Tech leaders vacillate on iPhone 5, with growing anticipation of Windows 8

The iPhone has made serious inroads in the enterprise, but tech executives aren't as excited about the next iPhone as they are about the potential of Windows 8 devices.
Written by Jason Hiner, Editor in Chief
Yerba Buena Center for iPhone 5 announcement
The Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco is all decked out for the announcement of the next iPhone on Wednesday. Credit: Josh Lowensohn/CNET

When I sit with business professionals in corporate meeting rooms and look at the executives sitting in business class on airplanes, I increasingly notice most of them carry the same device: iPhone. Two years ago, these same people were almost all using a BlackBerry. What device will they be using two years from now? According to members of TechRepublic’s CIO Jury, Windows phones are going to have the inside track at stealing Apple's thunder.

We'll get a big clue to help decipher the future of the smartphone market on Wednesday when Apple unveils its sixth generation iPhone at 10:00AM Pacific in San Francisco (watch CNET's live coverage). Apple appears squarely locked into a two-year product cycle with the iPhone, where it announces a major redesign one year and then an incremental upgrade the next year. This is a redesign year. So, there's a lot riding on the new iPhone, since it will have 24 months of influence in the red hot smartphone market.

Whether all but the most security-conscious companies will dump their BlackBerry phones for iPhones is one of the questions hanging out there. Whether iPhone can continue to keep pace with the growth of Android in the consumer market is another big question. But, percolating under the surface there's another issue that could potentially catch the mobile market by surprise--growing anticipation in the corporate world for Windows 8 phones and tablets.

That's the message we heard loud and clear this week when we did a private poll of the members of TechRepublic's CIO Jury, an international group of about 200 influential technology executives. To be fair, there are still plenty of IT executives excited about the next iPhone, but we were surprised at how much enthusiasm we heard about Windows devices--especially in response to a question about the iPhone where we never specifically asked about Windows 8.

First, let's look at what we got from the tech executives who are eagerly anticipating the next iPhone.

Brian Wells, Associate VP of Health Technology and Academic Computing at Penn Medicine, said, "I will upgrade [to the next iPhone] regardless as in my role at Penn I need to stay out in front to ensure the device and new OS features will be supported by our infrastructure. I have many clinicians and executives that will likely upgrade and we need to stay ahead of them."

Michael Spears, CIO at NCCI Holdings, said, "I am one who is expecting to upgrade to the iPhone 5 pending Wednesday's announcement. I currently have the iPhone 4S. Apple always delivers with a few new key features. I'm not sure I am excited about a larger device, but I'll probably come to appreciate it once I see it... Although each release of the phone keeps getting better, I'm beginning to view my phone as an accessory to the iPad primarily for checking mail and basic functions... I have no interest in switching to Android, I value staying in the ecosystem as much as the device itself."

Afonso Caetano, CIO at J Macêdo, said, "Without doubt, the iPhone 5 will be my next phone, though I will have to wait a bit until it can be released in Apple stores in Brazil. I'm quite interested in the announcement of the new iPhone [on] Wednesday because of the evolution that it will bring and, above all, help me to answer the curiosity of other company executives if [it is] worth it or not to change [from] the current iPhone 4S."

Graham Yellowly, CTO of Equities, Risk and Client Service at LCH Clearnet, said, "I currently have an iPhone 4. The reason I am extremely likely to proceed with the upgrade to iPhone 5 is due to the fact that I like technology and 'gadgets' so would be interested in migrating upwards to a newer model. I find the screen quality and size of the iPhone 4 to be good, a bigger screen won't make much difference to me as if I need a bigger screen I use the iPad and the current iPhone 4 screen is big enough to read web pages clearly and displays photos and videos brilliantly. Faster processing won't make a difference either, though 4G is very tempting if and when we ever get a 4G service in the UK that is compatible with the iPhone 5.... So in summary there is no compelling reason to upgrade, but I will anyway."

If you only read those quotes you wouldn't think Apple has much to worry about. So, let's hear how some of the naysayers responded.

"The release of the iPhone 5 will not have any bearing on my organisation's mobile device decisions," said Scott Kerr, IT director at Scotmid. "The hardware itself is almost irrelevant with the OS, integration and security abilities being more important. To this extent the Nokia [Windows Phone 8] devices are more interesting. Apple will continue to upgrade their products on a regular basis and it is impossible for businesses to keep up with what Apple might be doing."

