Microsoft may be the best-known/most notorious, IBM the largest if you include revenue from its lucrative (read: expensive) services business, Oracle the largest if you include all of the software AND hardware acquisitions it is still cobbling together.

But at US$18 billion-a-year in revenue, SAP AG remains the largest maker of enterprise software by far (see chart), a position it has held for more than a decade.

For all the hype around Salesforce.com and other Web generation vendors, SAP (full disclosure: my parent company) still leads three huge markets: ERP, CRM and, via its acquisition of BusinessObjects, business intelligence.

At its recent SAPPHIRE NOW conference, you probably read that  SAP declared its intentions to become the world leader in a fourth market, too: mobile enterprise apps.

Via the Mobile Business Unit in its Sybase subsidiary, SAP plans to release about 50 apps this year. They will run the gamut from lightweight 'instant value' apps that simply extend processes and workflows to a smartphone or tablet, to complex, data-rich, multi-screen apps that rival full server applications in functionality.

But SAP is also hoping to quickly build an ecosystem of third-party developers to write mobile apps that connect to existing SAP applications. 100 is the target this year. As well, it hopes to recruit the massive, underused legions of Web developers to the mobile battlefield.

In both cases, SAP is touting the Sybase Unwired Platform as its exclusive mobile enterprise application platform (MEAP) of choice, both for when it builds its own apps, and when outside developers and ISVs build for SAP applications.

Besides its cross-platform capabilities, SUP 2.0 features a much-improved SDK for native development, as well as a new 'container' architecture that enables Web developers to build Web apps for mobile devices. That has SUP 2.0 generating much interest (so much so that SAP is Building its Mobile App Ecosystem - Fast keeping up with demand...)

If you'd like to learn more about SUP 2.0 and how it stacks up against all of the other MEAPs out there, check out one of the two webcasts that Sybase is holding on Wednesday, at 10 am and 2 pm Eastern time, respectively.

You can sign up here to catch it live and ask your questions, or catch it on replay (check back here after June 2nd or click on the sign-up link).

Hey developers - what seems like a more financially-rewarding bet: A) Building an iPhone consumer app that will, if you are lucky, generate the average of 20 cents per paid and free download?* Or B) building an enterprise app for the iPhone aimed at a hugely profitable industry (think oil and gas, or banking) with millions of employees where the going rate could be $10 per app or more?

I'm hoping you said B). For while the glamour and the upside may be in trying to emulate the success of Angry Birds (which, despite its fame, has probably only made about $75 million), the consumer market remains a brutal, winner-takes-all heirarchy, with tens of thousands of apps making negligible dollars.

By contrast, there is plenty of gold to be mined in the area of enterprise development.

Take SAP: it reaps $18 billion a year in server applications.  With "mobile becoming the new desktop," to steal a phrase from co-CEO Bill McDermott, it's obvious that billions of dollars of that enterprise spending will shift over to mobile apps.

Or take Boston Scientific. The medical device maker plans to support 100 apps by the end of this year.

SAP is already aiming for a slice of this pie. It plans to build lots of its own apps (50 by the end of this year) via the Mobile Business Unit under Sybase.  But it doesn't want to hog it, either. Its inviting partners to clamber aboard the Sybase Unwired Platform (the development middleware required by SAP).

As Sybase CEO John Chen said yesterday, SAP/Sybase only expect to eventually build one-tenth of all mobile SAP apps, and relying on partners to supply the rest.

SAP has a program called the Unwired 100. Its goal: have 100 apps built by partners both big and small or other divisions of SAP (Consulting, for example) by the end of 2011, according to Nathan Henderson, principal for SAP's Mobility Center of Excellence based in Scottsdale, Az.

SAP is already well on its way: huge mobile partners that already building on top of SUP include IBM, Accenture, Deloitte, CSC, Infosys, Wipro, Tata, and Cap Gemini, said Henderson.  But SAP is also eager to attract small ISVs on the industry and customer front lines, he said.

Unwired 100 only debuted at the beginning of this year. But it's  already at 32 apps, hitting a third of its goal (22 of them were on  display at SAPPHIRE NOW). Henderson is confident about reaching 100 apps by the end of September.

How do potential partners get involved? Henderson said they should first sign up with SAP's Partner group, and secondly, sign up for training. "It doesn't matter if you're an XCode expert; you need to learn SUP," he said.

At that point, SAP is willing to work closely with ISVs, including acting as reseller to its customers (and taking a cut of revenue), Henderson said.

But what about the risk that SAP could end up building its own app that competes with an ISV?

It's the same risk that ISVs who build for Windows have long faced (Microsoft being a huge applications maker, too: Office, SharePoint, Exchange, etc.)

Chen acknowledges the issue.  "The onus is on us not to intrude into their space too much," he said, adding "I haven't seen ISVs that are not willing to work with us."

Take Slalom Consulting, a management consulting firm. At SAPPHIRE NOW, the company showed off a time expense app built for BlackBerries.  Tiago Das, a managing director for Slalom Consulting, says the opportunities in the SAP ecosystem outweigh the risks.

Or as SAP's Henderson says: "You have an unlimited runway as long as keep innovating ahead of us."

It might not be as difficult as it may sound. Because of its size, SAP is more likely to build horizontal apps, and build them more slowly than a focused ISV.

That may not satisfy enterprises, who will be pickier about mobile apps than they have been with applications.

"They won't be happy with an 80% fit, as they might be with server apps, they'll want 95% fit," he said.

That leaves plenty of opportunity for the individual developer.

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* I calculated consumer iPhone revenue by taking Distimo's projection of $2.91 billion in gross 2011 revenue at the Apple App Store, taking out the 30% cut for Apple (which leaves about $2 billion), and then dividing it by the 10.3 billion projected downloads this year.

At SAPPHIRE NOW on Tuesday, a panel of enterprise IT administrators dished about their deployments of tablets and smartphones. There was some frank kvetching - even with good tools, it isn't always easy to keep up with the challenges of securing and managing mobile devices - but the panelists were ultimately positive.

Verizon had the most impressive device deployment to talk about. Formerly a BlackBerry shop, the telco began rolling out 3,800 iPad 2s connected via Verizon's MiFi 4G service to its employees six weeks ago, according to Cliff Cibelli, manager of global product marketing and management at Verizon.

These are all managed by the Sybase Afaria software (Verizon is also a Sybase partner, reselling Afaria as a managed service to companies).  Ironically, one of the initial difficulties of rolling out the iPads was that iTunes was on Verizon's corporate software blacklist. That was quickly changed, says Cibelli.

Verizon right now supports about 12 mobile apps, though most of them are accessed via the Safari browser. Though the iPads are corporate-owned devices, it plans to let users install consumer apps via the Apple App Store.

There are factions inside Verizon pushing to allow workers to Bring Their Own Devices to work, according to Cibelli, but progress has been hampered by the strict regulations that telecom companies face.

Still, he's optimistic that change is afoot. Rolling out the iPads is like "eating salty peanuts," he said, the implication being once Verizon starts on this process, it'll be hard to stop.

Pacific Gas & Electric, meanwhile, has been using Afaria to secure the 1,800 ruggedized Windows 32-based devices used by its field workers. E-mail remains the killer app for these workers, along with calendaring and contacts, according to George McQuillister, senior IT architect for client computing at PG&E.

Also a BlackBerry shop, the utility is in the early stages of a Bring Your Own Smartphone program that will take 3 years to spread throughout the company. "It's a bite-sized approach," he said.

Though PG&E is not on the cutting-edge, it is a fair improvement from several years ago, when McQuillister had to deal with "40 different form factors and 12 operating systems" among corporate devices and PCs. After formalizing corporate standards, he's whittled that down to just 7 different form factors.

