Windows 8 is coming soon to a tablet PC near you, heralded by the unveiling of the Microsoft Surface tablet. For many, its imminent arrival is predicting some major changes to the way that enterprise users do business -- perhaps even moving them away from the popular iPad.
As it stands right now, the Apple iPad is the most popular business tablet, judging by sales. Talk to IT, and they'll tell you that everyone from the CEO straight down to the data entry jock wants to be able to turn their iPad into a portable workstation. According Apple CEO Tim Cook, iPads are in 94% of Fortune 500 companies, and 75% of Global 500.
But with Windows 8 peeking its head around the corner, some business leaders (and no doubt legions of beleaguered IT pros) are chomping at the bit over the possibility that someday soon, their PC-based environments and gadget-happy workforce will unite under a singular Windows platform. So what are the odds of this actually happening? It depends on a few things, actually.
First and foremost, there's the question of cost. If a corporation has already sunk a hefty portion of its budget into a Mobile Device Management initiative to make iPads more business friendly, will they be willing to do the same to adopt Windows 8 devices?
"It depends," says Troy Fulton, Director of Product Marketing for Tangoe, an MDM service provider that specializes in configuring and managing mobile devices for use in the enterprise. "From a device migration perspective to iOS or from iOS, it's not that challenging." He adds, "For most companies, the vast majority of the budget goes towards existing infrastructure. With Windows 8, they'll approach it as they would anything else: by taking a 'wait and see' attitude."
Dimitri Volkmann, VP of Enterprise Product Planning and Management for Good Technology, an MDM provider that boasts 50 of the Fortune 100 as clients, agrees. He points out that the out of pocket cost for migration to Windows 8 should be negligible. "It would be actually fairly easy," Volkmann says, "and I would think IT would be motivated to go with Windows 8 because they probably still have applications that run on Windows that they have not been able to migrate to the iPad. So if users go back to Windows, there would be benefits for IT. But again, are they going to be able to impose that? That's really the big, big question."
...But Will Employees Listen?
Dr. Gerry Purdy, principal analyst with MobileTrax, says "I think the Windows 8 platform will get reasonable adoption in the enterprise, but mostly for specific enterprise application areas like vertical markets, and less so for general business professional use."
If there's any one group that will be championing the charge to migrate away from iPad-centric mobile work platforms to Windows 8, it may be IT departments. "IT is obviously more comfortable managing devices like Windows compared to the iPad, because it's a complete paradigm shift," Volkmann says. "Windows is an environment they're more familiar with. But whether this is going to happen doesn't only depend on IT, because there's a very strong push from the end user."
Unfortunately for Windows-leaning IT specialists, they won't only have these end users to contend with when pushing for migration to Windows 8 devices. Pressure from on high will also very likely contribute to resistance against migrating away from the iPad. "The ability for IT to impose technologies has significantly reduced," says Volkmann, "because it's come from top management, CIOs and CXOs who get an iPad and want it to work in the enterprise."
That we're even discussing catering to the end user's desires is indicative of how much things have changed in the last quarter century, and what an impact mobile devices have had not only on the way we work, but on the way that we think. Volkmann makes the observation, saying "We used to live in a world where IT would tell you 'This is your work machine -- and, by the way, personal use is tolerated.' Nowadays, it's the employees who say 'This is my personal device -- and, by the way, work is tolerated on this device.' It's a complete reverse order."
With a release date scheduled for the end of 2012, it will still be a matter of months before we learn the true impact that Windows 8 will have in potentially unseating the iPad as the predominant workplace mobile device. Even the recent unveiling of the forthcoming Microsoft Surface tablet shed little light on how this epic showdown is likely to unfold.
Ken Lienemann, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Tangoe, says, "It appears that Microsoft put a lot of thought into the Surface tablet with respect to performance and power management." But with the coolness factor being such a critical element of widespread adoption, will the Surface have what it takes to really go head to head with the iPad?
Lienemann is optimistic for Microsoft, pointing out that they could leverage their substantial gamer population as a means of achieving market dominance. "Microsoft has a large base of Xboxes that are already deployed, and there's certainly the opportunity for them to capitalize in the consumer arena by extending the use of those tablets to gamers who may eventually take those tablets into the BYOD environment. The enterprise will then need to provide support for those tablets, likely in some form of MDM."
Purdy adds, "I think the Surface will generate real interest from enterprises that have investments in Windows software, but I don't think it's going to happen a lot at retail. My initial perception was that the Microsoft announcement was going to be for some kind of mobile device -- and it turns out to be a really light, small PC." According to Purdy, that may not be what people really want.
The Surface tablet is Microsoft's great bid to redefine what mobility really means. It's also a gamble that'll either backfire or turn the tables on what's developing into a tech nerd's dream matchup. When titans go head to head, it's the consumer who usually wins.
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