Is productivity in the workplace possible with Surface 2 or iPad?

Is productivity in the workplace possible with Surface 2 or iPad?

Summary: The question as to what people use tablets for in business is somewhat fuzzy whether you're in the Microsoft camp or the Apple camp.

TOPICS: Tablets
Surface or iPad at work
If you worked in a building like the Gerkin, would you use a Surface or an iPad?

A year ago we saw a wobbly start for Surface RT with Microsoft trying to use krumping schoolkids and college students in their ads for the new tablets.

Over time, Microsoft has tried to tilt the marketing message to position Surface as a "productivity tablet". Now that Surface 2 is out, the "productivity tablet" message is coming across loud and clear.

But can what people use tablets at work for actually be described as "productive"?

Surface might be new, but the idea of using tablets in business is not. Although Microsoft would like us to believe that a tablet that doesn't run Office and doesn't have a good solution for a keyboard can't be used in business, the iPad has been used in business since its release in April 2010.

Mobile device management (MDM) allows enterprises to control which apps are available on both on BYOD and enterprise-supplied tablets. Some MDM vendors publish reports and surveys on what their customers' allow and disallow. This information can provide some insight into what apps people are typically using.

Back in June, my ZDNet colleague Adrian Kingsley-Hughes reported on a report put out by one such vendor. Fiberlink gave this list of iOS apps that are commonly whitelisted:

  • iBooks
  • Adobe Reader
  • Google
  • Citrix Receiver
  • Numbers
  • Dropbox
  • Pages
  • iTunes U
  • Keynote
  • WebEx

Along with those apps, you also need to add that apps that come with the device — namely web browsing, email, scheduling, and mapping. Combining all that gives the typical common uses of a tablet in the business environment as:

  • Web browsing (in-built browser, plus the Google app)
  • Email
  • Scheduling
  • Document review/basic production (reading PDF files, Numbers, Pages, Keynote, Dropbox)
  • Remote access (Citrix Receiver)
  • Education/training (iTunes U, iBooks)
  • Real-time communications/conferencing (WebEx)
  • Navigation/mapping ("where's that office for my meeting?!")

I doubt if you'd find anything surprising or controversial about that list. The business is also free to build its own apps, but that's rather outside of scope for this discussion. (It's also quite uncommon if we're thinking about tablet initiatives that are primarily BYOD.) What we're concentrating on is how someone can pick up a tablet, bring it into work, and use it without the IT department being particularly involved in the process.


What we need to decide is what we mean by "productive". That's really where Microsoft is going, but interestingly that's not where Apple is going at all. Apple rarely talks about the iPad in enterprise environments, although the enterprise is important to them and they have programs to support people who want to do that. The iPad is now and always has been about an individual's entire "digital life".

As life is important to a lot of people, and work is part of life, it's into that slot that the iPad fits. It's not about people "having an iPad in order to be productive at work", it's more about "you have an iPad anyway, so why not use it when you're at work?" This is why the question as to what people use tablets for is so fuzzy. No one tells people to use iPads to do their job — people happen to end up using iPads because they offer some convenience.

That couldn't be more different to Microsoft's position. Microsoft is used to seeing PCs as devices that drive commercial efficiency. Microsoft expects people to use their tablets at work.

But, Surface 2 (and Surface Pro 2) will only be successful if it competes ably with Apple on the "digital life" bit. It has to be more than a different take on a laptop.

If we look at the list from Fiberlink, there's "good enough" coverage on those specific apps, or those in roughly the right space in Metro-style/Windows Store apps. Even if there are gaps, Microsoft has a strong enough set of enterprise ISVs that can produce those right apps. Plus it has Office, which knocks against Numbers, Pages, and Keynote. We don't need to worry about any of that.

What I worry about is this positioning as a "productivity tablet". It's a rare knowledge worker that sits down at an iPad to do productive work. What's more likely is that they'll have a quick look at their email on their iPad between meetings, or review a document on the train on the way home. It augments their work life and never becomes the focus.


In order for this whole proposition to work, Microsoft's customers have to follow the same path that Apple's customers have set. iPads are not in business because the IT department has put them there. iPads are in business because normal people happened to bring them in, in the same way that that same employee might bring in their favourite coffee mug.