McQuillister continues to "wrestle" with the policies for the Bring Your Own program. He is opposed to "draconian" policies, citing the fact that he "doesn't care about your photos or music or apps, my only concern is around our [PG&E's] data."  At the same time, he's not sure how to handle if an e-discovery issue arises, i.e. a legal order to pull data off an employee-owned phone.

Abbott Laboratories has been using Afaria for almost a decade. It uses the software to manage about 5,000 devices, including the several thousand iPads it is rolling out to its salespeople now, said Bernie Tucker, a manager at Abbott.

FDA regulations are his biggest concern. "Most content and apps are regulated, which is why it's so critical for us to know everything about those devices. They always need to be up to date or we could get penalized," he said.

Like McQuillister, Tucker plans to use Afaria to build a corporate app store, though, to give Abbott more control over that process.

Boston Scientific, by contrast, already has an app store running on Afaria, said CIO Rich Adducci during a separate press conference with Sybase executives.  It needs one: the medical device maker plans to support 100 apps on its 2,000 iPads by the end of this year (it supported 17 when it rolled out the tablets to salespeople six months ago).

Afaria was "key" to the iPad deployment, which Adducci said was the company's fastest adoption ever.

"We couldn't have done it without Afaria," he said.

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In related news, SAP Services recently began to offer an Afaria promotion in which it promises to get enterprises fully running on the software within a week for just $16,000.

Actually, according to Matthew Schwartz, a vice-president at SAP, "we can install Afaria in less than an hour."

The remaining time is to make sure Afaria users are configured correctly, and, even more importantly, that the Afaria administrators are trained up. That, he says, is a bargain.

In chess, good players fight for control of the center of the board, knowing that a positional advantage will eventually translate into a material advantage, and then checkmate. Tech vendors play the same way, battling over the ecosystem of partners and developers, knowing that it will translate to paying customers - and victory - in the endgame. 

That explains the importance of Tuesday's announcement that the Sybase Unwired Platform now supports the Web.

SUP 2.0 enables two new things. First, it lets developers create regular, so-called 'native' apps running on tablets and smartphones, as well, as new 'hybrid' apps that run inside a Web browser but offer the rich UI of a native app.

Second, SUP 2.0 now lets developers use Web standard languages including HTML5, Javascript and CSS to create apps.

So why is that key? Let's break it down.

1) Reach. There may be about half a million mobile developers in the world today total. By comparison, there may be tens of millions of people who have written or at least fiddled with HTML code, judging by the number of Web sites that exist.

The number of real Web developers remains uncertain. What is certain that they outnumber the mobile developer population by a huge factor. And I have argued that the rise of Web 2.0 last decade diverted many developers from mobile, leading to a relative dearth of mobile apps, especially in the enterprise side.

While SUP 2.0 is not the first development platform to embrace the Web, it is the first enterprise-focused one. And it has the backing of SAP, which is using it to build all of the 30-some enterprise mobile apps it expects to release in the next half year.

2) Agility. You could argue that SUP already had access to a large pool of developers via its support of the popular Eclipse development platform, which supports Java and other languages.

True true. But supporting HTML has other benefits. SUP was already a tool for writing apps once, running them on multiple platforms such as Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, etc. But even after porting, there was some amount of tweaking involved, especially if the UI is important.

Using an embedded Webkit runtime as a browser for hybrid apps further reduces the difference in UI and functionality across multiple devices.That means even less post-porting work for developers.

3) Speed. Because hybrid mobile apps are faster to create, they make more sense when the app you are trying to create is a relatively lightweight workflow. In fact, given the choice, enterprises will largely prefer to build hybrid apps, Sybase officials say.

Because many times all you need to mobilize is an approval process (Yes or No). In those cases, there's no reason to go to the trouble of creating a native app.

While SAP has talked about its grand ambitions to become the largest maker of packaged enterprise mobile apps (just as it already leads the server application markets for ERP, CRM and BI), it is not sidestepping middleware such as SUP in the slightest.

