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While there is an interest in tablets in the enterprise sphere, one analyst expects the new form factor will be confined to secondary device, at best, for the next little while, at least.

Despite equipment manufacturers starting to introduce tablets to market, tablets are not any time soon going to replace the laptop or the desktop. But they will play the role of an additional device for the enterprise user, said Tim Brunt, senior analyst for personal computing at Toronto-based IDC Canada Ltd.

That could change, however, depending on how business users decide to mix and match their work environments. “We could see a shift moving … (to) a tablet and a desktop, rather than having a tablet and a portable,” said Brunt.

Research in Motion Ltd.’s envisions its PlayBook tablet as an extension of the BlackBerry within the enterprise, where users of the business smart phone will acquire the PlayBook as an additional device. The Waterloo, Ont.-based company’s director of product strategy, David Heit, described the PlayBook as “a giant BlackBerry,” useful for much more than just e-mail.
In general, tablets don’t yet represent a huge market share given there are only several players in the space and the price points remain high, said Brunt.

He points to new research from IDC Canada that indicates a Canadian portable PC market that performed slightly better than expected in 2010 Q4 at a growth rate of 2.9 per cent year-over-year. He notes that the Apple iPad was not included in the figures.

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, various new tablet designs were showcased by vendors wanting to join Apple’s iPad and RIM’s PlayBook in the tablet arena. For instance, Motorola unveiled its Android 3.0-based Xoom tablet, and Lenovo announced the LePad, also running Android.
Barriers to enterprise adoption, said Brunt, include equipment longevity issues, given portable devices are prone to breaking and liquid spills. Data security and physical security of the device is of paramount importance. Overall, device manageability remains an issue for IT admins who must ensure the well-being of the devices.
Intel Corp. recently unveiled its VPro desktop processors with security and remote manageability capabilities baked into the chip itself, which could potentially address barriers to the tablet in the enterprise.

Lisa Watts, director of ecosystem development for the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip maker’s business client platform division, said Intel hopes to add some of the capabilities of its VPro platform to help enterprises remotely protect data and support mobile devices such as tablets.

Brunt thinks bringing that technology to the tablet would be “incredibly impressive,” but it doesn’t necessarily have to be hardware-based. Desktop virtualization is useful for security and manageability, he said.

“It makes perfect sense,” said Brunt. “It actually could be used as a lever to increase adoption right now.”

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau