Apple’s tablet inspires devotion among users and it is often the first platform for which developers produce apps – but it is substantially more expensive than its competitors
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April 2014 marked the fourth anniversary of the release of Apple’s iPad, the device that created the modern tablet market.
Tablets are transforming computing as IT departments, business units and workers buy the devices for work and personal computing.
While it might sound odd to refer to a four-year-old form factor as "traditional", the pillars of the tablet market stand beneath the 9.7in Apple iPad and its mostly sub-11in competitors, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 (10.1in version) or the Microsoft Surface (10.6in Windows RT version).
Many information workers today use tablets which typically contain an ARM-based microprocessor or, in some newer models, an Intel Atom processor. Generally weighing less than 2lb, these devices feature always-on operation and long battery life. They offer easy-to-use, hyper-portable productivity in a wide variety of environments.
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Certainly iPad users show a great deal of devotion to the platform. Among global information workers, a sub-segment use both a work-provided iPad and a personal iPad in a typical week. There are a number of reasons for Apple’s continued success in the tablet market.
First, innovation often comes first to iOS. Developers target the platform for many of the most innovative applications. Partly, this is pecuniary: Developers reap higher revenue, in general, from iOS than from Android. Even though Android is also a key platform for tablets (as opposed to smartphones), the iPad is the first release choice for the most innovative apps. An example is the MindMeld application, which “listens” to multi-user conversations, takes notes, raises key themes of the meeting and brings in web content to form a radically new content-generating collaboration experience. While the system is now on Android, the earliest versions were all developed for the iPad.
Second, service providers make iOS devices enterprise-friendly. An underrated part of the iOS ecosystem is the service provider categories. Mobile device management (MDM) suppliers such as AirWatch, Good Technology and MobileIron help IT professionals manage numerous endpoint devices, but all three of those suppliers say iPads are the most common tablets they manage.
Apple-owned FileMaker provides a platform for developing applications, and an ecosystem of hosting service providers has sprung up to project FileMaker applications from the cloud.
In addition, vertical industries are adapting iPads to their own uses. Each enterprise vertical tailors the iPad to its own needs. For example, in healthcare, providers have developed services for discharging patients and moving them to outpatient care on the iPad platform. As enterprises devote developer talent to proprietary iOS applications, vertical adaption will become even more widespread.
A related trend is that enterprise apps take advantage of tablet features. These proprietary applications will take advantage of the tablet-specific features of the iPad, including sensors, gyroscopes, GPS and LTE wireless services. For example, field-service applications can location- and time-tag activities to track worker productivity. Not that iOS holds a monopoly here – it doesn’t – but many of these apps prove themselves on the iPad first.
Finally, the iPad can be used as a hybrid device with external keyboards from Apple, Logitech and Zagg. Indeed, it’s not hard to find an author who has written an entire novel on an iPad. The flexibility of the ecosystem around the iPad extends even to peripherals that workers can employ as needed.
But, Apple’s iPad doesn’t win all the enterprise app battles. Logitech developed a proprietary app for its salespeople in China, who visit retail outlets to evaluate current inventory, sales trends, and inventory planning. They offered the app on iPad and Android tablets, but their Chinese salespeople overwhelmingly chose the latter.
Further, Apple’s iPad doesn’t monopolise developers’ attention. Among mobile developers, iOS and Android run neck and neck in terms of tablet prioritisation. Among all mobile devices (including smartphones and tablets), 48% of mobile developers list the iPad as one of their top three priorities, while 45% list Android tablets.
Then there is the question of cost. Compared with an entry-level iPad Mini in the US ($329), an HP Slate 7 Android tablet ($169) offers a significant discount. The open-source, multi-supplier nature of Android leads to a wide array of device form factors and price points.
Samsung, in addition to other hardware heavyweights such as Lenovo and HP, joins Google in its advocacy of the platform. Samsung touts its S-Pen as a differentiator in the functionality and performance of its Android tablets, even as the Korean manufacturing giant leads the smartphone market as well. However, IT professionals should beware the complexity of Android. The fragmentation of the operating system continues to present a significant challenge, with so many devices on the smartphone-tablet spectrum employing disparate versions of Android, from 1.6 to 4.2. MDM suppliers report that managing Android complexity represents a substantial challenge for most of their enterprise customers who want to accommodate Android in their bring your own device (BYOD) programmes.
We’re enjoying a period of great experimentation in the device market, offering workers and consumers unparalleled form factor diversity and choice. Some of these devices will succeed quickly, as Apple’s iPad did. Others will take time to develop, as witnessed by the first successful Android tablets. Still others will peak and fall quickly, like netbooks. Particularly in the diverse Windows 8 and Android device ecosystems, there will be mass die-offs in the competition for survival in the tablet market.
This article is based on Forrester’s report: Orchestrating An Enterprise Tablet Strategy That Drives Business Value, by J P Gownder.