Apple tablet unlikely to be B2B-ready, says vendor

For one, an Apple tablet touchscreen is too fragile for construction or hospitals, rivals say

Tablet computers preceding Apple 's expected tablet may have been a dud with consumers , but they have actually made some inroads in industries such as health care , construction and field service.

That certain industries have embraced tablets has Apple Inc. interested, say some reports, which say Apple was showing off its tablet prototype to hospital executives in Los Angeles in recent weeks.

However, Michael Stinson, vice-president of marketing at tablet manufacturer Motion Computing Inc., doesn't believe the rumors.

"We've got a pretty good set of lead customers in hospitals up and down the west coast," Stinson said. "We haven't gotten any inbound calls [from customers], nor have we seen a lot of activity from health care software providers like McKesson."

Motion is the leading independent vendor making tablets that sell in the $2,000-and-up range for specialized industries such as health care and construction.

Motion competes with tablets from mainstream PC vendors such as Panasonic , Dell Inc. and Lenovo Group Ltd. Stinson said, however, that an Apple tablet could win fans among doctors in hospitals, who could use it to view patient medical records. That would be analogous to the way Apple's iPhone made its way in enterprises first via senior executives.

But as slow as enterprises have been to embrace iPhones , Stinson said he thinks the Apple tablet will face an even steeper adoption curve among customers in industries.

"There is a lot of customization and support needed to sell effectively to hospitals," Stinson said. "You need the right form factor, the right cases, the right docks and/or carts, the ability to disinfect the tablet and integrate it with electronic medical records."

The tablet's likely touchscreen will be too fragile for construction sites or the day-to-day abuse of hospital settings, he said.

Apple's tablet is expected to use the finger-based touch of iPhone. While dandy for viewing Web sites and exploring music collections, it falls flat for more business-oriented tasks, said Geoff Walker, product marketing manager at touchscreen maker NextWindow Ltd.

"A finger is inherently imprecise. Look at a spreadsheet -- can you imagine trying to drag a cell from one place to another?" he asked.

Or take nurses using tablets to fill out complicated patient admission forms filled with tiny fields -- they'll prefer stylus-based tablets like Motion's, Stinson said. So will construction foremen wearing gloves or sporting dirty, greasy hands, he said.

Motion's tablets all run the Windows operating system. That's crucial for compatibility with the line-of-business and custom apps used by most industrial customers, Stinson said.

Windows compatibility also makes the devices easy to configure as thin clients or virtualized desktops -- a popular choice for hospitals concerned about HIPAA requirements for data security, for example.

Eric Lai covers Windows and Linux, desktop applications, databases and business intelligence for Computerworld . Follow Eric on Twitter at @ericylai , send e-mail to elai@computerworld.com or subscribe to Eric's RSS feed .

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