Windows, iOS or Android: Who will win the business tablets battle?

Windows, iOS or Android: Who will win the business tablets battle?

Summary: Apple, Microsoft and Android manufacturers are lining up to go after the business tablet market in earnest. So who will come out on top?


After years of being overlooked in favour of the shiny consumer market, the enterprise tablet market is about to get a lot more interesting.

With the consumer market seemingly reaching saturation, tablet makers are now starting to look at the enterprise market with hungry eyes.

Nearly all the consumers who might want to buy a tablet have already bought one, and secondly they're holding onto them a lot longer that manufacturers hoped — meaning the tablet replacement market has been flatter than many expected.

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Tablets may have received too much credit for reinventing computing. It's quite possible that tablets are an interim device on the way to something new.

On top of that, margins on consumer hardware can be razor-thin compared to premium-priced business devices (especially if you can get those businesses to cough up for consulting and services on top).

All of this makes the business market — now finally waking up to the potential of tablets — a very tempting one.

However, the enterprise market has its own list of must-haves not found in the consumer sphere: those physical keyboards which are an optional extra for consumers, for example, plus bullet-proof security and management capabilities.

The enterprise market is more demanding and conservative than its consumer counterpart, making it tougher to crack for tablet manufacturers — especially those not selling Windows-powered slates.

Clearly Microsoft is already well entrenched in business, from the PC on most users' desks through to cloud services at the backend. When Androids and iPads arrive in the office, they're trespassing uneasily on what's still largely Redmond's turf.

That's surely one of the reasons behind Apple's recent alliance with IBM, which will see the pair make industry-specific applications built on iOS.

And while Android accounts for the majority of consumer tablet sales it has much to prove in the enterprise. One potential avenue for Android to make itself more business-friendly is to use its strong position in smartphones as a beachhead; perhaps tighter integration between Android smartphones and tablets might make business customers look twice.

Short term, all of this is likely to be good news for Microsoft, which has had plenty of time to get ready with its Surface tablet, and for makers of hybrid Windows tablets. Choosing some kind of Windows hybrid tablet PC is the safest choice for most risk-averse CIOs as staff don't need much retraining to use them and the devices will integrate easily with existing infrastructure – two big boxes ticked.

Still, Apple is likely to make more of an impact — thanks to the IBM deal, those iPads dished out to executives may get a lot more useful. Android in the enterprise may be a far longer term project, but just wait for all those kids coming out of school used to nothing but Chromebooks.

Look further out, and the enterprise tablet market gets far more interesting. Increasingly, enterprise apps are web-based, which means the operating system and the device used to access them is almost irrelevant. That suggests that the enterprise desktop market will be shaken up in ways that are harder to predict. We're seeing the opening skirmishes of what could be a long war.

ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. As a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the US.

Previously on Monday Morning Opener

Topics: Enterprise Software, Mobility, Tablets

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  • Re: Windows, iOS or Android: Who will win the business tablets battle?....

    iOS is at the bottom of the pile with the iPad being limited productivity wise.

    I am going to have to go with the Surface Pro 3 however I would not use it personally having a preference for the MacBook Air.

    But for many the Surface Pro 3 is the clear winner purely for its flexibility.
  • Should be Windows ...

    ... But it won't be.

    For a start, they don't make an tablets, just a mock-laptop.

    But what's worse is, as ever, they've produced an aircraft carrier to do anything you ever dreamed of.

    Apple and Android, who 'get' tablets, have made light, quick, efficient models that don't do a heck of a lot .... but can be set up to do most jobs a truly mobile PC needs to do.

    Sure, a few people will NEED a fully featured laptop, and most of them will go for Chromebook, or an equivalent light, quick machine from Apple or Microsoft, when they get around to wifi.

    An Apple/Android can be a minesweeper, a frigate, a coast guard vessel, whatever ... the world only needs a handful of aircraft carriers. But Microsoft will keep churning them out, becasue that's what they do. And they ain't changin'.