Luckily, this isn't entirely "off piste" from what Microsoft is aiming at. The "productivity tablet" thing is a good hook in a complex market, but there's enough messages out there that Windows 8, Windows Phone, and Windows tablets is for normal people getting on with their normal lives for this not to be a complete disaster.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topic: Tablets

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  • Surface 2 is way better for business

    Outlook 2013 makes all the difference and Surface 2 has a USB port, so any devices can be attached to it. For digital life, Xbox apps does it all.

    On a side note, your new picture looks cool.
    • Real world test.

      Hay Bob, I've just sent you the report and the presentation, can you include your bits quickly before the meeting on your tablet..... oh I'm sorry you are using an iPad and you can't edit word, excel and PowerPoint documents. Here's my USB drive..... oh I'm sorry you are using an iPad, you have no USB connection. Anyway, go on the network and fetch the files..... oh I'm sorry you are using an iPad, you cannot see the network drives.

      Ounce again, this author shows how much an apple fan he his and how he his blinded by that. Tested and tested again, the Surface is a better work device. Don't get me wrong, the iPad is a great tablet, it's just not designed for business.
      • A 20th century answer

        The 21st century answer:

        - Why yes, in fact I can edit those formats, with any of a dozen tools, and/or my Office 365 account.

        - Heh, Gary, you old kidder. You know nobody uses sticks anymore, right? Just dropbox me the thing.

        - On the network? Sure I'll grab it off our Sharepoint server, which yes, my iPad can reach.
        • Now go print that to the shared printer

          and let Mike log onto your tablet with his account and ...

          Ipads are nice, but they are being pressed into situations they are neither designed or excel at.
      • Don't gripe, do something!

        So the ipad has deficiencies and Microsoft sucks. So have you considered Linux tablets and network operating systems? Linux is the number one operating system in the world after all.
  • absolutely not

    absolutely not:

    with eg iPad you can not:

    1) simply copy file and go
    2) use a different secure web browser or email
    3) for work you need quite often at least a whole calendar on a desktop (impossible with outdated iOS)
    • Android can do whatever you want ...very securely

      Android can do whatever you want ...very securely
      • Bhahahaha... android is

        Android devices are not allowed in a 5 mile radius of an enterprise... that tells me a lot about how secure it is.
        • you just lie

          "Apple iOS Apps Leak More Personal Info Than Android".
          "iPhones most vulnerable among smartphones"
          “40% of iOS popular apps invade your privacy without any permission"
    • curious

      What is "secure web browser and email"?
      • Something that is not produced by Google.

        • Something that is not produced by Apple and Microsoft

          Something that is not produced by Apple and Microsoft
  • You really haven't mentioned the 900 pound gorilla in the room, Max.

    The question was asked, "Is productivity in the workplace possible with Surface 2 or iPad?"

    Well, one half of that question has already been answered. The iPad certainly is productive in the workplace. You know it, I know it and everyone else that views ZDNet blogs knows it if only after reading about some iPad enterprise initiatives from an example population too numerous to restate in this comment.

    But what is really germane to this blog is the answer to the other part of the question: can the Surface 2 establish a strong enterprise adoption rate on par or exceeding the iPad experience?

    Before I answer that question I must go back to that 900 pound gorilla that calls itself "Google".

    It is my opinion that Microsoft is not competing against just one ecosystem in the enterprise sector, contrary to what your blog might imply. It is competing against two ecosystems and, for the most part - the part that really matters - those two ecosystems are available on a single hardware platform.

    Apple's iPad (Thanks to Google) has prospered or succeeded in that BYOD sector because that tablet can run both Apple and Google productivity applications.

    Microsoft, as good as it's RT tablet hardware is (both it's first generation Surface RT and now it's Surface 2 tablets are superior to anything offered on the ARM tablet market today) and as good as it's Win 8.1 OS capabilities are - and they are VERY GOOD in my experience - Microsoft can still only offer it's costumers (for the most part) the benefits of one ecosystem on it's Surface RT line of tablets.

