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INSIGHT: Top 5 things Apple needs to do to take down Microsoft's Surface with iPad Pro

INSIGHT: Top 5 things Apple needs to do to take down Microsoft's Surface with iPad Pro

iPad Pro needs to differentiate itself from the Surface in a meaningful way to attract large enterprises that now have a compelling alternative in Windows tablets.

With speculation rampant about a new iPad Pro that may or may not be released (or exist), I started to think about the potential market for such a device.

In doing so, I thought of several real challenges that exist today that an enterprise-focused device needs to solve.

(Note: I have no insider information on Apple products. I’m merely speculating on the challenges that exist in the market today).

1) True to touch writing:

We’ve been using styli for decades, but hardware innovations are still needed. Much like resistive touch-screens circa 2006, the current generation of styli seems to be “the best we can do” from an input standpoint.

Unfortunately that means both 1) lag and 2) space between where I touch and what appears. If I’m going to be fooled into writing on a screen, there needs to be zero lag, zero space between the tip of the pen and where the ink displays, and 1:1 pressure sensitivity.

2) Bridge the gap in the enterprise:

Businesses do not want to buy more than one primary computing device for their end users. Thus, iPads are at a disadvantage for becoming the sole device.

What is that challenge? Legacy applications.

One kudos I give to Windows 10 is the emphasis on supporting the past (albeit in a more limited way than before) through app virtualisation and sandboxing to enable Win32 apps to deploy through the modern Windows Store.

Tablets in the enterprise need to acknowledge that there simply are legacy investments in software that will not be modernised. How could an enterprise-focused tablet ease the pain?

A couple of options:

A. Running iOS yet enabling some sort of Docker-like container for running legacy apps on the tablet. I like this option. Self-contained containers that package up legacy dependencies into a siloed bundle keeps those old apps running yet doesn’t bog down the OS itself.

B. Dual boot iOS and Mac OS. It’s hard to imagine this actually happening. Additionally, as most end user machines in the enterprise are Windows and much of the legacy investment is centred around Windows and IE, I’m not sure this would solve the problem. Then again, dual booting Mac OS 9 and OS X was actually a thing, so stranger things have happened.

C. Dark horse candidate: Dual boot iOS and Windows 10. How hilarious (or brilliant?) would this be?

Truthfully, it’s difficult to imagine any of these actually happening, yet any enterprise-focused tablet must address the need for a bridge to allow enterprises to build their new apps in modern architectures and gracefully solve for the long tail of older apps that simply won’t be modernised.

Apple might not be the one to solve this—they could leave it to vendors that focus on virtualisation.

It also may just be that any iPad Pro product isn’t targeting large enterprises with legacy apps. Apple may be more concerned with the next generation of professionals that are not encumbered with such problems.

That seems likely, actually. Historically Apple has been unafraid to drop legacy support (USB-C-only on the new Macbook, anyone?) in order to push the industry forward.

The challenge with that approach is that it’s conceding certain lucrative pieces of the market to competitors like Microsoft and Microsoft’s hardware partners.

3) Precision input:

Precision input on iPads is tough today - particularly for those legacy apps that were mentioned in the previous section. It’s not just legacy though - there are specific needs outside legacy apps that just need more precise input.

4) Wirelessly project:

PowerPoint happens, like it or not. I’m tired of plugging stuff in. Like, really tired. Also, I hate dongles. I also hate competing standards, though, so I want this to work on all WiDi displays.

5) NFC APIs:

To date, the NFC capability on iOS devices has been restricted to Apple Pay. There are a myriad of really cool possibilities for enterprises to have “tap to happen” events, if only there’s a standard way of doing so.

Rereading this post, it basically sounds like I’m comparing the iPad Pro to the Microsoft Surface. I think there’s some validity to that observation.

The Surface solves a number of problems for businesses, includes precision input support, and does so in a package that addresses both forward-facing apps and legacy apps.

The iPad Pro will have to differentiate itself from the Surface in a meaningful way to attract large enterprises that now have a compelling alternative in Windows tablets.

What do you think? Am I off base? What do you think the iPad Pro should do?

By Andrew Garver - Research Analyst, Gartner

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