Most of the Windows 8 tablet-vs.-iPad chatter would have you think these two devices are in a head-to-head competition, going after the same customers. For one to win the other has to lose, and so on and so forth.
This thought process fits right into the consumerization-of-IT narrative that's received so much play over the past few years. Without it, we'd all be far more skeptical. And we should be, as there are two very different marketplaces for tablet computers: consumers and enterprises. They have little in common. Knowing the difference is the key to seeing Microsoft's "reverse consumerization" opportunity.
[ Find out the 10 business skills every IT pro must master, beware the 9 warning signs of bad IT architecture, and steer clear of the 12 "best practices" IT should avoid at all costs. | Understand how to both manage and benefit from the consumerization of IT with InfoWorld's "Consumerization Digital Spotlight" PDF special report. | For more of Bob Lewis' continuing IT management wisdom, check out his Advice Line newsletter. ]
What "consumerization" is -- and isn't
The consumer tablet market is mostly about entertainment. We buy our iPads and use them to browse, game, play music, read books -- oh, we use them for email, too. The iPad is optimized for this marketplace, and most Android tablets, being copycat devices, are optimized for consumer use as well.
So why are iPads flooding into the enterprise? Consumerization, that's why! Or so we're told, as if consumerization was a reason.
It isn't. Consumerization is an effect, not a cause -- the consequence of businesses being less willing than consumers to spend on technology that's desirable rather than essential. Because consumers now spend more on the technologies they personally use than businesses do, consumers have better stuff, which means that when they go to work, they feel deprived compared to what they can do at home. In turn, this means they either bring their better stuff with them (BYOD) or agitate for stuff that's just as good.
This was certainly true with smartphones a few years back. RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) might have been the best thing ever, but anyone who compared a BlackBerry with any other smartphone on the market wanted the other smartphone (unless it was a Treo, and don't get me started on that pathetic demonstration that the so-called first-mover advantage is a complete and utter myth).
It's also true of tablets today, but in a very different way: Where there was a smartphone designed for enterprise use when the iPhone came out (the BlackBerry), there are no tablets designed for enterprise use. As anything at all is usually better than nothing, iPads have flowed in, just as if they were actually good for enterprise use and not just good enough.
Microsoft's competitive weakness in a split tablet market
But much more than smartphones, the needs of the enterprise for tablets are very different from those for consumers: Enterprises require manageability, and employees must be able to do actual work, not just be entertained. Consumers need none of the former and only a limited amount of the latter -- which is why both Apple and Microsoft could win a tablet nonwar, with Apple ruling the home and Microsoft ruling the enterprise. If the tablet marketplace does cleave this way, it will help limit the impact of a gaping hole in Microsoft's tablet competitive position: apps.