Tech chiefs have cautiously welcomed Microsoft's latest tablet device but want more detail about Microsoft's future plans.
Microsoft hopes the third iteration of its Surface Pro tablet will be the one that makes a breakthrough: it is touting the Surface Pro 3 as a full laptop replacement and also wants it to stem the tide of Android and iOS tablets that have been flooding into businesses.
Enterprises have been seen as keen for the arrival of a decent Windows tablet, largely because they are heavily invested in Microsoft on the desktop and elsewhere in their infrastructure, so the response of CIOs to the new hardware could be key to its success.
But when asked "Is the Surface Pro 3 the device that will provide the breakthrough in the enterprise that Windows tablets need?" TechRepublic's panel of tech chiefs were evenly split on its prospects.
Some were enthusiastic: Tim Stiles, CIO at the Bremerton Housing Authority, said: "We have already begun transition away from Apple to Microsoft tablets - a very positive outcome."
And Kelly Bodway, VP of IT atUniversal Lighting Technologies, said his organisation had deployed several of the Surface Pro 2s and found them to be "very capable" laptop replacements, but added: "Pricing and Microsoft's commitment to the product line are the two concerns we have. The pricing of the [Surface Pro] 3 is comparable to a high-end business laptop if not slightly more expensive. And, it is a new product of which Microsoft has not shared a long term road map."
Jerry Justice, IT director at SS&G Financial Services, said his organisation has also been using the Dell Venue and the Microsoft Surface as laptop replacements, and noted: "They have been well received by staff and are a good blend between laptop and tablet form factors. The path forward still requires context, it really depends on your app makeup and services delivery models. We have a blend of these services and these devices provide a good current path."
Kevin Leypoldt, IS director at Structural Integrity Associates, said devices like the Surface seemed like the obvious way to bridge the gap between touchscreens and traditional desktop interfaces but admitted: "I wish I could say why these hybrid type machines have not yet caught on in market share."
He said his organisation has several convertible laptops and older Surface devices and they work quite well in the office and in the field, and added: "With Windows 8.1 making some serious strides in allowing Windows to work better using more traditional input devices (keyboard and mouse), the missing link may be the hardware where the Surface 3 may help fill this gap," he said.
Florentin Albu, CIO at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, said whether Surface will make a breakthrough depends on the type of work being done. For example, workers who are information consumers - such as executives - have already made a move towards iPads and to a lesser extent Androids. In contrast workers who need to do heavy document editing, Excel processing, desktop-publishing and the like are unlikely to be convinced, he said, while for staff involved in data entry the cost of the hardware will be the main barrier.
He said: "I believe that unfortunately the Surface tablet needs to catch up with iOS and Android ones, and it is not the hardware but the application ecosystem that will win this war. The Surface banks on the significant number of applications that come with the Windows heritage (well at least the ones running on Windows 8). Most of these however have been designed in the pre-cloud era.
"Looking at the iOS or Android ecosystem, mostly everything is designed to use the cloud - for storage, processing, integration etc. Clearly this will change as Windows apps are catching up. Will the change come in time though?"
Albu added: "In a BYOD era, the question is which device is more appealing to the end user? I have not seen the Surface generating much co-worker envy, like the iPads or - to an extent - the Galaxys have done...we will definitely see an uptake of Surface in the enterprise, it might not, however, be to a point of domination."
Andrew Paton, group manager IT services at Rondo, also saw pluses and minuses to the device: "It is certainly a better contender, but some of the old shortfalls remain. The device is perhaps what it should have been from the start, but like anything we see from [Microsoft] it seems to take a couple of attempts before they seems to take on board the feedback and get it looking right. I can't believe it has taken as long as it has to get that kick stand right! Great that it is lighter. It had to be to survive."
Paton said his organisation had evaluated the Surface as a replacement laptop and said "you couldn't fault the performance of the device or the screen clarity". He said the battery life was not as huge a concern as some suggested but said: "The real faults in my opinion were the weight, the lack of two USB ports (one is not really good enough in the corporate environment) the lack of a solid keyboard (type covers were not robust enough and lacked quality)."
He added: "The other concern for us was the need to carry around adapters for this and that. Adapters when given to sales reps inevitability get lost or left at client sites or forgotten when you need to do that important presentation."
However, not all tech chiefs are experimenting with the devices - John Gracyalny, VP of IT at SafeAmerica Credit Union, said: "Until my key vendors support Windows 8, the Surface is not an option."
This week's CIO Jury is:
- Andrew Paton, Group Manager IT Services, Rondo
- Brian Stanek, VP of IT, Namico
- Kelly Bodway, VP of IT, Universal Lighting Technologies
- Richard Storey, head of IT, Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust
- Jerry Justice, IT director, SS&G Financial Services
- Shawn Beighle, CIO, International Republican Institute
- John Gracyalny, VP of IT, SafeAmerica Credit Union
- Neil Harvey, IT director, Sindlesham Court
- Tim Stiles, CIO, Bremerton Housing Authority
- Juergen Renfer, CIO, Kommunale Unfallversicherung Bayern
- Florentin Albu, CIO, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations
- Kevin Leypoldt, IS director, Structural Integrity Associates
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Steve Ranger is the UK editor-in-chief of ZDNet and TechRepublic. An award-winning journalist, Steve writes about the intersection of technology, business and culture, and regularly appears on TV and radio discussing tech issues. Previously he was the editor of silicon.com.