All of SAP's packaged apps run on top of SUP, and it is encouraging its partners to do the same. The message is compelling enough that even Syclo, which has its own Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP) in competition with SUP, is moving away from middleware towards building apps - on top of SUP.

The net net for SAP's enterprise customers is that they will all likely be licensing and running SUP either directly or indirectly.

And while packaged apps will be a faster, cheaper deployment route for most enterprise customers, some will still prefer the old-fashioned control that only custom development through a tool such as SUP can provide.

Sales of MEAPs such as SUP are expected to grow to $1.5 billion this year from $1 billion last year, according to IDC.

So we're still in the opening stage of the enterprise mobile game. But with a cutting-edge platform, packaged mobile apps rushing down the pipe, combined with its long-standing dominance in server applications, SAP's pieces are poised to take control of the center of the board.

SAP AG has long led three huge markets for enterprise applications: ERP, CRM and business intelligence.

At SAPPHIRE NOW on Monday, SAP executives confirmed the firm's naked ambition to take over the small-but-ready-to-explode market for enterprise mobile apps.

SAP senior vice-president Nick Brown showed off a slew of new apps in four areas: retail execution, general worker productivity, field service and analytics.  Available for iOS and Windows Mobile devices, the retail app helps   salespeople better manage store inventory, audit for compliance reasons,   and, ultimately, boost revenue, said Brown.

The field service app, meanwhile, was co-built with Cisco Systems.   It includes Near-Field Communications (NFC) capabilities, video   collaboration and visualization. It is being released on Windows Mobile   immediately, with Android and iOS versions to follow.

The new apps add to SAP's two previously-existing mobile apps, co-created with Sybase: CRM and workflow. SAP plans to unveil 30 more apps within the next six months, said Sybase senior vice-president Raj Nathan.

They include apps in the areas of sourcing, human capital management, sales and service, cross-topics, vertical industry-specific apps and financials, said Brown.

Sybase CMO Raj Nathan: SAP plans to release 30 new apps in next six months.

In addition SAP also unveiled a trio of customizable mobile apps in the areas of expense management, time entry and system alerts.  SAP calls these 'app accelerators', according to Jeff Chua, a manager in SAP Consulting, for two reasons.

First, while all of the other SAP apps are being built by SAP's   Mobile Business Unit housed inside Sybase, the app accelerators were   built by SAP's Consulting team.

More importantly from the enterprise point of view, customers do not   license and pay maintenance for SAP's 'app accelerators', but instead just pay for the cost of customizing and implementing them, said Chua. All of the apps and app accelerators discussed above run on top of the Sybase Unwired Platform.

Similar to how Microsoft builds both platforms and applications on   those platforms, SAP is aggressively pursuing partners to build apps   that connect with its server applications and run on top of the Sybase   Unwired Platform. In that way, it hopes to build a pie large enough to   sate itself as well as its ecosystem.

SAP has already garnered support for this approach, with at least a dozen apps on display from third-party vendors.  One example was Accenture, which showed off two apps: a mobile app   store and device manager for enterprises, and another app aimed at field   service technicians.

Anti-virus software ranks high in my book of 'cures' that are worse than the disease. Sure, AV software can do a good job of blocking crash-inducing, bank-account-emptying malware. But it's always been such a drag on my PC's performance that it might as well have been infected, you know what I mean?  

So count me among those people who would love to wave buh-bye to anti-virus software. Unfortunately, I can't completely buy Forbes' Andy Greenberg's argument that cloud-centric mobile devices like Google's ChromeBook are a "death knell" for anti-virus software.

Even with the reported 400% rise in Android malware in the last 9 months, there are still far fewer trojans, viruses, scripts, etc. on mobile devices.  Which is why only the most paranoid consumers today bother to get anti-virus software for their phone or tablet. I don't see that changing.

It's a different story for businesses, which have to be more security-conscious. I can see some of them getting antivirus software to protect company-issued tablets and phones, but usually as a component of their overall mobile device management software. For example, Afaria, from my employer Sybase, can come configured with both anti-virus and firewall components.

