Windows Tablet Sales Boosted By Enterprise Demand - InformationWeek
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10/28/2015
09:06 AM
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Windows Tablet Sales Boosted By Enterprise Demand

Microsoft's Surface tablets are bucking overall market trends by meeting enterprise needs, even as Apple iPad and Google Android-based tablets continue to fight for market share. Here's why CIOs and other IT leaders are embracing the Microsoft mobile devices.

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Microsoft is bucking the tablet market's megatrends. The halcyon days of the tablet market faded fast, and businesses never found tablets to be a good fit. Yet sales of Windows tablets skyrocketed recently, mainly because the devices include features that interest CIOs.

Tablets are not a hot commodity at the moment. In second quarter 2015, sales of these devices increased only 2% from the first quarter, according to market research firm Strategy Analytics.

Even though tablets initially were viewed as cool by consumers, they never garnered significant traction in the enterprise. "The small surface and the lack of a keyboard have been a few reasons why business users have been slow to adopt tablets," said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst at IDC.

Which Came First?

In addition, employees often found that tablets did not support the applications they use at work. In a chicken-and-egg scenario, the established software vendors did not see much demand for mobile versions of their applications because few enterprises worked with tablets. Because few business applications were available, firms turned their backs on the mobile systems. Consequently, corporate acceptance of tablets has been limited to a few niches such as inputting healthcare information in medical systems and video editing.

[ Are tablets actually helping PC sales? Read 8 Reasons The PC Is Not Dead. ]

Recently, Microsoft emerged as an important player in the enterprise tablet market with the Surface and Surface Pro, and the company has been reshaping CIO perceptions about tablets in the process. In second quarter 2015, the vendor accounted for 10% of all tablet sales -- breaking into the double-digit mark in terms of shipments for the first time. "Strong sales of Microsoft's Surface -- up 42% from the first quarter in 2015 -- sparked Windows tablets' second-quarter growth," said Phil Hochmuth, director of mobile workforce strategies research at Strategy Analytics.

Digging Below The Surface

So why are Windows Surface tablets doing so well in such a lackluster market? Unlike competitive solutions such as iPad and Android-based tablets from vendors such as Asus and Samsung, Windows tablets are largely compatible with existing enterprise applications. This helps make them a good fit for business users. Running applications, including Microsoft Excel or PowerPoint, on a Windows tablet is easier and more efficient than trying it on other systems.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 at Windows 10 Devices Event, Oct. 6, 2015.
(Image: Mark Von Holden/AP Images via AP Images for Windows)

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 at Windows 10 Devices Event, Oct. 6, 2015.

(Image: Mark Von Holden/AP Images via AP Images for Windows)

Another plus is the delivery of the Windows 10 operating system. "Windows 8 did not work well with mobile devices," said IDC's Ubrani. "Windows 10 is more mobile-device friendly."

One example is the system's Continuum feature, which tailors applications to different platforms. If a user relies on a tablet, then touch input is emphasized. If an employee works with a keyboard, then keyboard input is front and center.

Also, Microsoft tablets have been tuned to work well with mobile-device management software. This feature enables IT departments to manage these devices more easily than in the past.

Finally, the vendor did a good job designing the Surface. "Microsoft has positioned its tablets as PC replacements," said Strategy Analytics' Hochmuth. For example, the Surface 2-in-1 functions enable workers to swap out their laptop or desktop PC for a tablet.

The end result is a number of companies are standardizing on the devices. Liberty Mutual Insurance Group and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have each purchased more than 1,000 Surface tablets for use by their employees.

Still Facing Significant Challenges

While making headway, Microsoft faces a number of hurdles in the enterprise tablet market. Redmond has been working with Apple and Google, so business applications such as Microsoft Office run on competitors' mobile devices, thus diminishing one attractive Surface feature.

In addition, rivals have been improving their enterprise stories. Apple teamed with IBM to deliver and support mobile enterprise solutions. Google partnered with RSA to enhance Android security, a longstanding bugaboo.

Also, the Microsoft systems are expensive. While some tablets are available for as little as a few hundred dollars, Surface pricing ranges from about $500 to more than $1,000.

