Microsoft's competitive weakness in a split tablet market
But much more than smartphones, the needs of the enterprise for tablets are very different from those for consumers: Enterprises require manageability, and employees must be able to do actual work, not just be entertained. Consumers need none of the former and only a limited amount of the latter -- which is why both Apple and Microsoft could win a tablet nonwar, with Apple ruling the home and Microsoft ruling the enterprise. If the tablet marketplace does cleave this way, it will help limit the impact of a gaping hole in Microsoft's tablet competitive position: apps.
Go back a few years: Even beyond its fit and finish, one of the iPhone's most compelling advantages over the BlackBerry was the sheer number of cheap apps you could buy for it. If Windows 8 tablets go head to head with iPads, they'll suffer from an equivalent disadvantage.
Microsoft will need a bunch of cheap apps too, but its enterprise focus will buy it some time. That's because, for IT, Windows 8 "laplets" (catchy, huh?) won't be new, additional, adjunct devices that need new software. They'll be replacement devices that can use the same licenses IT would have paid for anyway. When an employee receives a Windows 8 laplet, it will have enough stuff on it to be functional -- more functional than an iPad when there's work to be done. That will gain Microsoft some time.
Consumerization's two-way door
It's worth remembering that consumerization takes advantage of a door that first opened when employees saw the PC's value and started buying them at home. Consumerization didn't open that door; it just reversed the flow.
In the short run, the success of Windows 8 tablets probably depends on some level of separation between the enterprise and consumer marketplaces. In the long run, Microsoft is in a position to re-reverse the flow -- to make its enterprise-oriented tablets desirable enough that employees want them at home or, at least, are allowed to bring them home. From Microsoft's competitive perspective, this is just as good as an employee buying a new one. Either alternative deprives Apple of a sale, which is, from a strategic perspective, a happy outcome.
For this to happen, Microsoft will have to succeed in attracting independent developers in the quantities it needs for its app store. It will also have to curate its app store effectively enough to gain IT's trust, while keeping enough of its appeal that consumers won't ignore it the way they've been turning their noses at Microsoft's pathetic attempt to mimic the Apple store.
The opportunity is there. Whether Microsoft has the ability to take advantage of it is an open question.
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