The casual restaurant business has garnered buzz this month with the announcement of Applebee’s partnering with E la Carte to place 100,000 tableside tablets in 1,800 of the restaurant’s locations in 2014. This follows on the heels on the announcement of Chili’s deal with Ziosk to provide tableside tablets in 823 of its locations in March of next year. These two collaborations, with that of Applebee’s in particular, represent the largest rollout of tableside tablets to date in the industry. Other sectors, however, are not far behind. Chicago Public Schools have over 60,000 iPads within the school system as of last month, while the Los Angeles Unified School District boasts a robust 44,000 iPads in its system. This also excludes other companies, such as AIA Insurance, KLM and British Airways who have begun deploying tablets to employees.
In an interview with Forbes, Ziosk CEO Austen Mulinder referenced the tableside tablet’s design with a focus on durability and its ability to withstand spills and being dropped The rise in popularity for such a device in the restaurant industry could like provide an interesting opportunity for manufacturers of ruggedized devices who have been losing ground to consumer-oriented devices in the workplace. . The consumerization of IT to date has primarily meant taking consumer goods and placing them in a business environment, but this revolves around the ease-of-use associated with such devices, which the ruggedized community has been slow to adopt. The surge in popularity of tablet devices in consumer-facing industries highlights the central role that mobile devices can take regarding customer service, engagement and loyalty. However, the nature of certain businesses – like that of the casual dining industry – have specific requirements in terms of durability, printing and I/O that cannot be met by using modified consumer goods. These devices require higher levels of durability, environment-proofing and the ability to read and process specific information. While this shift does present an opportunity for firms that have specialized in more ruggedized and enterprise-specific hardware, much of their success will likely hinge ability to meet the economics of the deals. Right now, however, this is still an evolving market with no clear leader, but is nevertheless an area rife with opportunity.