Can Windows, Samsung Make a Run at Apple in the Tablet Space?

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Anthony Malakian, US Editor, WatersTechnology

Windows and Samsung have made moves to cut into Apple's dominance in the tablet space. Will they find any buyers on the buy side?

The iPad is to tablets as Q-tip is to cottony-things that you shove in your ear. That is to say that the words "iPad" and "tablet" are used almost interchangeably at industry conferences.

There are plenty of "competitors" to the iPad, but right now it hasn't been much of a competition. I spoke this week with Ojas Rege, VP of strategy for mobile device managment company MobileIron, about the interest his firm is seeing in the tablet space, and right now it isn't much of a story.

"Tablets in the capital markets─and frankly tablets in every industry right now─are dominated by the iPad," he says. "It probably represents over 90 percent of what's deployed."

As for the iPad's competitors, he says there's a lot of interest in Windows RT, low interest in Samsung's Android tablet, and interest in BlackBerry's offering has been "absolutely nonexistent".

But for Windows and Samsung, there are reasons to believe that they might be able to start to dent Apple's near monopoly by 2014.

First, Samsung. Last month the Android-provider launched Samsung Knox, which is aimed at companies looking to employ a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) strategy throughout the enterprise. It's functionality provides for a "dual-persona platform for at work and at home", according to the company, that separates the user's personal information from their work info.

"That's the kind of thing where I can now see in a year, maybe six months, there will actually be a real, viable option for capital markets to say, ‘Hey, there's an Android tablet out there that gives me the security I want and has a rock-solid user experience,'" he says.

Then there's Windows RT. In October, MobileIron conducted a webinar for the new Windows 8 platforms: Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Pro. Rege says that 2,500 of the company's 4,000 customers signed up for the webinar.

"The interest level in Windows 8 was massive," he says. "So what's happened in the last five months?"

One of the reasons for Windows' slow uptake is that RT is run on a whole new processor architecture and it doesn't run any of the old Windows apps. Users were hoping to get a new tablet that allowed them to do innovative things while keeping the old Windows apps in play, Rege says. That didn't happen. As a result, there isn't much of an incentive for a prospective buyer to choose Windows over Apple, if neither of them can run the old Windows apps.

"So RT hit a sticking point: You're stuck between the momentum of the iPad and a little bit of confusion in the market around what kind of applications RT can support," Rege says. "We're seeing a lot of interest in the Windows tablets but it's still a little bit early."

Rege says that he can see a point where Windows starts to make some gains in the industry in part because of how comfortable people in IT are with Windows' platform. Many firms have Windows developers, he says, and it can become "a good companion to the iPad deployments that they're doing internally," Rege says.

To me, that seems to be the most logical entry point: the IT staff. I would guess that portfolio managers and sales staff are going to want to use an iPad. They are comfortable with it and it carries a certain gravitas, which in the world of buy-side politics, counts for a lot.

As Rege told me, capital markets firms aren't as concerned about the iPad's price point the way a consumer would be, or an industry that has greater IT budget constraints.

"What we see with iPad is within capital markets and other parts of financial services, there isn't a lot of price sensitivity," he says. "There are other industries where cheaper tablets do well because there is real price sensitivity. We don't see that in the capital markets, where it's less about how much the piece of hardware costs because the iPad is seen as the cream of the crop."

Samsung Knox seems like a smart rollout, but the greatest barrier there is that─as with any BYOD strategy─you have hope that your workers want to use this as their phone and/or tablet. They have to want to have it at home, so as to bring it in to work.

I had an Android and after switching to the iPhone, I'll never go back. I haven't used Samsung's tablet, but I find it hard to believe that it can outperform the iPad in such a significant way so as to cause someone to change over.

When 2014 rolls around, I think that when we're at a conference and talking about tablets, we'll still be referring to iPads. I don't believe that Knox or Windows 8 will serve as game changers. But that doesn't mean that there isn't room to at least knock that 90-percent adoption down to something like 85 or (optimistically) 80 percent, either. I don't think that will happen on the buy side, but that also doesn't mean it can't.

What are your thoughts? Let me know via email ([email protected]) or give me a call (646-490-3973).

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