Tablets in the Enterprise: Do Windows or Android Stand a Chance?

on September 11, 2015

Are tablets really taking hold in the enterprise? Are they replacements for a PC or supplemental? While tablet sales have been shrinking of late, does this mean companies are no longer enamored with deploying them? Finally, for those looking at tablets, has Apple already won or do Microsoft (Windows) and Google (Android) still have hope?

Let’s take a closer look at the tablet market. There seems to be a belief that, because Apple’s iPad has a large early start in enterprise adoptions, it will continue to dominate the market for the foreseeable future. While I don’t buy into that vision, it’s important to look at facts rather than just speculate. Android has a lot of momentum due to the sheer number of suppliers and devices available and it’s likely to do well despite early issues with security and non-compatible versions. But Windows is more problematic. Early Windows-based tablets from HP, Dell etc., were less than stellar performers and Windows 7 wasn’t exactly tablet friendly. But with the launch of Windows 10, has this perception (and future reality) changed? Can tablets that aren’t iPads make inroads in the enterprise market?

To find out, we recently completed an online survey of 231 medium to large enterprises in the US. While we asked a number of questions on various topics related to mobile devices and software, one of the key areas of inquiry we included was to acquire quantitative data about the various options organizations have in tablets and what their future plans were. What we found was interesting.

We asked the respondents to indicate what percentage of their workforce currently had a tablet and what that percentage would be in three years. To simplify (and allow easy multiple choice survey responses), we provided a fixed selection of deployment ranges: 0%-10%, 11%-25%, 26%-50%, 51%-75%, or 76%-100%. From this data, we were able to calculate not only the deployment rates but also a growth rate for the next three years. We obtained this data for iPads, Android, and Windows-powered tablets.

For our purposes, we assumed those choosing the 0%-10% range have minimal to no installation of tablets in the workforce (that doesn’t mean there are no tablets being used – just not sanctioned workplace production units). Those selecting the 76%-100% range indicated a nearly full deployment of workplace tablets. We also assumed the higher ranges were selected in those companies that see tablets as a general deployment option, while the lower ranges represented those organizations who see tablets as a work-specific (or application-specific) requirement.

Figure 1 indicates the results for Windows-based tablet adoption currently, in three years, and the overall growth rate. Figure 2 indicates the same results for iPads and figure 3 indicates the results for Android-based tablets. (As an aside, we have similar data for smartphone adoption, but we’ll leave that for another time).

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What does the data show? While starting from a smaller base, the highest growth rate for tablet deployments in fully deployed or nearly fully deployed workplaces was Windows, followed by iPad and then by Android. It’s important to note this is growth rate, not number of devices, but it still indicates a significant growth in units, especially in those organizations who are leaning towards full tablet deployment across the user population.

The three year deployment rates show Windows and Android gaining on the iPads in the higher deployment rate organizations (76%-100%) — 23.8% for Windows, 32.9% for iPad, and 25.5% for Android. While the gains are impressive for Windows and Android given their current smaller base, this indicates to us that those companies engaged in deploying tablets to the full workforce still favor iPads.

In the 51%-75% deployment range, iPad (18.6%) loses to Android (21.6%) in devices selected and Windows (18.2%) is nearly equal to the iPad share. This indicates to us that a mid-level deployment of tablets in companies not fully engaged in “tablets for all” are much more likely to obtain alternatives to iPads and are open to implementation of Windows and Android tablets for their needs. This is most likely a result of a “solution sell” where a specific problem is addressed either as an extension of existing infrastructure compatibility or through a complete solution offered by a vendor.

So what’s the bottom line? These results confirm our expectations that the large market advantage of iPads in the workplace will fade over the next three years. The market will become a closer competitive race, with Android and Windows-powered devices picking up a significant share of organizational deployments. The data also suggests that not all organizations view the various tablet options the same and indeed, we found there are significant differences among various verticals (which we will save for a future discussion). Finally, size of deployments matter when devices are selected, indicating those organizations that have less than complete deployments of tablets (deployment to the general population) are much more likely to choose a solution based on HW and SW availability from vendors (task specific deployments).

The data also suggests that the notion tablets are general replacements for notebook and desktop PCs is false. Neither do they appear to be general replacements for smartphones. This is borne out by the data above suggesting many tablets used within enterprises are solution specific deployments and not general purpose computing platforms, such as traditional PCs are (this is also borne out by many conversations I’ve had with staff at companies in the midst of using tablets).

What isn’t yet clear is how 2 in 1 devices (notebooks that allow the screen to be separated and act as a tablet) will affect the market. Nearly all of these will be Windows-powered (with perhaps a few Chromebooks included and unless the iPad Pro gets categorized as a 2-in-1). So I’d expect some overlap with pure tablets in enterprises. But this form factor will also have an effect on the sale of notebooks (they are, after all, a notebook when docked).

Nevertheless, we expect to see many of the gains in Windows in the mid-tier deployment ranges be re-focused on 2 in 1s as they look both for solution specific tablet functions and general purpose computing (PC) platforms. So the PC form factor is not dead and being replaced by the tablet form factor, nor do we expect to see a huge uptick in general tablet sales to enterprise users over the next three years, instead seeing them used mostly for solution specific needs.