Wednesday, October 31, 2012

ATR: iPad, uPad, We All Pad...

As Apple announced the next iPads recently, it dawned on me that I'm a year into my personal experience with the iPad. Interestingly, that iPad2 has already been put two generations behind, plus there is a new size. Gotta love technology. I'm also now up to iOS 6, which means I have done two OS upgrades since I first opened the box. It feels like 1992 all over again.

The number of folks with iPads in the office has increased modestly. I'm not certain that most are as geeky about them as I have been, but they get plenty of use.

For this one year anniversary post, I thought that I would  noodle a bit about the state of BYO (Bring Your Own) and the smartphone / tablet revolution. I'm mainly going to set out some of my observations and analysis.

Trend: Fewer employees have company-issued smartphones. Like company paid Internet access, it seems that many companies are phasing out paid cell phones. While this can be a risk relative to information security and e-discovery, the cost savings are driving this, plus employees can buy whatever phone they desire rather than settle for what the company supports.

Trend: Tablets will represent the general limit for most organizations with BYO programs. While there are companies experimenting with computer / laptop BYO programs, integrating and monitoring unmanaged computers is hard. Virtualization is expensive and often doesn't work very well. HR and Legal have concerns about litigation and acceptable use. Tablets generally don't get onto the company network, have limited storage capability, and represent less risk across the board.

Trend: Smartphones and tablets will see increased security threats. With employees generally becoming smarter about threats to their computers, attackers will turn to smartphones and tablets to gain access to corporate data and networks. Antivirus / anti-malware software is immature and few users utilize the software that is available.

Trend: Monolithic vendors (i.e. Apple and RIM / Blackberry) will tend to become more sanctioned for office use. Android will lose share for devices used for business purposes. Windows will be driven by Microsoft's commitment and security patch velocity. More on this below.

Trend: Laptops will become more tablet-like. For all of Microsoft's efforts to get acceptance of Tablet PC, the real limiter wasn't the OS so much as the hardware (weight and battery life). With extreme thinness in, we're seeing laptops that aren't much bulkier than tablets, yet allow greater functionality. The new Dell Ultrabooks with the convertible touch screen refresh an older design in a thin package. That form factor should be the winner over the long haul. The next question deals with the ability of Microsoft to deliver an OS that is nimble.

A significant factor, as I mentioned, is the increased security threat represented by smartphones and tablets. Android devices will be at a significant disadvantage here. My 18 month old Atrix is no longer going to see its OS updated. That means, until I buy a new phone (which, because of subsidy contracts, means at least another six months), I'm not only stuck with an old OS, but I'm stuck with its foibles and vulnerabilities. Imagine that your PC was limited to Windows XP, and then only to the updates from 2003. Now look around your office. How many PCs are still running XP? Quite a few, I'll bet. The security issues with XP would be unmanageable if it wasn't continually patched. Eventually, Microsoft stops patching, but generally at a point where the risk is diminished.

The challenge with smartphones is twofold: hardware and carriers. Each manufacturer builds several different phones each year for each carrier... globally. That could mean several dozen new models every year, tweaked for the numerous cell phone carriers around the globe. And each manufacturer likes different chipsets and other hardware features. That means that "Android" has to be written to the specific phone and carrier, then tested on that network. And the carriers like to enable and disable certain features, as well as add their own bloatware.

Monolithic manufacturers like Apple and RIM control their own destinies a bit more. They are still at the mercy of carriers, but they can manage code updates far better than the Android crowd. This means more frequest OS refreshes and potentially longer life for the underlying devices. That said, smartphones and tablets appear to be destined to have much shorter lifetimes that the current generation of laptops and desktops. That very much parallels the experience of computer users 20 years ago. The computer OS and software changed at very high frequency and computers became more and more powerful with each new chipset, requiring frequent upgrades, replacements and software purchases. Somehow, Microsoft managed to ensure that DOS and Windows could support multiple generations of hardware from disparate vendors. This is what Google has to be able to do with Android at some point.

Corporate support for the BYO world is largely going to be dependent upon security down the road. Right now, the devices have to connect and not mess up the corporate network or cause networking issues. If they don't increase support calls, they are good. That's a given. But at some point, BYO devices will be vulnerable to a new generation of malware and frequent enough targets that enterprise IT will have to insist on protective measures. Otherwise, the noise level just gets crazy and the risk increases.

If I look at my own BYO behavior and computer usage, I would expect that within five years, I will revert to a desktop computer at work from my present laptop. My iPad will either have increased capability or I will switch to a convertible tablet / laptop device that allows for a full keyboard. I will have some sort of corporate-sanctioned cloud storage, and, that convertible device will likely have greater cellular telephone capability (I would expect that there will be some ability to answer calls from your tablet and switch from smartphone to tablet with ease so you don't have to carry around multiple devices). If I need to remotely get on the corporate network, I'll use a virtualization tool via VPN.

It's kind of fun to be an old dog being taught new tricks. Maybe I'll even buy a Mac for my home computer.... nah.