According to an April 2012 report from Good Technology, the iPad made up 97 percent of enterprise tablet activations in Q1 2012. Add in the fact that Apple’s recent quarterly earnings showed they sold 11.8 million iPads in the same quarter, and you might be tempted to think the Apple iPad won the race for enterprise tablet dominance. Instead, all of this great momentum behind the iPad simply proves there’s a huge demand for tablet devices in the enterprise. IT administrators can all agree on the big benefits of tablets in the workplace – lower lifetime cost per device relative to laptops, lack of moving parts to break, better battery life and smaller form factors. And right now, the only real tablet contender in the market is the iPad.
However, with Microsoft’s Windows 8 due out later in 2012, the race for enterprise tablet adoption is just getting started. So which features of Apple and Microsoft tablets stand out in terms of their utility at the enterprise level? Consider these important aspects from all angles before choosing a device to deploy:
- Product Familiarity - Beyond the sheer fact that Apple was first to market with the iPad, consider that enterprise employees are also consumers. Apple’s iOS operating system dominates the consumer market due to the runaway success of the iPhone and the iPad. Employee familiarity with the iOS gives Apple a leg up in the enterprise when it comes to getting a high rate of employee adoption. The Windows 8 Metro interface, on the other hand, prompts a learning curve
- App Store Dominance - iPad users have access to the App Store, where consumer-facing apps can enhance the device’s use beyond the enterprise-grade apps deployed on the device. As of April 2012, the Microsoft Windows 8 Store featured about 100 total apps. To put that number into perspective, Apple typically approves that many apps in less than three hours. As more developers get on board, Microsoft’s numbers will jump, but the prevalence of the App Store remains a distinct advantage for the iPad
- Enterprise Deployment Model - Because of the large number of iPads already deployed into enterprise environments, Apple offers several tools to help companies better manage devices and apps. Beyond supporting the typical device management scenarios, Apple lets companies distribute their proprietary apps in-house via the iOS Developer Enterprise Program. This allows companies to create custom apps and install them onto their employees’ tablets without publishing them in the public App Store. Microsoft is just starting to communicate how enterprises can handle similar custom deployments for Windows 8 (and Windows Phone 7.5), but nothing has been finalized. Microsoft needs to address this gap—and quickly
- One Device Potential - The iPad is ideal for quick file access, browsing the Web and reading emails. But if I need to create a spreadsheet, write a proposal and put together a presentation, I need to use my laptop. In that sense, the iPad is largely considered a “plus one” device. Windows 8 is unique because of its potential to be a single device solution for enterprise users. Employees can use it as a tablet with its Metro interface, and then switch into desktop mode for more complicated work tasks, hooking up to a keyboard, mouse and monitor. From an enterprise standpoint, supporting and buying just one Windows 8 device saves time and money, making this a huge point of differentiation
Writing iPad apps is a different story, requiring Objective C and the use of Apple development environment XCode. To make matters worse, developers can’t create iPad apps on an iPad; they need to use a separate Mac computer. Windows 8 will let developers write apps on the device without the need for an external machine.
- More Hardware Options - Apple’s closed ecosystem means manufacturing is extremely restricted. This model works great for Apple, but hardware companies like Samsung, HP, Dell and others might find themselves left out of the enterprise tablet market entirely if the iPad remains king. Translation: every hardware manufacturer in the world will be cheering for Windows 8 to take down the iPad so they can sell their tablet hardware to the enterprise
- Multi-Profile Support - The iPad currently supports only one user profile per device, which works fine in the consumer market. Multi-profile support will be built into Windows 8, allowing multiple employees to securely share a single Windows 8 tablet because each employee logs in to the tablet with a unique username and password
Some organizations will see this as an opportunity to stretch their hardware budget or offer devices to employees who don’t need a tablet full time. Field service organizations and retail operations would likely see the most benefit from multi-profile support on a tablet.
- Microsoft Office - Office remains one of the most widely used applications in the enterprise. Microsoft Office will be available on Windows 8, but the verdict is still out on whether or not an iPad-compatible version is planned. If Microsoft keeps Office exclusive to Windows 8, that might swing businesses to opt for Windows 8 as their tablet of choice
In the short term look for the iPad to continue to dominate, but don’t count out Windows 8. IT should evaluate on a case-by-case basis, focusing on how the features of each platform align with the organization’s goals and particular use cases. Many enterprises might find that some of the Windows 8 benefits fit well with their organization. Either way, Windows 8 versus iPad this fall will be fun to watch!