    BTW, I understand that Apple's new iPad 5 will most certainly offer a superior SOC chipset - and other things - that will "out spec" the Surface 2 tablet. It doesn't matter. The Surface tablet concept now embodied by the synergy of it's Win 8.1 RT OS and it's second generation hardware offers increased capabilities over the superb Apple iPad line of tablets and so I have no problem with stating that, in total, the Surface 2 tablet is "superior" to any other ARM based tablet just out of it's packaging box.

    But that's the point. Once out of that manufactures shipping box, the application ecosystem takes over and, sorry to say, two ecosystems will always offer more to a consumer than just one - irregardless of how good that single ecosystem is.

    Now, if Google and Microsoft can make peace in the near future and Google can port all their application onto the RT platform, than I would anticipate that Microsoft will salvage the RT line and it will prosper in the BYOD enterprise work enviroment.
    • Just as an added point to my comment above

      Apple's iPad (Thanks to recent Microsoft decisions) can, and will be able to in the future, use key Microsoft productivity applications as well.

      This means that one tablet hardware platform (Apple's iPad line of products) could offer the consumer a choice of key applications from three software app ecosystems.

      That is a fantastic advantage in the BYOD arena.
      • I'm not sure I see it that way

        Google is certain competing in enterprise with its software and services.

        When you include Apple ecosystem in the discussion of 'key services and applications' I am left wondering what those are, because I can't think of any. That isn't meant to sound snarky, but iOS doesn't really bring any mission critical software or services.

        Nice hardware, sure. Plenty of leisure apps, sure. Some apps that help iPads do some work, sure. A critical operating system function or set of applications, no.

        Using an iPad to launch critical services and features from other ecosystems isn't a real strength for a device if it doesn't also offer something of key importance as well. Essentially it is just acting as a middle man for what users really need, which isn't something provided by the iPad.
  • Full blown windows all the way.

    I get claustrophobic when I just look at someone trying to use an ipad at work. Many people at work went the ipad or android tablet way, and the only thing I ever see them use if for is for email or taking notes.

    I use a Samsung Ativ Tablet with full Windows 8 for work, and when people realize that is a full blown pc in a tablet form they go nuts. Most people here now have changed over to full windows based tablets, except a hand full that really only ever used a pc for email anyway.

    Even the secretary that use to only take notes in our meetings changed over to an Windows tablet, because she could not keep up on the ipad. Now she is using Microsoft OneNote, the full desktop version, and is very happy and productive.

    On a phone ios and android can work, because it is just a dam phone, but on a tablet for work, if you use anything else that full blown Windows your are compromising in some way or the other on productivity.

    In a realistic and pressurised work environment where time is limited and results is all that count, you don't have time to figure out how you are going to make it happen on a stupid ipad or android tablet. What you need is complete, powerful, flexible and proven environment, that can support you a 100% of the way. And in my opinion, for 90% of the requirement full blown windows is only the way to go.

    Soz for my bad english.
  • Is productivity in the workplace possible with Surface 2 or iPad?

    Its possible with the Microsoft Surface 2 since its already Microsoft Windows based and it can run Windows applications. It also has a keyboard for typing up documents. Its not ideal for the workplace but can be used. The iPad just doesn't work unless you want an expensive photo display.
    • I think we all know, yourself included

      that the iPad can do a little more than that. Its App store is far larger than the Windows store, and that includes business apps.

      That said, like I said below, most workers are better served with a normal laptop.
  • Tablets have a certain utility in the workplace

    in that they make great mobile point of sale systems, inventory taking mobile computers, inspection data entry devices, medical chart devices, and courier/logistics assistants.

    But they really do make poor laptops. I see people trying to use them that way, and I always think, you know a Dell Latitude or a Macbook would make that a whole lot easier!
  • I totally agree

    Microsoft needs to further develop that concept of a digital life. The place where it can really stand out is that Microsoft is in a better position to help separate business activity from personal activity - something that's understatedly important when you use a single device, be it a table, phone, or computer, for both.

    Apple doesn't really offer any kind of guidelines or promoted suggestions to this end, and, in order to successfully use your iPad for work, you really need to be savvy at using Apple's limited available contexts to separate work material from personal material.