CXO

Here's why Windows 8 tablets really do have a future, in business at least

Windows tablets have struggled to compete with cheap Android devices and Apple's iPad but that may be about to change.

Windows tablets have until now struggled to generate much demand in what should be home territory – business. 

Some of this is down to badly thought out products – indeed, Microsoft was so underwhelmed by the hardware manufacturers poor attempts at Windows tablets that it had to build its own, the Surface, which has so far had limited success in the marketplace.

Other reasons for limited take-up include cash-strapped businesses being unwilling to splash out on yet another device, the lack of clear business benefits of tablets and the unexpected willingness of staff to buy their own devices instead.

But whatever the reason, the result has been that around 85 percent of the tablets used in business are either iPads or Android devices (or Amazon's Kindle Fire version of Android). And while PC makers have struggled to compete with either cheap Android or the more expensive Apple devices, they could soon find some respite in the business market.

When asked "Is there a real demand for Windows 8 tablets in business?" TechRepublic's CIO Jury of tech decision makers voted 'yes' by a margin of nine to three, suggesting Windows 8 tablets may gradually start to make an impact with business users at least.

Matthew Oakley, group head of IT at Schroders: "The ability to have a full (secure) corporate build laptop in a tablet with handwriting recognition that actually works without training is significant. Suddenly OneNote makes sense...Surface Pro2 is a bit heavy, we prefer the Lenovo – but the idea is one whose time is dawning (finally!)."

Michael Hanken, VP of IT for Multiquip added: "It's the natural extension of the desktop to mobile without the need to develop mobile applications on another OS. This is especially interesting for manufacturing environments and we will start deploying rugged devices soon."

Delano Gordon, CIO at Roofing Supply Group said "I believe they are viable replacements for Windows based laptops in certain industries if the business application stack allows it," while Juergen Renfer, CIO at Kommunale Unfallversicherung Bayern said the tablets would allow businesses to rely on the same applications across PCs, laptops and tablets.

Some tech chiefs have already started to make the move to Windows tablet. For example, Shawn Beighle, CIO at the International Republican Institute said: "I've already moved off my laptop and am now working exclusively off of a Surface Pro 2. Using a USB 3.0 docking station, I have two full sized monitors going, which gives me three monitors total counting the Surface itself, a full size keyboard and mouse, external speakers, hardwired Ethernet network connection and an external printer."

He added: "So far this little machine has taken everything that I've thrown at it, including running QuickBooks 2013, Lync, Skype, OneNote, Outlook, Excel, iMindMap, all while streaming music from Pandora and watching two different video streams on YouTube, and all at the same time. The cursor hasn't even stuttered."

Beighle said that he is continuing to test the device. "If it holds up, we're going to begin allowing staff to choose between a desktop, one of the new Dell Latitude 7000 Series Ultrabooks or a Surface Pro 2 for replacements of equipment at the end of its lifecycle."

Andrew Paton, group manager IT services at Rondo International, said his organisation has also set its sights on a Windows tablet.

"Why Windows over iOS or Android?  Well for me it's all about a common platform used across the enterprise and a common toolset to manage them."

Paton said he saw limitations with the iPads in the corporate environment and has security issues with Android. "We see Windows based tablets as the future 'tool of trade' for our mobile sales reps, replacing traditional laptops in the field. This niche area is still evolving as vendors work out what form factor provides the best fit for the enterprise. In many cases they are pursuing a combination of paths from traditional tablets with various add-on bits and pieces through to the hybrids that offer traditional laptop keyboards but with screens that separate and pull off."

He said while the Surface Pro 2 still has some limitations this may be resolved particularly with Microsoft's recently acquired access to Nokia hardware expertise. 

"You only have to look at the new Nokia 2520 RT-based device to see that they know their stuff when it comes to making hardware devices. Surface 2 and Pro 2 needs to be thinner and lighter, keyboard better quality, one more USB port, place holder for the Stylus in addition to the power connection, of and instead of a kick stand with two positions why not make it three or four, but it does have the underpinnings of a great device. Full laptop power under the skin. MS just needs to listen to its customers more closely and work on the obvious."

Not all CIOs are seeing the same level of demand: Rohit Kilam, CTO, Masam Group, said some business users want to experiment with a tablet as an additional device while John Rogers, IT director at Nor-Cal Products, said: "In our company I wouldn't say a greater demand as much as more interest in what a Windows 8 tablet can do for them versus iPad or Android tablet. Some of my peers have also been seeing an uptick in interest. In our case we will be bringing in Windows 8 tablets because they fit our needs better since we are a Windows/Microsoft shop."

But not all are convinced. Michael Spears, CIO at NCCI Holdings, said: "Users needing the full PC experience are sticking with their ultrabooks," but said that the full PC experience is not what most users are looking for. "I've been using a trial Lenovo Windows 8 tablet for a few weeks. The hardware is very good, the experience however, is greatly lacking."

One issue for CIOs is that not all applications necessarily make sense on a touchscreen. Jerry Justice, IT director at SS&G Financial Services, said: "There will continue to be a need for a variety of devices because they have different use characteristics. These devices provide a bridge between PC and pure tablets. Also, industries still have many core apps that are not even close to being mobile or touch oriented."

Darryl Roberts CIO at SEMO Health Network, believes certain jobs that require a full keyboard: "In some industries maybe it's got a shot, but in healthcare and other areas where old fashioned data input is the key, no."

Duncan James, infrastructure manager, Clarion Solicitors, said users are learning from experience that specific devices are better suited to certain environments. "What our users really want are bigger multi-screen displays, or the ability to extend off their cramped laptops in order to digest the noisy barrage of information that hits them every day.

"Microsoft is building great foundations for the infrastructure that supports the management of the Surface family devices, the price just needs to be lower for businesses to take these devices seriously."

He the need to support third party legacy business applications is also holding back the move to Windows 8.1. Some of these apps just won't work on the new OS, even in compatibility mode, or others don't suit a touchscreen environment.

This week's CIO Jury was:

Delano Gordon, CIO, Roofing Supply Group
Juergen Renfer, CIO, Kommunale Unfallversicherung Bayern
Matthew Oakley, group head of IT, Schroders
Jerry Justice, IT director, SS&G Financial Services
Michael Hanken, VP of IT, Multiquip
John Gracyalny, VP IT, SafeAmerica Credit Union
Shawn P Beighle, CIO, International Republican Institute
John Rogers, IT Director, Nor-Cal Products
Rohit Kilam, CTO, Masam Group
Michael Spears, CIO, NCCI Holdings
Darryl Roberts, CIO, SEMO Health Network
Andrew Paton, group manager IT services, Rondo International

Want to be part of TechRepublic's CIO Jury and have your say on the hot issues for IT decision-makers? If you are a CIO, CTO, IT director or equivalent at a large or small company, working in the private sector or in government, and you want to join TechRepublic's CIO Jury pool, or you know an IT chief who should, then get in contact. Either click the Contact link below or email me, steve dot ranger at techrepublic dot com, and send your name, title, company, location, and email address.

About

Steve Ranger is the UK editor of TechRepublic, and has been writing about the impact of technology on people, business and culture for more than a decade. Before joining TechRepublic he was the editor of silicon.com.

Editor's Picks