Where Windows 8 tablets could beat the iPad

Dell is banking on schools and hospitals to turn the tide away from the iPad back to Windows devices

I know a lot of people in both health care and education, and almost everyone wants or has an iPad for use in the clinic or classroom. Every provider of electronic medical records (EMR) systems has or is developing an iPad app for these records systems, which are the equivalent of ERP for the medical industry and in full deployment now thanks to federal mandates. It seems inevitable the iPad will become the device of choice for computers in the classroom and computers in the clinic.

But maybe not. Dell is making the case that Windows 8 tablets -- specifically its Latitude 10 line announced yesterday -- are a better fit for both health care and education. It's commissioned studies, showing a marginally cheaper management cost in the classroom for Windows 8 tablets and a hugely cheaper cost in the clinic for Windows 8 tablets.

[ What do Windows book authors really think about Windows 8? Fourteen scribes lay it out for you. | Read InfoWorld's comparison of mobile security capabilities in iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone. ]

Like all vendor studies, the ones sponsored by Dell and conducted by Principled Technologies (ironically named) are rigged in favor of its own platform, making the best assumptions for Windows 8 and the worst for the iPad. Anyone who knows the iPad knows Dell's highly manual process assumptions are wrong, and Windows management isn't exactly easy or free of client license costs. In fact, that very small difference in purported management costs in the classroom likely means the iPad is cheaper to manage. The assumption that a school would need four Windows servers to enable AirPrint printing from iPads is laughable -- all you need is one IT-manageable $199 Lantronix xPrintServer Office print server for the whole school, not $5,000 worth of Windows servers.

As for hospitals, the big difference is almost entirely related to purported software update costs, which can be greatly reduced on the iPad if you use a mobile management tool instead of updating each iPad manually and in person, as Dell assumed. Dell also assumed that iPads would need to have their batteries replaced before their fourth year, which must be done by Apple and thus cost a fair amount of money and require a temporary unit while waiting for the unit to be returned. As someone who has several iPads of that age, I can tell you the batteries won't typically need to be replaced. Dell assumes its own tablet's user-replaceable batteries will need to be substituted, an assumption that's probably realistic given its calculations would look even better if it claimed they lasted that long.

Like I said, the "study" is rigged. But Dell has some at least initially compelling reasons why Windows 8 might be the better fit, regardless of the management cost differences:

  • Windows 8 tablets run standard Windows applications, so existing classroom apps and EMR apps can run on them unmodified now. That's technically true, but standard Windows apps usually are hard to use on a Windows tablet because the Windows 7 Desktop environment is not suited for touch-based interactions. Also, apps optimized for the Metro touch interface are new and, based on the Metro apps available so far, likely to be less capable than iPad apps. Still, Windows legacy support, especially for specialty apps whose developers don't really know iOS, could be an advantage.
  • Windows 8 tablets can be managed by existing Windows management tools, so a hospital or school district can avoid the cost of a separate, app-savvy mobile device management (MDM) tool. One of the iPad's unpleasant truths is that you can't manage applications and updates across a fleet of them as easily as you can for Windows PCs. Microsoft has long made both its Windows OS and its Windows Server tools capable of such fleet management, while for iOS it requires the use of third-party tools and creative management of Apple's APIs. Windows management is not easy, but chances are that larger hospitals and richer school districts have already figured out how to do it for their administration staff's PCs. Despite what the security vendors will tell you, the issue is not security, not even in health care, as patient data is typically not stored on local devices even on PCs, much less iPads. Secure Web access is the norm. I credit Dell for not overplaying that dubious security card in its sales pitch.
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