Windows tablet growth puts shine on Microsoft's enterprise prospects

Apple's tablet won't be tossed from its top spot in business, but analyst expects Microsoft to make inroads in the next three years

Tablet use is expected to grow in the workplace through 2019.
Gordon Mah Ung

Enterprises will increasingly look to Windows and Android as the percentages of workers equipped with tablets grows over the next three years, an analyst said today.

The greater attention to tablets gives Microsoft an opportunity to boost the number of Windows 10 devices, and while likely only a small revenue increase from licenses, additional opportunities to sell its portfolio of services, said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates.

"Overall, Windows licensing will continue to fall as a percentage of Microsoft's revenue," said Gold in an interview. "But that's not where the money is long term. The more people they have on Windows 10, the more likelihood they can sell you whatever," he added, ticking off everything from Azure and Office 365 to device management platforms like Intune.

Gold's research firm surveyed 300 U.S. companies and asked respondents to peg the percentage of their workforce that's currently using a tablet and what the percentage would be in three years. The idea? Get a handle on tablet usage and adoption in the enterprise.

In most cases, Apple's iPad was not only the most prevalent tablet currently deployed, but would remain so in three years. Yet iOS's position is not unassailable.

Among companies where 51% to 75% of employees now have a tablet -- whether company-issued or their own that they use for work tasks -- the iPad will account for 18.3% of the devices in three years, up from 12.7% today. But Windows tablets, which account for just 8.7% of the total now, will climb to 17.7% in three years, nearly matching the iPad.

Firms where essentially all workers have a tablet expect to see even greater growth in their Windows tablet numbers: Currently, about 18% of those tablets are iPads, with a projected share of 29.3% in three years, representing a 63% increase. Windows tablets, now accounting for only 9.6%, will jump to 20.7% in three years, for a 123% growth rate.

"Organizations that are Windows-centric will favor Windows tablets for corporate application deployments," Gold wrote in his analysis of the survey results.

Not surprisingly, larger companies -- which are more likely to be committed to Windows -- favored Windows-powered tablets when compared to the overall average. Even in those organizations, however, the iPad was, and would remain, dominant.

Gold's conclusion is that while the iPad's reign isn't in danger of being overthrown in the next three years, Windows and Android tablets would make significant inroads.

But tablets, for all the talk by Microsoft and Apple -- see "Surface Pro" and "iPad Pro," respectively -- that their tablets make personal computers moot, are generally not being acquired by businesses to replace PCs. In-the-field workers, such as pharmaceutical reps, may be better served by a tablet rather than a notebook, but office workers won't be dumping their systems.

Instead, enterprises see tablets as a cheap way to increase productivity, with the payoff almost certain. "The cost is relatively low," said Gold "Companies can buy a lower-end tablet, and at volume you're talking about $500 to $700. For someone making $125 an hour, a few hours [saved] makes up the cost of the device. Tablet cost is not that big of a deal."

But don't underestimate user demand for driving tablet adoption, Gold cautioned. It may be an even greater motivation for putting tablets in the workplace than an authoritative cost-benefits analysis, which few firms bother doing.

"Some of [the tablet deployment] is keeping people happy," said Gold. "That doesn't mean it's cost effective."

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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