Last week, I wrote about how the massive gravitational attraction of Apple's iPad tablet is sucking in huge numbers of enterprise applications that are giving Apple in aggregate an enormous advantage over future competitors from Android or RIM.
Yes, those competitors are certainly working feverishly to persuade the makers of mainstream business apps to provide versions for their tablets as well as for the iPad, and those big software companies—as well as thousands of smaller ones as well—will certainly make Android and Blackberry Playbook versions available.
For CIOs, the big question isn't whether or not they will do so; of course they will.
No, the big question is when: when will CIOs be able to begin buying and staging and deploying those apps that unlock the true business value of these devices?
Will those core enterprise apps be ready on the day these new tablets—most of which haven't even been released yet—are available for purchase? A month later? Three months? Six months?
If we'd turn back the hands of time 25 years or so, we could say that as long as Lotus 1-2-3 were available, that would seal the deal—one superapp would cover most requirements and justify the purchase.
But in today's high-pressure economic environment, CIOs must manage two different but equally intense priorities: first, leading the charge to mobilize the enterprise by giving hundreds or thousands of employees the mobile tools and solutions necessary to maximize revenue opportunities and enhance customer engagements.
And second, ensuring that every dollar they spend on IT unlocks new potential and new business opportunities, with as few constraints as possible.
In that context, I was a bit surprised at a recent analysis offered by the Wall Street Journal's superb Personal Technology columnist, Walt Mossberg. Under the headline "Motorola's Xoom Starts Tablet Wars With iPad," Mossberg described the capabilities of the new Motorola device and offered some head-to-head comparisons of it versus the iPad.
But in my humble opinion, Mossberg missed the mark by a rather significant margin when he mostly dismissed the enormous competitive advantage held by Apple and the iPad in the AppStore where more than 60,000 iPad-specific apps are available, along with more than 300,000 that run on both the iPhone and iPad.
Here's how Mossberg noted that vast disparity, lumping it into a series of descriptions of physical attributes as if the volume and quantity of available apps were just one more wonky feature in a checkbox comparison:
"The iPad has way more tablet-specific apps—around 60,000 versus a handful—and, in my tests, much better battery life. Plus, whatever the specs say, it's a fast device with a beautiful screen that delights people daily."
Walt Mossberg has forgotten more about personal technology than I'll ever know, but his article falls short of meeting the information needs of CIOs precisely because it pays far too much attention to physical qualities that are nice but hardly strategic—"I found [Xoom] generally comfortable to hold, except when I was reading for long periods in vertical mode, where the long, thin shape and weight made it feel a bit unbalanced"—and not nearly enough to the stuff that really matters: what business apps are available right now, which ones will be ready for use in the next three months, and which ones will be unavailable for use for half a year or more?
Then again, that's why Mossberg writes a column called "Personal Technology"—he's got huge following of all types but he focuses his work on how individual users will engage with new gadgets. And both the iPad and the Xoom will be used by many tens of millions of individuals.
But many of those consumers are simultaneously business users, and in that alter ego the apps issue far outweighs technical details. As I wrote last week in the column mentioned above, called Global CIO: iPad Becoming Kingmaker For Enterprise Apps:
CIOs who think the Apple iPad is little more than a stranger in a strange land and will never blend into their Windows-centric environments might want to note that Citrix reports that its iPad app that offers full access to Windows desktops has been downloaded more than 700,000 times.
In more tangible terms, here's how that translates to innovation in the IT-rich world of healthcare, according to an ITworld.com article: "Since Citrix virtual desktop solutions don't store data on a device, they make an ideal option for accessing secure data (as well as Windows applications) from mobile devices. In fact, Citrix has been a major factor in the iPad's rapid adoption in healthcare." (End of excerpt.)
On top of that, Salesforce.com says the iPad app for its enterprise-strength Chatter social collaboration program has been downloaded more than 1 million times.
When CIOs evaluate those types of head starts versus alternative tablets that (a) aren't even out yet and (b) have limited software partnerships immediately in place, Apple and the iPad look better and better.
Unbeatable? Not necessarily—but again, for CIOs, the battle's about applications and business value, not about hardware features.
On the business value side, the number of available apps tell much of the story because without them, well, it's pretty tough to do much business. But another huge factor in the business-value equation for tablets is price, and Mossberg offered some telling comments about that in his article about the Motorola Xoom versus the iPad:
"Unfortunately for consumers looking for iPad alternatives, the Xoom has an Achilles' heel: price. While iPads come in a range of models priced all the way up to $829—none of which requires a cellphone contract—Apple's entry price for the iPad is just $499. By contrast, the base price of a Xoom without a cellphone contract is $800—60% more. And even with a Verizon two-year contract at $20 to $80 a month—depending on the data limit you choose—the least you can pay for a Xoom is $600, or 20% more before counting the contract costs."
Bob Evans is senior VP and director of
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