When it comes to being a PC vendor these days, life is tough. For 30 years they have had a cozy business and only had to worry about designing two major form factors. Desktops and laptops were their bread and butter and they mainly needed to focus on enterprise, SMB and consumer markets.
But over the last two years, with the introduction of tablets and smartphones, their world has been turned upside down. Their enterprise customers are bringing iPhones and Android phones to their IT managers and asking them to support them. And now, iPads, and to some minor degree, Android tablets, are entering IT through the back door as well.
Now, these major PC players have to seriously consider significant plays in tablets and smartphones if they want to keep their IT customers happy. But, even their consumer users want tablets and smartphones from these vendors since they are well-known brands and in most cases, are known for their services and support.
But until recently, if the OEM’s wanted an OS for these products, they pretty much had only one option at their disposal. Android came along at a time when, for most PC vendors, it looked like it was a godsend. But after two years of trying to deal with Google and their scattered approach to designing and releasing so many versions of Android at irregular intervals and favoring marquis partners for major releases, some of the really big PC vendors are de-emphasizing or backing away from Android and are now seriously considering Windows 8 on tablets instead.
I was recently in a meeting with two PC vendors who were wrangling with the issue of backing Android or Windows 8 in tablets and while they still viewed Android as a viable product for potential consumer customers, they have pretty much concluded that if they want a tablet to be accepted by their business customers, they need to back Windows 8 on tablets and especially the ones supporting based on Intel silicon.
The key issue for business is backward compatibility. Although developers will have to adapt their apps to run the Metro UI for tablets, they won’t have to re-write much of the applications code as they would for use with ARM processors. And for users, they can be pretty much be assured that they can run Windows apps even without the Metro touch UI if needed by using the pen input as the mouse on most of these Win 8 tablets that will be out next year.
As for Android support in tablets for business, the interest from the big vendors is waning. There are a lot of reasons for this, but in the chart below, Michael DeGusta created this chart to show the Android and iPhone update history. As you can see, Android’s scattered releases alone have caused nightmares for tablet and smart phone vendors and this type of release schedule within enterprise is just not acceptable.
Of course, HP was the only company to buck the Android trend completely. They bought webOS and, to their credit, had hoped that they could build an ecosystem around webOS so that they had total control of this OS and their ecosystem themselves. Interestingly, they started out backing Android but wisely dropped it as they foresaw serious problems with this OS on many levels. The key one was that they were very concerned that Google did not have a good grasp on how to create a mobile OS that would meet the need of their core customers. So, they bought webOS with the thought that they could use this to create a more robust and secure OS for business and consumers.
Of course, as you know, things have not gone well with webOS and at the moment, it is not clear what HP will do with this great mobile OS. But it is pretty clear that they still do not see Android as an OS they wish to support.
HP actually has a long history of Windows tablet support and has sold it to many vertical market customers over the years. At CES 2009, HP publicly backed Microsoft’s Windows Tablets in Microsoft’s keynote. But with their turning their back on Android and webOS not living up to their own expectations, they pretty much were forced to turn back to Microsoft and will indeed, make Windows 8 on tablets their preferred tablet OS.
For enterprise, this is a no brainer. But they do have some latitude to back even ARM based tablets for consumers with Windows on ARM as well.
So, with HP keeping the PC division and tablets becoming a very important part of the business segment, HP, Dell and Lenovo along with the traditional PC vendors are all going to back Windows 8 on tablets in a big way. Unless Google changes their way of dealing with these vendors, I suspect that they will all eventually ratchet down support for Android tablets and instead put all of their weight behind Windows 8 on tablets, at least when it comes to tablets in the enterprise.