Microsoft's Windows 8.1 update may improve the user experience with the operating system, but whether the new features are enough to spur IT to deploy Windows 8.1 tablets to mobile users remains to be seen.
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The majority of IT professionals have yet to embrace Windows 8 in their organizations, let alone deploy Windows 8 tablets to their users. IT administrators have complained about the complexity of the Windows 8 user interface and the lack of applications relevant to their businesses.
Indeed, TechTarget's own IT reader forums illustrate some challenges with Windows 8. Some IT professionals cite the steep user learning curve needed for the OS, while others have had problems upgrading and installing device drivers.
"We're still seeing resistance to Windows 8 in the enterprise," said Ira Grossman, chief technology officer of mobile and end-user computing at MCPc Inc., an IT services provider in Cleveland. "If I'm an enterprise and I potentially just finished my Windows 7 migration... do I have the energy to train [end users] on Windows 8 when there is no benefit if my applications are not living in tiles and I'm still in the regular Start environment?"
Will there be a Windows 8.1 tablet market?
Growth for Windows 8 tablets continues to face an uphill battle for enterprise deployment in an industry dominated by Apple's iPad and Android-based devices. However, Vendors such as Microsoft, Dell and Lenovo hope enterprises that already rely on Microsoft products will eventually deploy Windows 8.1 tablets. They expect more native touch applications to ship and hardware to continue to become cheaper, faster and lighter while offering long battery life.
"It's clear to me that tablets have clearly become a secondary device in business," said Bob O'Donnell, founder and chief analyst TECHnalysis Research LLC in Foster City, Calif. "[Windows 8 is] not a terrible tablet OS. It's when you fall back to the desktop mode [that] the whole model falls down."
Indeed, the prospect of deploying a Windows 8.1 tablet as a desktop replacement is questionable unless the device includes a keyboard such as those used in the 2-in-1 form factor or if IT supplies an add-on keyboard or docking station. The 2-in-1 devices include a detachable keyboard so that when the product is assembled it looks like a notebook, but the display functions as a tablet when separated.
"The challenge has just been around getting people to try the [Windows 8] operating system in the first place against the more established iOS and Android [products]," said Tom Mainelli, program vice president, devices and displays at IDC. "I'm not convinced the updates will help."
Framingham, Mass.-based IDC recently reduced its worldwide tablet forecasts for 2014 by 3.6%, with a new projected growth of 19.4% for this year because it expects the market to mature and the average selling price for tablets to drop.
Although IDC expects 2-in-1 devices to perform well over time, the missing piece for ensuring Windows 8 tablet growth lies in native Windows 8 touch-first software applications.
More on Windows 8 tablets
The Windows 8.1 update brings new features for the enterprise
Educational institutions share lessons from Windows 8 tablet deployments
Can a Windows 8 tablet be worthy for business use?
The Windows 8 tablet is fine for newbies, but not necessarily for iPad users
Opinion: Why Windows 8 tablets are doomed to fail
Can Windows 8 devices get enterprise users off the iPad?
"The problem is that [Microsoft] Office is not yet a Modern UI-enabled application," said Mainelli. With the existing version of Office running on tablets, "the carrot to get people on Windows tablets still requires the tablet to drop to a desktop mode to be used," he added. "The usability is great, but the killer app is not optimized for [a touchscreen]."
Is there hope?
"The only thing that is causing organizations to look at [Windows 8] is the desire to have the new touch devices," said Grossman. "But as organizations sit back and look at the software landscape, not many applications take advantage of touch. You pay a premium for touch."
IT admins agree that there has to be a specific need to justify deploying a Windows 8 tablet.
There are reasons to move to Windows 8.1 versus sticking with Windows 7 or waiting for Windows 9, according to Matt Kosht, director of IT at an Alaskan utility company and a TechTarget contributor. "If you have a touchscreen, and many of them do, you really need [Windows] 8.1 to take advantage of them. For enterprise use, this is probably a niche, but the use case likely exists."
This is the most likely scenario for spurring on enterprise adoption, rather than a bring your own device scenario as is the case with iOS and Android tablets.
"There is a high demand [in our] workforce for touch-enabled devices," said Brian Scott, technology engineering manager at Manheim, a vehicle auction remarketer for dealers in Atlanta. "We are evaluating Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 tablets to roll out to a subset of our users later this year. We will continue to build on this same migration and upgrade process from Windows 7 and reimage them [at] the same [time]."
Manheim is looking to outfit about 1,000 inspectors in their various auction locations for use with a custom vehicle inspection application.
Scott noted that there was a segment of users who wanted a touch-enabled device for productivity applications but added that "we will not deploy Windows 8 to non-touch devices."