Estimates suggest that there are a lot of crusty old beige-box PCs out there, with some 600 million of them over five years old. Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, said that this was "sad," and that he'd like to see them taken out of service and replaced with shiny new iPad Pro tablets.
There's little doubt that an iPad Pro can be set up to carry out most tasks that a five-year-old PC might be doing, whether that's running a spreadsheet application, being used to send and receive email, or whatever. That's the easy part.
And by combining an iPad Pro with a keyboard and the stylus, I'm certain that someone could become just as proficient at doing most PC tasks on the iPad Pro. As someone who uses a graphics tablet on OS X and Windows systems, I'm here to tell you that after a little training a stylus becomes just as easy as a mouse to use.
The price of making the swap wouldn't be all that eye-watering either. A 9.7-inch iPad Pro with 32GB of storage, along with a keyboard and Apple Pencil comes in at under $850. A bit more than a bargain-basement PC for sure, but it's certainly not going to give a serious enterprise buyer sticker shock.
The hardware is all there. The app ecosystem is all there (Apple is now even offering iPad buyers the chance to grab a copy of Office 365 at the checkout). It just needs corporate IT departments the world over to decide to make the switch.
Now I'm going to avoid the obvious question ("If these PCs are pulling their weight, do they even need replacing?") and come to another pressing question -- is enterprise ready to start replacing Windows machines with iOS devices?
Let's face it; corporate IT departments don't like change. Look at how Microsoft Office is still the gold standard despite the fact that there are other credible alternatives out there. Look at their collective reactions to Windows 8. Consider how uncomfortable BYOD makes many of them feel.
These folks are not as swayed by new and shiny things like regular consumers are. After all, the main reason that there's such a stagnant pool of old PCs out in enterprise-land that is the fact that there was such a great deal of ambivalence surrounding Windows 8. Change is good, but the leap from Windows 7 to Windows 8 was just too much for a lot of IT departments.
If jumping up a version of Windows is scary, how scary would jumping to an entirely new platform going to be?
"But aren't iPads already making their way into enterprise?" I hear you ask. Yes, but in the majority of cases, they're being added to the ecosystem as devices to carry out specific tasks (sales, medical, educations, etc), and are not being bought in to replace PCs. It's a subtle but important distinction.
You've also got to wonder that if enterprise is really that affable towards switching platforms, why haven't we seen a bigger shift to OS X, or Linux, or Android?
Hint: corporate IT departments are a pretty conservative bunch.
My guess would be that asking IT departments to throw out Windows machines and replace them with iOS tablets is going to be a pretty tough sell. Shifting platforms is a far bigger undertaking than unplugging an old PC from the power outlet, sweeping off the desk, and replacing it with a new one. And IT decision makers might also be worried that if Apple thinks that a PC that's over five years old is a bit "sad," then it might equally feel the same way about iPads that are more than five years old, and decide to pull the plug on them, forcing a premature upgrade cycle.
Now, is Apple serious about going after those 600 million old PCs out there, or was it just bluster aimed at stockholders? We don't know, but shots have been fired, and it would be unwise for those in the PC ecosystem to ignore those shots.
Schiller even went as far as to call the iPad Pro "the ultimate PC replacement." Whether or not it's an "ultimate PC replacement," opinion is divided, but if those aren't fighting words, I don't know what are.
It makes sense for Apple to aim high with the new iPad Pro. A pool of 600 million aging PCs represents a market that could be worth anything from $400 billion to over a $1 trillion to Apple, depending on what configuration iPad Pro the company can sell, so the company has nothing to lose. But whether it can transform keynote puff into actual sales remains to be seen.
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