As demand for standalone anti-virus software wanes in the post-PC era, the need for securing and managing devices rises greatly. Not a lot of data is stored on mobile devices today. But as devices get smarter and apps more sophisticated, they inevitably will.

Not everything is going to the cloud/Web. For instance: contrary to Google's claims that the ChromeBook is a Web-only notebook, the company has said it will release an SDK for developing local apps.

That local data still needs to be encrypted and protected by strong passwords. These security policies need to be centrally enforced. App and OS vulnerabilities need to be patched automatically over-the-air. These are things that can be done, and done well, using MDM software.

That's why Disney is thinking about getting Afaria to secure the multiple thousands of iPhones and iPads used by its employees.  Demand for MDM software is why Gartner debuted an MDM Magic Quadrant this year. Afaria was one of the leaders.

You can download the full report here. Afaria had already been the market leader for 9 straight years, according to IDC.

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Now for something semi-different: today, Friday May 13 is World Enterprise Mobility Day. So proclaimed my pal Philippe Winthrop over at the Enterprise Mobility Foundation.

As fake holidays go, this is at least no worse than Odometer Day (May 12) or Mailman Food Drive Day (May 14).

So celebrate it by giving your mobile administrator or enterprise developer a hug, or heading out of the office to knock out some e-mails at your local Peet's coffeeshop, or working ONLY using your tablet and smartphone today. Or tweet your support with the hashtag #WEMD.

SAP bought Sybase last year just weeks before SAPPHIRE NOW, so there    was no time to bring a major mobile presence to the show. This year   will  be different, with SAPPHIRE NOW's first-ever mobility campus.

That's    where I'll be roaming around next week, blogging, tweeting  (@ericylai)   and even shooting a video or two. Here are a few things  that I   definitely plan to catch:

1) The mobile apps roadmap. It's a poorly-kept secret that Sybase and SAP are preparing a slew of packaged enterprise apps    this year. Some are simple workflows and extensions of SAP server    applications, others are richer, full-fledged apps in their own right.   

Sybase executive vice-president and CMO Raj Nathan oversees this team    along with SAP senior vice-president Nick Brown. Both will be  presenting   Monday morning (10:30 to 11:30 am) at the mobility campus  theater,   which seats only 100, so you may want to get there early  (theater   sessions will also be broadcast live and/or be recorded for  later   viewing. Register here to watch).

2) Enterprise mobile customers. CIOs love to see  their peers   talking about their experiences deploying mobile apps. At  SAPPHIRE  NOW,  there will be a bunch of those panels. On Monday 2 PM in  the  theater,  catch Boston Scientific, Tellabs and Novus talking about   their  SAP/Sybase deployments. On Tuesday 11 am in the theater, Abbott   Labs,  Verizon and PG&E will open their respective kimonos.

On   Tuesday,  there's General Mills (who we've written about before)    at 12:30-1:30 and Deloitte Consulting at 4:15. On Wednesday, there's    Dow Corning (11:30-12:15) talking about their use of the RoamBI    analytics dashboard on the iPad, and Vodafone and Novus (again) at    2-2:30 pm.

Check SAP TV to see which of these will be broadcast or    videotaped for future viewing if you won't be in Orlando. There will    also be multiple 'Real-World Mobility Lessons from CIOs' microforums (12    attendees max) where attendees can discuss issues in a more intimate    setting.

3) SAP Runs SAP. One of the most cutting-edge users of mobile technology, appropriately, is SAP (it's up to 4,000 iPads and 200 BlackBerry Playbooks). Its CIO Oliver Bussmann will talk about his experience unwiring SAP on Monday at 1 pm in mobility campus theater.

4) Goodies for developers. One of the reasons why  enterprise   mobility has been relatively slow to take off is the scarcity  of apps,   which can be chalked up to the scarcity of developers.  Contrary to  the  headlines on Techmeme, there are relatively few  programmers who  know  the iPhone's native language, Objective-C.

