Businesses should pay attention to Microsoft Surface: Analysts

Analysts say new Windows 8 tablets are likely to appeal to enterprise

Microsoft Surface tablets should make a splash in the business market, especially given the trend of employees bringing their own devices to work, analysts told Computerworld Australia.

Microsoft announced two tablets, one running Windows 8 Pro on a third-generation Intel Core processor and the other running Windows RT on an ARM processor. Each tablet features a 10.6 inch screen. The Windows RT model comes in 32GB and 64GB flavours while the Windows 8 Pro version can be had in 64GB and 128GB. Click here for more specs and pictures.

While Microsoft’s announcement focused on consumers, the company will likely try to appeal to businesses as well, said Telsyte analyst Rodney Gedda. “For the business market, it represents an opportunity for Microsoft to tie into its established business offerings like SharePoint, messaging and email.” Both the Windows RT and Windows 8 Pro models of the devices could be used by businesses, particularly given the BYOD (bring your own device trend), he said.

IT managers should “keep an eye out for business features” like mobile device management and security encryption, Gedda said. Microsoft hasn’t yet revealed details on these areas.

Businesses should “be aware that application compatibility could be a problem”. “Even though we’d expect a good level of integration from online services and network services like email … when it comes to an application being put onto this device it might not be a one-step process,” Gedda said.

Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi said, “We already knew that IT departments had been waiting for Windows 8 tablets to get to market so that they could leverage the OS as well as the partner that they know.

“With Surface, MS also has what seems to be a sleek enough design to appeal to professional consumers who want to bring their own device into the enterprise.

“Of course a big part of the success will be the ecosystem and how strong the consumer apps will be in order to fully show off the hardware design.”

It’s unclear if the Surface devices feature 3G/4G wireless connections. Microsoft indicated that the devices have “2x2 MIMO antennae”, which should work for Wi-Fi, 3G and WiMax, Gedda said. Many tablets in use by businesses are Wi-Fi only, but “the trend is towards always-connected devices which can use either Wi-Fi or a mobile network”. “It is unlikely the Surface will remain a Wi-Fi-only device even if the first generation does not sport mobile network connectivity,” he said.

However, Milanesi dismissed a lack of 3G as a problem for Microsoft. Most tablet owners use Wi-Fi, she said.

While the Microsoft tablets have just been announced, companies are already preparing for Windows 8 devices, Gedda said. The fact that the device comes directly from Microsoft rather than an OEM shouldn’t make a significant difference, he said.

Forrester analyst David Johnson wrote in his blog, “Windows RT will be perceived as more ‘enterprise friendly’ because it will offer you the ability to ‘manage’ it (updates, deployment, patching, etc) with Windows Intune or System Center Configuration Manager.”

Windows 8 Metro interface should appeal to employees “currently prodding you to let them use an iPad or Android tablet, and it presents new opportunities for line-of-business application developers to create highly personalised, and well-tailored application experiences,” he wrote. “Think: point of sale systems that employees can take to the customer, while IT keeps the auditors happy with demonstrated PCI compliance.”

Microsoft said price “will be announced closer to availability and is expected to be competitive with a comparable ARM tablet or Intel Ultrabook-class PC”.

Ovum analyst Jan Dawson said in a statement, “The device itself looks compelling, but as usual we are left without pricing information, making it impossible to judge for certain what the market impact will be.

“Windows does have a huge installed base, and to the extent that IT managers see this device in one of its versions as a replacement for the Windows computer it should see some decent desktop adoption.”

Gedda doesn’t expect Microsoft to charge more than Apple does for the iPad. The Microsoft devices lack “the history of the iPad or Android behind it,” he said. “I’d be very surprised if it was markedly more expensive.”

The iPad still dominates the enterprise tablet market, Gedda said. “It will be good to see another option for IT managers.” He said it’s too early to say whether the Surface tablets will pose a threat to Apple, but Microsoft does have the advantage of already having an established ecosystem.

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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