Still, Windows tablets have been bucking industry trends. Because of the devices' functionality and integration with enterprise systems, CIOs have been buying more of these systems and making them the most vibrant element in a dull market.

Paul Korzeniowski is a freelance contributor to InformationWeek who has been examining IT issues for more than two decades. During his career, he has had more than 10,000 articles and 1 million words published. His work has appeared in the Boston Herald, Business 2.0, ... View Full Bio
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batye
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batye,
User Rank: Ninja
11/4/2015 | 3:56:25 PM
Re: Good decision.
@SaneIT, Microsoft is very strange this days, the way they do things... 
SaneIT
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50%
SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
11/4/2015 | 8:16:50 AM
Re: Good decision.
I don't know that Microsoft could have done much different up to this point but killing off the Surface RT tablets was a good start and Continuum is another step in the right direction.  They seem to get it but are also stuck in the rut of just getting something shipped to keep some market share. 
batye
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50%
batye,
User Rank: Ninja
11/3/2015 | 10:52:51 PM
Re: Good decision.
@SaneIT I would say we are at the same boat with Windows Phones :(... sad reality
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
11/3/2015 | 8:07:50 AM
Re: Good decision.
I've done a test drive with a Windows phone and that lasted about three weeks, the apps weren't there and what was there would not be suitable replacements.  What I'm looking for though is the full Windows experience on a phone sized device.  They can scale down the UI when it's in phone mode but I want the same apps that I run on the desktop running everywhere.  Microsoft is on the right path with universal apps but I'm not seeing a lot of those going mainstream just yet either. 
batye
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50%
batye,
User Rank: Ninja
11/2/2015 | 8:09:23 PM
Re: Good decision.
@SaneIT, I would not recommend Windows phone... after using it for 3 months Windows 7 phone - I just give up.... as I could not cope with it... battery life... and everything slooooooow.....
batye
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50%
batye,
User Rank: Ninja
11/2/2015 | 8:07:09 PM
Re: Good decision.
@SaneIT, I could not agree more... as Nokia did have a lot of potential... I still use my old Nokia phone from 2000, just few days ago I upgraded and got Nokia C3.... love the brand and long lasting battery...
SaneIT
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50%
SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
11/2/2015 | 8:39:49 AM
Re: Good decision.
Nokia could still build the hardware and from what I understand a large part of buying Nokia was to have the patents that everyone in the industry fight over and slowly bleed each other over.  I think back to the Asus Transformer which was ahead of the curve in my opinion.  If I could get a full desktop OS when I dock my phone with various sized displays and I can run the same desktop software, I'd be thrilled.  A Surface phone that snaps into a 10" or 12" tablet/ultrabook that is little more than a display and extra battery and can dock the same way that my current Surface docks that would be perfect.   I might even drop the tablet format because I would tend to dock the phone sized device with displays when possible.
tzubair
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tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
10/30/2015 | 11:16:45 PM
Re: Good decision.
"I keep hearing whispers of a Surface phone from industry insiders and Microsoft employees. Hopefully there's some substance to those claims."

@SaneIT: It'd be really intersting if they do come up with something like that. It'd mean that the entire purchase of Nokia was a huge mistake. Having said that, I do believe apps is a major issue in Windows. There are, however, rumors that Windows 10 will have a much better approach to handling coss-platform apps and that the number of apps will increase greatly.
SaneIT
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50%
SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
10/30/2015 | 8:27:41 AM
Re: Good decision.
My problem with Windows 10 Phone is just that, it's a phone OS and the apps are still lagging far behind iOS and Android.  There has been so much talk about Windows working across all platforms but the phone just isn't there yet.  When it is though I'll be in line to get one and I do expect them to get there.  I keep hearing whispers of a Surface phone from industry insiders and Microsoft employees. Hopefully there's some substance to those claims.
AdamChew1
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AdamChew1,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/30/2015 | 2:42:33 AM
The Surface is a PC
The Surface is a PC disguised as an overpriced tablet.

As to whether it is enterprise friendly, well, time will tell.
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