    Who will win of Apple and Android? Both, I suspect. Android is the most flexible, and byfar the cheapest. But Apple will focus on a few markets, as they always have, and win them.
    • Microsoft's biggest problems

      The biggest problem with MS' tablet strategy, is its Windows 8 app store. If MS hadn't come out with it, Windows 8 apps would have likely taken off. All major software developers, including MS, stay away from it like it is the plague. Yet MS refuses to take immediate actions to address its deficiency, as an economically viable platform. I just don't get it. When I discover a problem in my app affecting sales, I take immediate action. MS just sits around for months as if everything is alright. Why doesn't it do something now?

      As for MS' Windows Phone platform, from its beginning, it has been plagued by salesperson bias undermining its sales. To this day, MS has not solved the problem adequately. Doesn't MS get it? The company cannot rely on regular salespeople to sell its Windows Phones and Windows tablets. One way or another, it need its own MS products dedicated salespeople to accomplish this goal. If MS cannot get some staff at telecom and other stores to sell only MS products, then it needs to look at things like stores in stores. Also MS, completely dominate the enterprise smartphone market.

      Microsoft is moving fast in a couple of areas. But it is in the above areas it really needs to act quickly. MS is taking years to move, instead of months, or better yet, weeks.
      P. Douglas
    • The parrot speaks. As usual, with nothing of any value

      Odd that most everyone else considers the Surface a tablet, as it's form, fit, and function is identical to that of iPad and Android. You can call it a anything you want besides a tablet, but then you'd be just as accurate calling the USS Nimitz a pickup up truck.

      Sorry the Surface frightens you so much, but what can you do, right?

      Honestly it's a toss up between Microsoft and Apple, as they appear to be the two I'm seeing the places we deal with. I haven't seen any place we deal with Android, or looking to Android as a serious contender.

      Not what you wanted to hear, Heenan73, but I'm just telling you what I'm seeing.
      • No-one sees Surface as a tablet ....

        ... not even Microsoft.

        It's a laptop with 6 tonnes of software. The point of mobile is ONLY load the software you need for the job you are about to do. Surface has enough software to get you to the moon and back - which would be superb if that's what we wanted to do. But we don't.

        Most enterprise needs are for fairly specific tasks - you have have 200 iPads, each set up differently for the task at hand, or 20 each of 10 different setups, whatever - or you could have 200 Surface, each able to do evrything (Plus fly to the moon and back) at twice the price and half the speed.

        Microsoft don't get it.
        Farrell don't get it.
        Owlnet don't get it.
        Loverock don't get it.
        Burson Marstellaer don't get it.

        Android gets it.
        Apple gets it.

        Get over it.
        • What?

          Do you even OWN a Surface pro 3? I do, and it wasn't loaded down with ANYTHING. I loaded the apps I WANTED (via USB and/or the LAN, do THAT with iOS or Android!) and I still have 71% FREE disk space. The OS takes a small fraction of the drive space, not even worth bothering about.

          I suggest you actually get your facts straight. The SP3 is a sweet device.
          • I can side load apps on Android...

            albeit with an OTG, but full USB, grab some APKs and I'm good to go...
            Cory Ducey
        • Thanks for the Mafiasoft Shill list Hernan73

          I have that exact list of Redmond paid Shills.

          They are so obvious like a fart in a space suit.

          They all blog passionately about submarines with windoze 8 playschool screen doors.
          • You really need to stop talking to yourself.

            People begin to notice.
            The Heretic
          • So what you are saying...

            and correct me if I'm wrong as I don't like putting words in ones mouth...

            that Microsoft is not versatile and iOS and Android are more versatile?

            I've used Windows 8 in our tech lab and I agree that the Metro screen is horrid...especially on non-touch devices, but put that thing in Desktop mode and it works pretty much like a W7 system. With full app support.

            Nothing "Shill" about it's a fact that W8 runs older software (Office 2007 is compatible with it for goodness sake), with little issue. Like anything there is a limit as to how far back you can go, but I've ran Adobe CS4 on it with no issue. I checked the compatibility and would be interested to try CS2, but why bother...that is waaaay back...

