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In a memo marking his decision to step down, Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie asks us to "close our eyes and form a realistic picture of what a post-PC world might actually look like, if it were to ever truly occur."
For some, the post-PC world is already here. Tablet computers, exemplified by Apple's iPad, are post-PC devices, as Forrester analyst Ted Schadler sees it. And they're coming to businesses, like it or not.
In a report issued on Tuesday, Schadler observes that new tablets seem to appear every day. He cites the Cisco Cius, Google Chrome OS tablets, the Dell Streak, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, the RIM PlayBook, and the HP 'PalmPad,' as examples. Even if it's only Apple that's selling a lot of these devices at the moment -- 4.19 million during its most recent quarter -- Forrester is predicting 13 million tablets will have been sold by the end of 2010 and 59 million will have been sold by the end of 2015.
With Verizon offering Apple's iPad starting on Thursday, Forrester may have to revise its estimates upward.
The tablet trend has not gone unnoticed among IT organizations. Forrester sees 30% of IT shops testing or planning tablet apps, with an additional 43% expressing interest in tablets.
"We've had over 200 conversations with IT customers about iPads and other tablets since January," Schadler explained in a blog post. "The interest is incredible. And IT is ahead of the curve on this one, determined not to be playing catchup as happened with employee and executive demand for iPhones."
Such anecdotes fit with remarks made by Apple COO Tim Cook during the company's recent earning conference call. In reference to the iPad's presence in two-thirds of the Fortune 100, Cook said, "And I don't know about you, but I've never seen an adoption like this in my life in the enterprise -- enterprise is historically much slower-moving on adoption."
Schadler's report tells of tablets entering the workplace in three ways: as replacements for traditional tools like laptops, as replacements for paper, and in new business scenarios where bulky computers aren't convenient.
Forrester finds companies using iPads in unexpected ways: Lloyd's of London, for example is testing iPads with brokers so that they can write business from the field. There's also a Connecticut hospital that's trying to work iPads into the routines of clinicians to make patient records, drug conflict data, and health information more accessible. And Japanese business solutions vendor Gotanda Denshi has been testing iPads with Japanese retailers, with preliminary results pointing to higher sales and order sizes.
For all the promise, there are challenges too. Forrester's report advises focusing on iOS, Android, and HTML5, rather than trying to support all the other operating systems that are trying to gain traction. It calls for educating employees, who may be at a loss when not provided with Microsoft Office, and for taking the time to review the security issues.
Beyond the obvious selling points of iPads, there's one in particular that makes them compelling to businesses: They're often paid for by employees. "You don’t have to make a business case if employees are willing to buy their own and support themselves," the report notes.