Why Windows tablets won't usurp enterprise iPads – however much IT might want them to

Summary:The iPad isn't being used as a desktop or laptop replacement in businesses – which may give hybrid devices such as Microsoft's Surface a chance to gain a foothold.

Companies may be looking to introduce more Windows-based tablets into their corporate IT set-up — but the move is unlikely to dent use of iPads in the enterprise.

Windows tablets such as Microsoft's Surface are more likely to end up replacing corporate desktops and laptops than iPads, according to a survey of senior IT professionals by analyst firm Gartner — however much IT departments would prefer their users on Windows slates rather than iOS ones.

"A lot of the focus we saw with the participants in the study was they were looking at Windows 8 tablets like Surface with somewhat of a hopeful eye that they would be able to consolidate the number of devices that users are using," Gartner research director and report author Mark Cortner said.

For the IT department, the advantage of Windows tablets is that the management tools and experience built up from legacy Windows environments "is easily extended to those devices and that's by no means easily extended to an iPad", he said.

"Windows tablets may very well be a better solution than laptops for organisations going forward and they may provide those to their users, but that doesn't mean those users will stop bringing in their iPads."

Windows tablets are unlikely to end up dislodging the iPad in organisations because of the nature of the bring-your-own-device trend, Cortner said, which is shaped by consumer buying patterns.

"At this point, the consumer market for tablets is overwhelmingly in the favour of devices like the iPad or Android-based tablets as opposed to Windows tablets," Cortner said.

"For those people who are a laptop or a tablet candidate today for a company-provided device, Windows tablets could be very attractive but that doesn't mean that the employee will still not want to be able to access their email, for example, on their personal tablet."

Growing interest in hybrid devices

Cortner said the study suggested a growing interest in hybrid devices, such as the Surface, that could augur well for Windows-based tablets in the enterprise.

Hybrids with a touchscreen display that can be removed from a main unit housing a keyboard and other compute resources are likely to prove popular, he said.

"The Windows tablets specifically will likely do well as touch-based enterprise devices where mobility is a key concern today or where adding mobility would enhance the business process, or make things move faster in the business, or improve employee productivity in a very measurable way. Those products will have success."

However, according to Cortner, the 17 detailed interviews he conducted for his study, How to succeed with the iPad in the enterprise and avoid the pitfalls, also revealed unease about Android-based tablets, thanks to the perception that the OS is fragmented.

"You have multiple flavours of Android and just in general a higher degree of security concerns relating to Android. So in many instances organisations were allowing iPads, for example, as part of their BYOD policies, they were not dismissing Androids as something they would never support but it was definitely something on the back burner," he said.

"A few companies were moving forward with some limited support for Android tablets. For the majority, supporting Android was still on the sideline. Organisations, frankly, had their hands full with the iPad."

How far should IT support iPads?

But the current relative weakness of Android and Windows tablets doesn't mean the iPad has it all its own way in the enterprise, because IT departments have mixed feelings about how far to support the Apple device.

"In terms of the access to the types of tools or systems that the IT organisation can do, basic table stakes can satisfy a lot of what users are initially looking for: email, contacts, internet access — the first tier."

Providing a second tier of more complex applications, however, will yield diminishing returns, as it's delivered to a smaller set of users with more specialised needs, yet takes up a larger amount of development time and IT department resource.

"The message here is for IT organisations not to get their head wrapped around it too much in terms of trying to deliver everything to the iPad, because those people who are using the iPad are using it as a device of convenience — a complementary device to their desktop or laptop, not as a laptop replacement. You can deliver tremendous value to them just by extending that first tier to the users."

Cortner said the bring-your-own-device trend — in which the iPad plays a significant role — is more popular in the US than in Europe and generally constitutes less of an issue than vendors might portray.

"As a general rule, BYOD gets a disproportionate amount of attention for how prevalent it is," Cortner said.

"BYOD as a topic is something that is very popular and top of mind at a lot of industry events and conferences. And certainly top of mind for many companies in the vendor community and I think it gets a disproportionate amount of attention for how commonly it's used within organisations."

More on Apple iPad and Microsoft Surface

Topics: Bring Your Own Device, Apple, Enterprise Software, iPad, Microsoft, Mobility

About

Toby Wolpe is a senior reporter at ZDNet in London. He started in technology journalism when the Apple II was state of the art.

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