Windows 8 tablet growth hinges on pricing: report

Aggressive pricing, enterprise buy-in are potential drivers

Windows 8 tablets, which are expected to start shipping by the end of October, will grab less than 2% of the global tablet shipments by year-end. But depending on how they're priced, Microsoft and its partners could see dramatic growth rates in 2013, according to an ABI Research study.

The new tablets will be running either Windows 8, on tablets running Intel CPUs, or Windows RT, on tablets running ARM-based CPUs. ABI estimates Microsoft tablets will account for about 1.5% of tablet shipments during the eight weeks or so they're on sale this year.

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"If priced aggressively towards current Android tablets, Windows tablets could see 2013 shipments increase 10-fold year-over-year," according to the report. "[H]owever, if priced like Apple's iPad offerings, Windows tablets may only double or triple shipments in 2013."

But because Microsoft licenses its OS firmware to computer manufacturers, this isn't an either-or proposition. The manufacturers can offer different models, with different features, at different price points, ranging from lower-end tablets to high-end premium devices. Microsoft has been investing heavily in providing tools and help for application developers to have a wide selection of tablet apps ready to download once the tablets are unveiled.

Growth in the total available market is expected to come from businesses adopting tablets, which is expected to be a strong area for Windows 8. "Neither of the leading tablet OS platforms [currently Apple iOS and Google Android] has squarely addressed the needs of IT organizations and business users," says ABI's enterprise mobility practice director, Dan Shey, in a statement.

That's true in the sense that neither of these platforms was designed first for the enterprise. Both have been targeted at the consumer market. Yet despite that, iPads especially have been enthusiastically, and widely, adopted by many enterprises, often replacing Windows PCs. Apple especially has been adding to iOS enterprise management and security features, and APIs for third-party device management applications.

"Flawless execution by Microsoft on its Windows 8 Pro enterprise strategy for tablets could catapult it into a mobile computing leadership position," Shey says. The key word in his assessment is "could." Overall, it seems that many enterprise tablet deployments so far are done using corporate-owned, and -managed, devices rather than supporting employee-owned tablets, often called bring-your-own-device or BYOD. If a lot of enterprises adopt Windows 8 Pro as a tablet standard, it could lead to Microsoft becoming one of the leaders in the enterprise market. But whether Windows 8 is the only and exclusive tablet standard is another question.

The Windows RT firmware, supporting the Metro user interface and running on ARM-based CPUs, is Microsoft's "magic bullet," says ABI's mobile devices senior practice director Jeff Orr. "Windows RT represents Microsoft's first OS volley addressing future generations of computing devices while leaving much of the legacy Windows baggage behind," he says.

And Microsoft in June announced its own tablet product: Microsoft Surface, available for both Windows 8 and Windows RT. For enterprise users, there are pluses and minuses with the company's first branded mobile device.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. : http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnww john_cox@nww.com http://www.networkworld.com/community/blog/2989/feed

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