Adam Gerrard, CTO at LateRooms Group, said, "[The new iPhone is] not likely to be my next personal device. I'm waiting for the Windows 8 phones and the Windows Surface to arrive before I make my next personal technology investment decision. I currently use a BlackBerry for mobile [communications] and a 7" Android 4.0 tablet which uses my BlackBerry as a wireless hotspot for connectivity. I need devices that improve my productivity and integrate into my business life rather than a stylish data reader (which has been my experience of Apple products to date) that looks trendy to be seen with when out of the office. I await the iPhone 5 from a business perspective as the people who will buy it tend to be a good target market segment for high margin sales opportunities and we will want to understand how to most effectively target this specific device."

The Android response came from Kevin Leypoldt, IS Director of Structural Integrity Associates, who said,

For the first time since the launch of the iPhone I can actually see Apple missing the mark here. The 4S hardware last year was a disappointment for many... Android (both hardware and operating system) have come a long way, fueled by constant innovation, over the last year. It's my opinion that Android (as a whole) has become the mark to beat. The hardware has surpassed Apple with larger screens and faster processors. Then the improved OS (Ice Cream Sandwich and now Jelly Bean) now incorporate many of the same OS/software features that Apple set as the standard...

I guess I see it as Apple’s game to lose, and the fact that they seem committed to this annual refresh schedule really leaves them at a disadvantage which may actually take a bite out of the Apple this go around. On the flip side there are a bunch of folks on a listing Blackberry ship that may be waiting for iPhone 5 before they abandon ship. These incremental advancements may be all they need to see before they jump. Personally I am a current 4S user, but I think that I am searching for a reason to abandon ship myself and see how the Android boat performs. We shall see what Wednesday brings.

However, the responses that Apple should be most concerned about are the ones that came from Shawn Beighle, CIO of The International Republican Institute, and Dale Huhtala, executive director of enterprise technology infrastructure services at Service Alberta.

Beighle said,

To be completely honest, from a business standpoint I'm much more excited to see how Windows 8 Mobile rolls out, along with Surface. With all three platforms: PC, tablet and smartphone all running the same kernel, while also having Active Directory tied in and the controls that come with that, this has incredible potential.

As with everything in the tech-world though, seeing is believing.

I currently have an iPhone 4, which I decided not to the upgrade to the 4S, simply because there wasn't enough of a compelling reason to do so. I will upgrade to the iPhone 5 though, since my 4 is really at the end of its lifespan. I'm not overly excited about the upgrade mind you, it's just time to do so.

If Microsoft is successful with Windows Mobile 8 and Surface though, I'll most likely drop the iPhone altogether. That's a big 'if' though.

Huhtala wrote,

We are not waiting for the iPhone 5. In fact, we did a massive transition of over 4,000 phones from BlackBerry devices to iPhone 4S devices over the summer. This aligns with our recent requirements to host iPad devices via a managed Mobile Device Management (MDM) tool that has been implemented for the enterprise.

Overall, we've found that iOS devices are not a good fit into the corporate model – software is very difficult to manage across these devices. A volume deployment solution was recently announced by Apple in Canada (last week) that may help, but as Apple themselves have told us – these devices are consumer devices that were not meant to be deployed in an enterprise environment. That is very apparent.

We are hoping to investigate the options available with a Windows 8 phone/tablet in the upcoming year. The belief is that these will be more corporate-friendly, though initial investigations are showing that we'll likely need still another set of infrastructure to manage these devices as well. They will be a better fit for the corporate environment, particularly around managing files – something iOS definitely does not do well.

In short, we're mildly interested in the new announcements – and expect a flood of requests for the new phones, and possibly the new smaller iPad if that gets announced – but it won't be a direction-changer like the Windows 8 devices may be.

Let's not forget that these comments also show how much Apple has invaded the enterprise in the past couple years. It's a standard part of the conversation now. That said, it still has its limitations -- particularly security and device management -- and since Android has been unable to exploit those weaknesses (and, in many cases, is even worse), that leaves a big opening for Windows 8 phones and tablets.

However, it's far from a done deal that Microsoft is going to swoop in and steal market share. The new Windows products look solid in demos, but they are going to have to be really, really good when they actually land in the hands of real people.

The other thing to keep in mind here is that this is no longer a completely top-down decision where a company decides on the technology vendor, buys a bunch of devices, and then hands them out to certain sets of employees. There's also the bottom-up part of the equation--bring your own device (BYOD).

Even if some companies recommend that employees buy Windows 8 devices and offer better access to more company resources to people who connect with Windows 8 devices, ultimately those devices (and their app and content ecosystem) are going to have to be good enough that individual consumers don't feel like they are giving up anything by buying a Windows device instead of an Android device or iPhone. On Wednesday, we'll see if Apple sets that bar a little higher.

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