Tablet Wars: Apple iPad vs Microsoft Surface.

By | Jul 3, 2012

The Microsoft announcement of the Surface tablet has immediately changed how IT and business executives think about mobile computing devices for their organizations. Announcing products in advance of specific details is not a new strategy for Microsoft, as it knows it can often halt IT decisions and competitive momentum until it releases more information. What is known about Surface--and what is attractive to IT executives--is the format combined with the Windows 8 OS. Perhaps even more importantly, Surface will run native Windows applications, such as Microsoft Office.

Surface is expected to be priced in the $1,000 range, comparable with so-called ultrabooks, which are high power notebooks. A lower-cost RT version will be more price-competitive, according to a CNet report, but is expected to lack the power, features, and backward compatibility of the Windows 8 Pro version.

Microsoft Surface was created in response to the popularity of mobile devices like the iPad and Android variants, which have quickly invaded corporate work environments. The Apple device is estimated to have a 65 to 70 percent market share in non-PC mobile computers, according to eWeek.

Microsoft has two key concerns in the non-PC mobile computing segment. First, mobile computing devices are expected to surpass traditional PC sales in the next several years. Second, the leading devices do not run Windows. "The gap will be significantly closed between tablet and PC unit sales by 2015," states a Piper Jaffray analyst report. "We believe tablets could overtake sales of notebooks by 2015 and total PCs well before 2020." Without Surface, that would mean bad news for Microsoft, as its top two business segements by revenue and profit would be negatively impacted.

Mobile Computing Has Strong Popularity in Corporate America

With more organizations following "work anywhere" policies, mobile computing is quickly becoming the new norm. The paper notebook, once the popular accessory for in-person meetings, has been replaced by its electronic equivalent. "Let me get back to you with the information," is a rarely uttered or acceptable phrase, as much of the data on which corporations operate is now available either in spreadsheets, or online.

The trend is clearly toward lighter, highly portable, constantly connected devices that can give users the answers and information they need at the swipe of a finger. The momentum toward Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) policies, despite the security risks, is also expected to continue along the upward arc of popularity and acceptance.

The Microsoft announcement will likely influence how midsize company executives think about equipping their employees. The IT challenges and risks of BYOD can be mitigated with company-provided devices such as Surface that can be centrally procured, managed, monitored, supported, and secured. The large installed based and third-party support of iPad has made it a wildly popular, well-known, well understood, and well supported product. The diversity, support, and security challenges presented by the numerous permutations of Android software and hardware would be significantly reduced by choosing Surface devices. But it's also worth remembering that Microsoft's track record of building and supporting hardware has not been without delayed, disappointing and discontinued products.

Is Surface a good choice for your environment? Perhaps. Right now, it's an intriguing announcement, but it is simply too early to make an informed decision.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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