Windows 8 Tablets Have No Clear Advantage Over The iPad in Business

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This week’s Microsoft announcement of the details of Windows 8 on ARM-powered tablets raises a big question: Will Windows 8 tablets based on ARM or running on more tradition x86 hardware blunt the iPad’s surge in business and enterprise environments?

A few years ago, it would have been easy to say that Windows 8 devices would become the defacto standard in business, particularly for large companies with Microsoft-centric IT infrastructure. But conventional wisdom like that has broken down when it comes to workplace technology in the face of BYOD programs and the consumerization of IT trends. In today’s environment, there are many factors that could tilt the playing field in favor of either Microsoft or Apple.

The argument for Microsoft regaining control of the enterprise are predicated as a set of core assumptions:

  • IT has the final say about technology in business
  • Windows 8 will be fundamentally easier to manage from a technical perspective
  • Systems administrators and other IT professionals instinctively prefer to manage Windows 8 tablets
  • Windows 8 tablets will be more cost effective
  • Windows 8 on tablets will deliver a better or more familiar user experience
  • The best business tools will be those available on Windows devices

None of those assumptions can be fundamentally guarnteed to be true today.

The consumerization of IT has shifted the balance of power away from IT. Any IT professionals that argue otherwise are either deluded or have yet to feel the impact of this worldwide trend. BYOD programs, in particular, have placed a great deal of device selection power in the hands of non-IT managers and individual employees. IT departments are being forced to rethink everything from the devices that they support to the job roles that they contain in order to keep pace with the new business reality.

This doesn’t mean that users will automatically choose iPads and not Windows 8 or Windows on ARM (WOA) tablets. In fact, it’s possible that consumer choice may actually lead to faster the expected Windows 8 adoption if managers and employees prefer the Windows 8 experience to that of iOS or Windows 7.

Windows 8 probably may seem easier to manage and more familiar to IT departments as a whole, in particular to departments that have yet to deal with an influx of iOS devices. However, with iOS devices deployed in many business and enterprises, there’s a lot of IT departments out there already supporting and managing the platform, typically via an mobile device management (MDM) solution that plugs into traditional Windows infrastructures like Active Directory. For them, Windows 8 may actually prove more challenging in some way because it is a new product with a new interface.

Without pricing for Window 8 devices or licensing, it’s impossible to say whether Windows 8 tablets (ARM of x86) will be more cost effective. It is easy to say, however, that replacing an existing large-scale deployment of iPads will be more expensive than maintaining them – at least for a while.

Even though Windows 8 will offer a degree of Windows desktop functionality, Microsoft is really pushing Metro as the new face of Windows (the killing of the Start button in the first consumer preview is a good example). So, there’s no guarnatee that users will find it comforting or intuitive. With iOS devices have such a large presence and longer time in the consumer market, many users may find it a more familair experience.

While there are many thousands of business apps for the iPad, many businesses have long-time investments in Window solutions. This will give an edge to Windows tablets running on traditional Windows hardware because they can continue to run those tools. However, when it comes WOA devices, that advantage disappears because Office is the only existing Windows software of any form that will run on them and there are already solid Office-like suites for iOS (by that I mean suites other than iWork) and Microsoft is even working on an iPad version of Office.

Ultimately, there are still too many unknowns to predict the impact of Windows 8 on the iPad in business. There isn’t even a known release date for Windows 8. Nor is it certain how quickly Windows 8 will take to ake it into the workplace. If businesses follow the traditional pattern for rolling out a new Windows version, widespread adoption might not happen till 2014. That leaves a lot of time for the iPad to gain a lot more business marketshare.