in WiFi alone, in fact.

Truth be told, we don’t know what the consumer will do with tablets—exactly—because the consumer doesn’t know. That’s the big challenge of the mobile broadband revolution. We’re building what I’ve previously called a “life fabric” that links us to services through appliances and ubiquitous broadband. It’s like building an interstate highway system at a time when interstate travel was difficult or impossible. What will it be used for? We probably would think that hauling of goods would be the big application, but in fact it was just personal mobility. We’ll probably get some surprises out of the evolving mobile broadband space too.

On the enterprise side, Alcatel-Lucent released a study that says that 74% of workers believed their productivity could be improved via UC/UCC tools but that two-thirds of this group don’t have the tools they need. I’m a bit skeptical of this kind of study for a couple of reasons. First, my own 30-year history in market research suggests strongly that people aren’t very good at conceptualizing the value of something they don’t have. Everybody thinks something is holding them back from grasping the productivity brass ring. Second, both my own research and other dispassionate university studies I’ve looked at show that most “collaboration” that takes place in business is pairwise (two-party), and there’s been no evidence that video or much of anything else really facilitates this sort of collaboration better than what we already have.

There is one exception to this. Most companies have a problem with collaboration created by the fact that the parties involved aren’t in a stable location, and also are not equipped with a consistent set of tools and access to data. That’s where tablets could come in, but tablet empowerment is independent of UC/UCC in that the application of collaboration doesn’t change, only the appliance you collaborate through. Like consumer use of tablets, though, business use is a work in progress and we’ll probably have to see how the space matures.

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