Gartner has seen the future, and it's portable, thin and has a large screen but no keyboard. In short, a tablet. That's one of the themes of the research firm's year-end predictions for IT organizations and users unveiled today. Gartner envisions an increasingly central role for connected devices in the corporate workplace as the line between personal and enterprise technology becomes more and more blurred.
A big part of that trend will be the rise of tablets, with a projected 80% of businesses supporting a workforce using tablets by 2013.
"The Apple iPad is the first of what promises to be a huge wave of media tablets focused largely on content consumption, and to some extent communications, rather than content creation, with fewer features and less processing power than traditional PCs and notebooks or pen-centric tablet PCs," notes Gartner. At a minimum, it says companies will have to provide things like access to work email and calendaring for employees bringing their own devices to the office for convenience.
BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion is the first manufacturer aiming squarely at the enterprise market with its PlayBook tablet device, expected to debut in early 2011. Companies including Sun Life Financial Inc. and TD Bank Financial Group have already indicated interest in adopting it for their workforces.
But the consumer-oriented iPad is also getting corporate love. The Financial Times earlier this month announced it would subsidize the purchase of iPads by its 1,800 employees to gain experience using tablets. It could also help generate wider interest in the newspaper's iPad app, which has attracted 400,000 users since its May launch. Partly because of the growing demand for tablets, Gartner has reduced its forecast for PC shipments in 2010 and 2011.
But tablets are part of the overall shift toward personal devices, for which 90% of corporations will provide compatible applications by 2014. "The trend toward supporting corporate applications on employee-owned notebooks and smartphones is already under way in many organizations and will become commonplace within four years," according to Gartner. Employees who prefer to use private consumer smartphones or notebooks for business rather than company-mandated devices will be at the forefront of this change.
But the push toward greater personalization and online interaction will also have unintended consequences. In one of its creepier predictions, Gartner believes that in five years 10% of online "friends" will be non-human. It points out that many companies and groups already send messages via Twitter feeds and Facebook updates.
"By 2015, efforts to systematize and automate social engagement will result in the rise of social bots -- automated software agents that can handle, to varying degrees, interaction with communities of users in a manner personalized to each individual," states the report. And you thought robocalls were bad.