Which OS will rule the enterprise tablet market?

IDG Global Solutions reported last week that tablet use in the enterprise is on the rise, with 37 percent of all respondents in a worldwide survey reporting they use their slates for business purposes. And Americans are far more inclined to use their tablets on the job, according to a recent CDW survey of U.S. users, with 56 percent of respondents saying they’d been doing so for at least one year and nearly one-third saying they’d done so for at least two years.

And businesses are increasingly looking at deploying tablets rather than hoping employees will use their own for work, a new survey from longtime wireless analyst Jack Gold indicates. Gold’s firm surveyed 270 North American enterprises and found that the number of corporate-issued tablets will grow at a 64 percent annual growth rate over the next three years, more than doubling the rate of BYOD tablets. Many businesses are realizing that hardware costs are only a small fraction of the overall cost of managing tablets, according to Gold, and are increasingly willing to pay for tablets in exchange for having more control over their use.

The enterprise market is different than the consumer market

Until recently Apple dominated the tablet market it singlehandedly created, and that dominance has extended to the enterprise because of the BYOD phenomenon and the top-notch security offered by iOS. But iPads are more expensive than most of their Android counterparts, and IT departments have long struggled to integrate iOS with their Windows-centric desktop systems. The new corporate-deployed tablets are more likely to be running Android than any other operating system, Gold predicts, because Google has increased the security of its mobile OS and third-party offerings can address whatever security concerns may remain.

Gold makes some good points: Android is more secure than it’s ever been, which is probably good enough for many businesses, and Android tablets are generally more affordable than comparable iPads. Also, Android’s share of the enterprise tablet market could get a big boost from the countless suppliers of security software and mobile device management solutions. And as Gold notes, many businesses are already customers of manufacturers such as Samsung, Lenovo and Sony, all of which have expanded beyond PCs to offer Android-based tablets.

It’s still anybody’s ballgame

As the market for corporate-deployed tablets appears ready to take off, though, no single operating system has a huge edge. Apple’s early lead in the consumer market is waning, and the iPad’s long-term prospects in the enterprise are far from clear. Android’s increased security is certainly a big step in the right direction, but fragmentation problems could be a nightmare for IT departments if they’re forced to manage a wide variety of tablets running Google’s mobile OS. Meanwhile, the two most obvious candidates to leverage growth in enterprise tablets have failed to capitalize: Microsoft’s effort to manufacture its own tablets has thus far been a debacle, and BlackBerry has all but abandoned its once-promising PlayBook.

No other manufacturer can make BlackBerry tablets, of course, so that company’s window of opportunity to tap the enterprise market may have closed already. Microsoft, on the other hand, has plenty of manufacturer partners building Windows-based tablets, and the presence of Windows on so many business PCs is a huge advantage. But the biggest winner here could be a player like Samsung, which is targeting businesses and government agencies with a souped-up version of Android featuring enhanced security and messaging features. That strategy minimizes Android’s weak points – namely fragmentation and security concerns – while leveraging a massive app library and other strengths that only a major mobile operating system can boast. Which is why other manufacturers of Android tablets should consider taking a page from Samsung’s playbook.

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Colin Gibbs

Colin Gibbs

Mobile Curator Gigaom Network

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  1. Curious that after surveying 270 Enterprises, Gold predicts Android will be the most popular choice of Enterprise IT. But he does NOT cite responses from the survey. Instead he bases his prediction on his ideas. And there he contradicts himself. First his says IT thinks tablet cost is a minor issue – then it become a key decision factor. He says that integrations with Windows is a challenge – if that’s is a big issue then why Android vs Windows tablets?

    Did Gold ask the 270 respondents which platform they prefer? If so, what did they say?

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