In 2010, Apple captivated PC users with the release of the iPad. The thin and light tablet with exceptional battery life, ease of use and attractive design became the must-have mobile device for many corporate executives and employees. With nothing comparable in the Windows PC world, Apple had the business market to itself.
But Apple is a consumer electronics company at heart; so future iPad models remained devoid of features that were needed to meet corporate requirements for security, deployment, manageability, up-time, support and training. In the meantime, Microsoft, Intel and PC manufacturers picked themselves up and plotted their comeback. After three hard years, PC makers have finally released Windows tablets that tech analyst firm Moor Insights & Strategy says will likely reverse Apple's gains in the corporate market.
Apple's Party Is Over
"Enterprise tablets now exist that provide the best of both worlds between end user and IT, which puts the Apple in a precarious position of needing to add more robust enterprise features," Moor says in a white paper released Monday. "Until that point, Moor Insights & Strategy recommends enterprises re-evaluate their iPad pilot and deployments."
In other words, the enterprise party is over for Apple's tablets.
The new Windows tablets that finally get it right when it comes to meeting the needs of corporations and their employees are the Hewlett-Packard ElitePad 900, the Dell Latitude 10 and the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2. Moor makes a convincing argument as to why it believes these three devices will steer companies away from the iPad.
What's In the New Windows Tablets
Two crucial components are Microsoft's Windows 8 and Intel's Atom processor Z2760. The former provides a touch-based interface that's a key element of any tablet's appeal, while the former delivers the performance and battery life. In fact, a comparison review by AnandTech found that battery life with the Z2760 surpassed the iPad 4 when Web browsing.
Because Intel has built a competitive chip based on the X86 instruction set, the three tablets can run the latest touch-enabled apps for Windows 8, as well as Windows 7 apps. Among the most important app is Microsoft Office, the enterprise standard for office productivity. Office doesn't run on the iPad, and Apple's productivity tools are not regarded as being on par with Microsoft's.
There's also more baseline expandability with the Windows tablets. Depending on the vendor, the devices can come with a dock, USB, miniHDMI and microSD. Add other optional manufacturer-supported accessories and the iPad is left in the dust.
Other pluses include playing nicely with Active Directory, Microsoft's directory service for authenticating and authorizing users and computers in a Windows network. The tablets, through the Atom processor, also offer Intel security, which includes Secure Boot and the firmware-based Platform Trust Technology.
Overall, the fourth-generation iPad provides roughly a half-dozen enterprise features, while the Windows tablets have more than a dozen. Most important, those features are already in use in corporations, so there's no need to evaluate them before deployment, train IT staff or purchase new tools.
What this ultimately means is the Windows tablets will be less expensive when considering the total cost owning and managing the devices. In addition, they are more durable and as nicely designed as the new iPads, and have larger displays. The resolutions are less, but still more than adequate for businesses.
How much of a head start Apple has in the enterprise is tough to determine, since the company won't say how many iPads have been sold to businesses. However, a running tally of the top 100 iPad rollouts kept by SAP show that nearly 70 are K-12 schools, where Apple has always done well. Nevertheless, there are some notable names on the list, including the U.S. Air Force, United Airlines, British Airways, General Electric and the Walt Disney Company.
Not everyone agrees with Moor. Jack Gold, principal analyst for J. Gold Associates, believes the market momentum is still behind the iPad. Units within an organization, not the IT department, will often choose the tablet they want to use and many want the iPad.
"The iPad, and Android (tablets), will have a place as long as users demand it," Gold said. "And the Win8 devices will find a niche, particularly in those organizations that have company-owned assets that IT fully controls."
While Gold has a point, the advantages the latest Windows tablets have are too numerous for corporations to ignore.