Of course, ultrabooks are just beginning to hit the market and Apple may have some new features up its sleeves for the MacBook Air over the coming months.
iPad vs. Windows 8
If 2011 illustrated one thing about the tablet market, it was that wresting share from Apple is hard. A year ago, everyone (myself included) expected to see non-Apple tablets make serious dents in both the consumer and business markets. That didn't happen.
There are plenty of reasons no platform gained anywhere near the iPad's traction in the overall tech market. But things are pretty clear cut from a business perspective: most tablets, including the Xoom, PlayBook and TouchPad, shipped with software that was still at beta quality and lacking core features; they couldn't offer a price point significantly better than the iPad; and by and large none offered the device management capabilities that Apple had put together in iOS 4 (the PlayBook probably came closest).
In 2012, the focus on enterprise tablets beyond the iPad is Windows 8. Some observers have already predicted Windows 8 tablets will marginalize the iPad in the workplace. The biggest argument is that Windows 8 devices will be more in line with the comfort zone of IT staffers than Apple's iOS will.
There are two major snags in this argument. First, the iPad is a known solution. Its capabilities, costs, user reaction, and apps are freely available and have been tested in most enterprises to some extent. More importantly, its security and management capabilities have also been tested, along with mobile management vendors and solutions that already link to existing Active Directory and related infrastructures.
While Windows 8 tablets were on display at CES and Windows 8 previews are available for download, Windows 8 tablets aren't available for real-world testing by enterprises -- and won't be for several months. Adherence to typical enterprise pilot project, procurement, and deployment methods pushes wide availability of Windows 8 tablets well into next year. More crucially, many businesses don't adopt new Windows versions when they're initially released; waiting for an initial service pack release is extremely common. That could delay Windows 8 in any form even further.
There's still contention over what kinds of Windows apps will even run on tablets. It seems clear that most Windows 8 PCs will have access to both legacy desktop-first apps as well as apps designed for Windows 8's Metro interface. But ARM-based tablets may not. With the projected pricing of Intel-based tablets pushing beyond competitiveness with the iPad, ARM-based models may be the only economical option. Perhaps, more importantly, there's the question of how well legacy apps will function in touch-first or touch-only devices.
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