            The point is...if you have older Windows software, and as long as it is not 3 or 4 generations back (understandably), it should work on W8.

            If anything is limited, iOS and Android are very limited compared to W8.
            Cory Ducey
        • Yes they do...

          Even on their SP3 website, the caption "The tablet that can replace your laptop. " While the specs are Laptop level, the form factor and their classification of it is there...
          Cory Ducey
    • Really?

      Calling the Surface Pro 3 an aircraft carrier is disingenuous.
      Steve Pugliese
    • So many...

      ...contradictions and poor analogy.

      So is it a "mock-laptop" or an aircraft carrier?

      And did you really say "full featured laptop" and Chromebook in the same sentence?

      To continue your poor analogy, MS will win because it can be a minesweeper, a frigate, a coast guard vessel AND an aircraft carrier as needed, because its full-featured and flexible.
  • Blog sounds a little dated.

    "When Androids and iPads arrive in the office, they're trespassing uneasily on what's still largely Redmond's turf."

    iPads are already entrenched in the enterprise. Apple's iOS has been dominating the enterprise market for years now with iPhones and iPads devices.

    "When it comes to tablets overall, it’s still an iPad world in the land of business: Good’s data shows that of all enterprises using tablets, 90 percent of those are iPads".

    According to Good, iOS device activation in the enterprise was 67% and app activation was responsible for 88% of total app activations during the last quarter. This is before the IBM deal, and any IBM help (which surely will help solidify their lead). Android device activation was 32% and app activation is around 12%. Windows device activation remains static at 1%.

    As for learning curve. Who in the enterprise doesn't own or hasn't used some type of iOS device (or Android)? It's less of a learning curve than Windows 8, which businesses will need to retrain staff on.
    • two problem

      1 that good index does not include windows tablet. and we know ios nor android can beat a x86 tablet. and you come with the bull of legacy apps, well msft has a way to easily cinvert them to metro apps, so cio will not have make new lob apps.

      2 have you heard of windows intune. if windows mobile is deploy in enterprise, it will be through intune.
    • re: was 67% and app activation was responsible for 88% of total app activat

      One only needs to look at the top apps in the iOS app store to see how iPad are really used and where they dominate.

      There isn't a single business app in the top 50 of either free or paid apps.

      Like Tim Cook said recently. IPad are in many fortune 500 companies, but penetration rates are extremely low. In other words, not many are in use in businesses.

      Lots of iPhones, sure, but lets be honest about phones. Almost no one is using a phone to deal real work. Reading some emails, texts and phone calls. Maybe on the rare occassion viewing a document. Still, any phone on the market is going to do what almost anyone in a business environment needs from a smart phone.

      iPads are just big iPhones. I don't see iPhones replacing work computers, so I'm not sure how iPad will.
  • It's a no-brainer

    Enterprise will follow the consumer trend - it's clear already.
    Android as it is now is set to dominate the consumer and the enterprise regarding mobile - many will tell about the favorable numbers for ios, but like it happened with smartphones and after that with tablets, android is just to powerful.
    With a share of 2.5% (sales), WP has no chances in the enterprise, like the share of 1% shows. It would be insane for software makers to build big/complex software for WP before doing it for the other dominant platforms.
    • sure

      if it was really that way. business move slow, that why so many businesses stil uses win xp. THEY DO NOT follow consumer trend.
      • Enterprises are slower and more conservative

        But are you saying consumers have all upgraded from XP to windows 8 unlike enterprises?
        While I don't have the numbers, I do think both "worlds" are more or less in sync there too.
      • Businesses are conservative ...

        .... because their tech buyers are middle-aged guys who grew up on windows, and don't understand tablets.

        Cost and tech changes (money ain't so free, even for tech), means that companies will expect their buyers to wake up, catch up, or ship out.

        Which means not only Android / Apple in the enterprise, but Farrell, Owl-net and the other fanbois being given the heave-ho.

        The enterprise has to move forward - and I think it knows it.