Practical Analysis: User Habits And Making Tablets Seem More Like Beer

Our research shows IT pros prefer HP as the vendor of choice for tablets and other new wave computing devices, but how are they going to convince users to go along with them?
In our recent IT Pro Ranking of alternate end user computing systems, HP took the top spot and Apple came in at third, with Dell second. The findings, along with the academic-sounding name of the survey itself, are grounds for most of the techarazzi to ignore the findings.

While Apple is an also-ran in the notebook market, it's clearly the leader in the tablets (the survey looked at tablets, netbooks, zero clients, and thin clients -- hence the terrible name). So how rigged must our survey have been to find that HP is actually the preferred vendor? The answer is, not rigged at all - at least we don't think it was, but we also weren't asking just any schmuck on the street for an opinion.

Importance Of Evaluation Criteria
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Importance Of Evaluation Criteria
When we do IT Pro Ranking surveys, we only take responses on each vendor from IT professionals who've evaluated or are currently using that vendor's technology. If you haven't touched the actual technology, you're responses aren't counted. Secondly, we not only ask about what IT pros think of the vendor's offerings, we ask them to rate the importance of each of our criteria. That way, if we've got some irrelevant criteria in our survey, those rankings will be marginalized when we total up the final results.

We ask survey takers to evaluate each vendor on two sets of criteria. The first is standardized, asking about such things as product reliability, performance, acquisition cost, operation cost, compatibility with existing systems, and so on. The second set is highly particular to the subject of the poll. So in this case we asked about screen size, weight, ability to centrally manage, battery life, and even fun factor (which rated by far the lowest in importance -- IT guys are such killjoys). Using the process, you can see how IT pros are likely to prefer different vendors, than your average user.

IT Pro Ranking: Apple” title=
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Apple IT Pro Ranking
While IT pros have different priorities when it comes of features and evaluation criteria, they do recognize products for the value they have. As you'd expect, Apple ranks very high for user appeal, product innovation, engineering quality, and reliability. It ranks low for flexibility, breadth of product line, compatibility, and acquisition costs.

HP ranks high on compatibility, reliability, operation cost, meeting needs, and product performance, whereas it's low on end-user appeal, product innovation, and service innovation. Others in our survey were Acer, Asus, Dell, Lenovo, and Wyse.

The survey points out the harsh reality for many IT professionals. While HP is likely to make a highly compatible and manageable product -- WebOS notwithstanding, that's not likely to matter when non-IT business leaders decide they really want the cool new device from Apple. Further, IT Pros have been of the opinion that many of these new devices would be a non-event in their company.

IT Pro Ranking: HP
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HP IT Pro Ranking
Our Outlook Survey for 2011 found exactly that -- with IT pros largely feeling that customer interactions would not be through tablet devices and that their organizations would be very unlikely to provide tablets to even 10% of their user community. Given the disparity between what users are buying with their own cold hard cash and the systems that IT pros would like to support, this seems to amount to wishful thinking.

The saving grace may be that tablets based on Android or other operating systems have a pretty high coolness factor too. If IT pros really want to establish standards, then the thing to do is get out in front of the phenomena. Pick the devices you want to support, and if possible buy them and give them to at least some of your users. While users may have a strong preference for one device or another, giving them something they see as "free" (meaning they didn't have to buy it with their own money) is a powerful incentive. For many tablets will be like beer -- the best one you'll ever have is a free one.

Go to the report: IT Pro Ranking: Alternative Client Computing

Art Wittmann is director of InformationWeek Analytics, a portfolio of decision-support tools and analyst reports. You can write to him at [email protected].

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