That  will be rectified  in  the next release of the Sybase Unwired Platform to  be announced at   SAPPHIRE NOW. See the press release or catch product  marketing  manager  Loren Corbridge before or after her microforums at  SAPPHIRE  NOW (2-3 PM  Monday, 1-1:45 PM, 2-2:45 PM and 4-4:45 PM on  Tuesday, and  Wednesday  2-5 PM) to learn more.

5) Tablets in the enterprise. Several hundred people  have   already pre-registered for two of the micro-forums hosted by  Sybase   consultant Matt Carrier, one on the iPhone and iPad in the  enterprise,   another on tablets, making them the most popular sessions  throughout   SAPPHIRE NOW so far. Fortunately, Matt is presenting multiple  times, so   just try to catch one of his non-oversubscribed sessions.

For Horace Dediu, the influential mobile pundit behind the asymco blog, even his throwaway comments are more interesting than the best stuff of other analysts.

Case in point: on Thursday, Dediu wrote that "feature tablets" are coming, and not only will be "analogous" to featurephones but also will "be viable as niche businesses quite soon."

Provocative stuff - though not totally correct in my opinion.   FeatureTablets are already a big business today, though, granted, nobody before Dediu thought to call them as such.

While the iPad gets all of the headlines, there is a surprisingly-large selection of full-fledged tablets running for between $100-$200. They are made either by low-end brands such as Coby, FocalPrice, PanImage and Velocity Micro, or are outright knockoffs from China, aka shanzhai.

Take Coby's 7-inch KYROS MID7015 tablet, which runs Android 2.1, has 1080p resolution, and 4 GB of  internal storage. Price? $140 or so. Despite the low price (equal to a  new 6-inch $139 Kindle), the KYROS (what is a Kyros, anyway? Oh. Right.) has garnered surprisingly good reviews on Amazon (3.5/5 stars from 231 reviewers).

Buoyed by that apparent success, Coby is releasing a 10-inch tablet, the KYROS MID1024, that Amazon lists for $266, or almost half of the cheapest iPad.

The even bigger segment of what I call FeatureTablets are e-readers like the Kindle or Nook. That may be heresy to some. But in my book, they are perfect examples of FeatureTablets.

Why? E-readers are great for reading e-books. But they are bad or entirely incapable of doing anything else. Hmm, isn't that just like a FeaturePhone - great for phone calls, but bad at everything else?

Moreover, every pundit expects e-readers to morph into low-end tablets. Why? For one, single-purpose devices like MP3 players, GPSes, and digital cameras are slowly becoming extinct due to the smartphone.

E-readers are no different - multi-purpose, app-enabled media tablets are the only way forward.  It won't be difficult. The hardware is already nearly identical. So is the software (base) - many  e-readers like the Nook run Android (though the Kindle runs Linux).

FeatureTablets like this 7-inch, $140 Android tablet from Coby are starting to take off. But will they surpass the iPad and other $500+ prosumer tablets in the West?

Earlier this year, I tried my hand at trend-spotting/jargon-hunting by predicting that the Superphone category/term would catch on this year, as an additional tier above Featurephones and Smartphones.

Indeed, there does seem to be some momentum for it.  So what's my prediction? Here goes:  1) As with cellphones, the tablet category will likely break into three tiers:

a) High-end enterprise tablets from the likes of Avaya and Cisco that will be priced near $1,000 and above;  b) Consumer/professional media tablets like the Tab, Xoom, Playbook and iPad priced in the $500-$800 range;  c) Low-end FeatureTablets that will be priced between $100-$300.

2) FeatureTablets will overwhelmingly run Android. Though, at least for this year, expect many of them to lack the tablet-optimized Android 3.0 Honeycomb (don't count on them being upgradeable to Honeycomb, either).

