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Microsoft?s enterprise mobility play gains steam with Windows 8, Surface tablet

In a pair of events yesterday to introduce new software and devices, Microsoft made it clear that it wants to lay the groundwork for the future of mobility. However, in the short term, the impact may be felt more in the enterprise sector than with consumers.

Microsoft may benefit from its traditionally strong position in the enterprise sector as it brings to market Windows 8, Windows RT and the Surface tablet, which are meant to help blur the lines between PCs and tablet. At the same time, Apple may be vulnerable in enterprise as a result of several missteps.

?Surface will be able to accommodate the needs of business users of tablets because so much of the underlying business applications on Microsoft are already there,? said Steve Padden, vice president of products and services at Trilibis Mobile, San Mateo, CA.

?Apple seems to be stumbling lately in enterprise ? we see it as a problem, while Microsoft has more of a flow to things,? he said.

?Apple seems to be making decisions based on trying to lock in the consumer and some of those initiatives may hurt utility on the enterprise side.?

A compelling offer
One example of how Apple may not be doing a good job of meeting enterprise needs is its recent decision to replace Google Maps with Apple Maps in iOS 6.

Many enterprise businesses have integrated Google Maps into their business utilities and now, if they want to update to iOS 6, these may not work, per Mr. Padden.

In general, one of their strongest use cases as a mobile device among enterprise users, with companies? sales forces using them while they are out in the market as their primary device for presentations, computing and other activities.

?I see the Surface tablet as a very competitive and compelling device for the enterprise sector,? Mr. Padden said. ?In the hands of a sales rep, they have information coming into them in the form of Microsoft documents that they want to easily interface with a device when out and about ? if it is easy to use existing utilities on that same device, that?s pretty compelling.?

?Right now, there is a lot of work to be done on the iPad to make those interactions seamless,? he said.

Consumer appeal
While Microsoft is well positioned to tackle enterprise customers, it may have a harder time convincing consumers of the benefits of Windows 8 and Surface in comparison to their much-loved Apple devices.

Microsoft is trying to drive the next generation of use by providing the junction points so that services can go across screens.

In a later event to unveil the Surface tablet, which has a 10.6-inch screen, Microsoft executives focused on how Surface can address some of the challenges that tablet owners today face since the device can be set down in a natural way and still be usable and can interact with other devices so it is not an isolated island.

Microsoft also showcased the SmartGlass app, which enables users to share a movie and music between a tablet and an Xbox console with the touch of a single button.

?Surface is going to struggle to be compelling as a consumer play,? Mr. Padden said.

?They?ve really got to bring the broad value of the app ecosystem under the tablet as well to attract the consumer market,? he said.

PC meets tablet
In the event to unveil Windows 8 and Windows RT, the focus was on how Microsoft is enabling a new segment of devices that work as both PCs and tablets.

For example, Windows 8 works with mouse and keyboard and with touch, which consumers are getting used to thanks to popularity of smartphones and tablets.

Other benefits include that Skype on Windows 8 is designed always be on and to be effortless to use.

Microsoft also announced the grand opening of its Windows Store for apps. With Windows 8, Microsoft is expecting the release of a new wave of apps that are touch enabled. Already, developers are adding hundreds of apps every day, per the company.

Since these devices and the software are being introduced so late in the year, they may not have much of an impact on sales until next year.

?It is a wait-and-see scenario in terms of the impact from a mobile perspective,? said Jeff Orr, senior practice director for mobile devices at ABI Research, Oyster Bay, NY. ?These are the starting points for Microsoft to have a play in the mobile market, in the non-handset space.?

?This is their first foray into mobility and to have any synergies between its operating systems,? he said. ?There is a lot of learning that Microsoft will have to go through.?

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York