(Corrected 6 PM PT, August 21, with information provided by Avaya.)
Consumer appeal has been the most important factor in the business tablet war to date.That's because the vast majority of tablets used for work - five-sixths, by one estimate - have been brought in by workers via their employers' Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs. It's why the iPad has dominated.
It's a simple equation, but it vexes the IT snobs and command-and-control traditionalists. How has this [UGH] gadget, with its va-va-va-voom looks infiltrated THEIR HOUSE so quickly?
Intellectually, they might understand that we're in an era of increasing Consumerization of IT (CoIT), and that they need to stop thinking that they get to call all the technology shots. But old habits die hard. So as a reminder, let's look at what happened to the 2011 wave of tablets that thought the pathway into organizations was via the IT manager, not the worker:
BlackBerry PlayBook - It came from IT favorite RIM and delivered the Canadian company's vaunted manageability and security. But delays by RIM to deliver its trademark e-mail experience on the PlayBook (and other apps), as well as cut the price to a competitive level, has hurt the popularity of the first iteration of this device.
Cisco Cius - Another vendor well-liked by IT, Cisco's entry featured some powerful videoconferencing, networking and security options. And its nod towards CoIT was to run the Cius on Android. But the tablet itself was homely and underpowered. And the options were pricey. Cisco stopped supporting the Cius less than a year after its launch.
Avaya Flare - With its $2,5001,999 list price tag and positioning as a "desktop video device" integrated with (Avaya) desk phones, Avaya couldn't have expected many consumers to buy the Flare. What it probably didn't expect was how few enterprises would. Avaya has since wised up, abandoningcontinues to offer its proprietary unified communications hardware, but I suspect the market is warmer to the Flare Experience unified communications apps (list price: $190/user) in favor of pushing Flare video apps running on iOS, Windows and (in 2013) Android.
Tablet War 2.0 - the Battlefield Shifts, Slightly
A new wave of tablets are set to hit the market and challenge the iPad in companies and other large organizations. The vendors behind them have learned their lessons: appealing to IT is not enough. They get that for the foreseeable future, there will be two channels into the enterprise - BYOD (employees buy and own) and IT (company buys and issues). To be successful, they need to cater equally to both.
At the same time, there is a growing realization that poorly-managed, overly-liberal BYOD programs can cost companies more than they save. These vendors are hoping that IT will start reasserting itself and restrict employees who wish to Bring Their Own tablets to a limited menu of IT-approved ones.
For instance, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 released earlier this month. It follows its successful, smaller predecessor which proved that millions of people dislike touchscreen keyboards enough to go stylus. Besides being excellent for artists (and Palm Pilot nostalgists), the Note 4G also suits field workers who must accurately fill out long forms or questionnaires while on the go.
Like this guy.
For IT managers, the Samsung Note is like other recent Galaxy-class devices, running a more-manageable, secureable variant of Android through the Samsung Approved for the Enterprise (SAFE) technology. Features include on-device encryption, Cisco and Juniper VPN, Exchange ActiveSync and more. Also, it’s much easier to fix than an iPad!
SAP CIO Oliver Bussmann, who carries a Galaxy Note himself, says it's one of the most-requested Android devices at SAP. "I see more and more internal users, especially executives, going for the Note," he said.
Or take Hewlett-Packard, which strongly hinted last week that rumors that its coming Windows 8 tablet will be enterprise-oriented, with a stylus, enterprise dock and sunlight-viewable screen, are true. 451 Research's Chris Hazelton believes the HP tablet could even come with an optional semi-rugged to fully-rugged keyboard.
And then there's Microsoft, which IDC predicts will build 3 million Surface tablets running both Windows 8 and Windows RT, and other Windows 8 tablet vendors, including Asus (Tablet 600), Acer, Samsung (Series 5 & 7 Hybrid PCs), Dell (Latitude 10) and Lenovo (ThinkPad Tablet 2).
Arriving in late October, Windows 8 tablets may cost as little as $600 and $700, sport optional or integrated keyboards, be backwards compatible with existing Windows applications, and, crucially for IT pros, be compatible with Microsoft's stack of systems management software.
Not a Return to Days of Yore
Some hope that this will be the start of Microsoft's takeover of the tablet space, just as it slowly but eventually dominated the business PC space with Windows. Others hope this will be a re-ascendence of command-and-control IT, which favors corporate deployments and the standardization on a single platform, presumably Windows, for better management and control.
I think that ship has sailed.
Companies aren't going to dump iPads and Android tablets wholesale. These tablets have proven their usefulness in many companies under many different conditions, from sales enablement, field service, meetings, accelerating internal processes and more. Their devices too much of a bargain ($199 Nexus vs. a $700 Windows 8 tablet?) and the platforms just too rich with apps.
Also, the growth of iPhones and Android smartphones at work continues unabated. Why would employees be content if they allowed to use iOS or Android with one kind of mobile device but banned with another? Rather than abandoning BYOD, companies will learn to use the right Mobile Device Management (MDM) software to create the right security policies and keep costs under control.
Don't get me wrong: Windows 8 tablets will certainly appeal to many consumers and companies. But I just don't think that most organizations will be willing to turn back the clock. Standardization is an unattainable utopia. The average enterprise already supports three or more mobile OSes.
Don't forget that Apple is upping its enterprise game. It revealed in an SEC filing this month that it plans to incorporate fingerprint sensor technology from its recent acquisition, AuthenTec, in its products as soon as possible. Presumably, that would mean embedding fingerprint sensors for secure authentication into the iPhone and/or iPad. This could smooth in-person retail payments made using wireless NFC (Near-Field Communications) technology, as well as "be handy in large business or government agencies where security is paramount," wrote CNET.
Apple - and Google, for that matter - also continue to open up more APIs to third-party MDM and MAM (Mobile Application Management) vendors so that they can continue to improve their security and manageability.
Bottom line: enterprises should not expect Windows 8 to herald a return to one platform uber alles (i.e. PCs AND tablets). Enterprises should expect to support iOS, Android and Windows 8 if they want to optimize worker performance - and morale.