3) On a superficial level, FeatureTablets will sport specs that appear to match those of more expensive tablets like the iPad. By cost necessity, they will fall short in reality:

a) CPU. While most $500+ tablets this year all sport dual-core CPUs with fast graphics, FeatureTablets will, at least this year, be restricted to single-core chips, some of them seriously slow. For instance, the $99 Maylong M-150 ships with a 400 MHz CPU. For cost reasons, some FeatureTablets will be MIPS chips, rather than ARM.
b) Battery life. For instance, the zenPad from Enso runs for about 4.5 hours, less than half the iPad's 10 hours.
c) Type of touchscreen. For instance, the Coby above uses a resistive touchscreen that requires a stylus, rather than a finger-based capacitive touchscreen.
d) Screen resolution and brightness. 'Nuff said.
e) Material and build quality. For instance, the review of the Maylong notes "if you press hard enough with just one hand, you can make the entire thing flex - yes, including the screen. Don't sit on it."
f) Software/app integration. Many FeatureTablets don't natively run the full-fledged Android Market for apps, or run downloaded apps poorly due to mysterious bugs. E-readers, obviously, do not run apps at all.

4) While FeatureTablets will be available at no shortage of mainstream e-commerce sites such as NewEgg or Amazon.com, the bulk of them will be sold through channels that reach less-techie, extremely-price-sensitive consumers. Think: drugstores such as Walgreens or CVS, Wal-Mart, QVC channel or, in Asia, computer malls.

5) Worldwide, FeatureTablets will quickly overtake mid-tier tablets like the iPad and PlayBook and become the volume market leader. In the United States, however, it's not clear if/when FeatureTablets will do the same. Think of the way Apple has been able to attract numerous FeaturePhone upgraders with its $49 iPhone 3GS deal on AT&T.

I've seen a ton of enterprises and schools deploying iPads (well, more than 400 publicly-confirmed deployments - see the list) but these are the first sightings of large deployments of Android tablets and RIM PlayBooks I've seen.

  Grandview High School in suburban St. Louis plans to deploy 420 Android tablets next year, enough for every student and teacher.  The school says its technology investment will save on textbooks - it spends about $330 per student a year, said the  superintendent.

"They'll still have to use paper to a certain extent, but we won't be buying textbooks," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper. "We'll be using free or low-cost online materials. We'll be using current classroom technology, like SMART Boards."

iPads, as is well known, start at $499 for the base model, though there is a small volume discount for buyers like schools. So do Samsung Galaxy Tabs. Motorola Xooms start at $599.

That's apparently too rich for Grandview in these budget crunch times for governmental institutions.  Grandview is allocating just $60,000 to $65,000 for the tablets, which works out to just $150 to $162.50 per tablet.

The school trialed 20 tablets from Haipad, a small "Shanzhai" (knockoff) maker in China. Those tablets cost the school $145 each. In the end, Grandview reportedly purchased Android tablets from Coby, possibly the 7-inch MID7015 which retails for about $140.

While Coby's inexpensive wares are more often found on the shelves of Walgreens or CVS than Best Buy, the MID7015 has garnered surprisingly good reviews on Amazon.com (3.5 out of 5 stars).

Switching to RIM: my parent company SAP is deploying 200 PlayBooks, according to ZDNet's Larry Dignan, joining the 4,000 iPads already deployed at this 53,513-employee firm (about 8%).

This is no surprise: SAP CIO Oliver Bussmann had said as far back as last fall that while SAP is quickly moving away from being a BlackBerry-only shop, it still planned to give employees options to get Android or RIM tablets.

I can't believe that these are the only enterprise or large school deployments of Android or RIM tablets. I think it's a combination of factors: less time on the market, less buzz than iPads (feeds into a vicious cycle - PR reps are less likely to publicize their deployments as a result).

I'll go and ping Samsung, Motorola, RIM to see what they can tell me about large tablet deployments. In the meantime, please share any news of deployments in comments, thanks!

The conventional wisdom in high-tech is that making hardware is a grubby, low-margin business and that software is as close to printing money as you can legally get.

In the past year, Apple had already surpassed Microsoft on benchmarks such as market cap and quarterly revenue, but topping them profit-wise is the most significant yet. With all of the pent-up demand for the iPad 2 due to Japanese disaster-related delays, Apple's near-term profits will only increase.

As we all know, Apple makes all most of its money selling hardware. Microsoft makes about 85% of its revenue selling software (about 10% comes from selling Xbox and Kinect hardware, the rest comes from the money-burning online division).

That a hardware vendor could be more profitable than a software vendor, especially one with multiple franchises with steady revenue streams from corporations (Windows, Office, Exchange, SQL Server, SharePoint, among others), is incredible.*

Still, I don't consider Apple bigger profits ($5.9 billion versus Microsoft's $5.2 billion) a triumph of hardware over software. Hardware remains a dog-eat-dog business. That's why HP and Dell are moving away from PCs towards software and services, while IBM totally got out of them.

Software, provided it is not open-source, remains much easier.  What I think this shows is a triumph of a third factor: good design.

By design, I don't just mean trendy materials or beautiful hardware shells or cute icons. The artsy stuff that employs graphic designers. That's key to the Apple magic, but it's only the top level stuff.

What I mean is intuitive user interfaces, tight integration between hardware and software and OS, and a control freak attitude towards your partners' quality control (i.e. developers in Apple's App Store). That's the deep stuff that most tech vendors, due to their reliance on not-always dependable partners, can't duplicate.

The conventional wisdom about why Jobs almost killed Apple's decline and Microsoft's rise1995 timeframe was that hiJobs' hardware fetish blinded him to the potential value of licensing the Mac OS to other PC manufacturers in the early 1980s, which would've allowed Apple to gain some/all of the profits that Windows got instead. When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he killed the Mac OS licensing program that had only been started two years earlier under CEO Michael Spindler.

I have an alternative explanation. Jobs actually overvalued the Mac OS, in the sense that he believed that controlling both hardware and software was the only way he could control the third factor, design, and turn out the best products he could.

As Apple's success today shows, Jobs' attitude is perfect for today's mature hardware market, where differentiating what have essentailly become commodity products through good design/usability is the way to huge profits. It would also carry over well to mature consumer electronics markets like TVs or stereos, which is why Apple is so often rumored to be moving into those markets (Bose has employed this formula so well).

Unfortunately, Jobs' attitude was woefully out of step with the market 20 years ago, when PCs were new and expensive. Consumers weren't yet jaded and looking for the radically-designed, beautiful thing - they were just trying to get their hands on a PC for a decent price. Perfectionism doesn't scale.

Also, Jobs' attitude clashed with IT buyers. To a CIO, a computer that was too attractive or cute radiated a lack of seriousness of purpose. Mainframes are about as opposite from cute as you can get.

Today's enterprise IT market is far different. Cloud computing empowered the line of business manager to go around the command-and-control CIO.  That, and the recession's curb on capital budgets, has forced many CIOs to adopt 'Bring Your Own Device' policies and open the door to employee-owned smartphones, laptops and now tablets.

It means that consumer preferences will soon start to rule many aspects of enterprise IT. And that can only mean more good news for Apple and Jobs, as well as companies like Sybase and our parent SAP, who are putting an emphasis on usability and design (see this blog post by Timothy Clark on the 'gamification of business apps.')

In other words, vendors need to think of themselves as being in the user experience/design business rather than either the hardware or software business. After all, what is providing a good user experience but another way of saying that you want to provide good customer service?

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*To be pedantic, Microsoft still has a higher net profit margin than Apple: 32% vs. Apple's 24%. But as SAI's Matt Rosoff pointed out,  24% is "unbelievable and spectacular for a hardware company."  Microsoft's 32% is good but not so unexpected because "software has a  much lower cost of goods - once you've recovered your R&D  investment, every sale is pure profit."  And expect Apple's quarterly profits to continue to beat Microsoft's.