news The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has flagged plans to significantly enhance its use of tablets in its operations, stipulating in purchasing documents this week that it wants to use Apple’s dominant iPad devices, but also rival offerings running both Android and Windows operating systems.
In purchasing documents released this week and first reported by ZDNet.com.au, the national broadcaster wrote that it currently used a limited number of tablets in its operations (about 50 devices), but the use of tablets “is expected to increase significantly in the near to medium future” as it made greater use of the emerging technology.
Research published in February by analyst house Telsyte revealed that Apple sold about a million iPads in Australia in the 2011 calendar year, representing around 76 percent of the total local market for the burgeoning new tablet market category it created virtually singlehandedly with the iPad. Rival offerings such as Android-based tablets from companies like Samsung and ASUS, RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook and traditional Windows-based tablets have broadly struggled in Australia over that period, with most consumers opting for the iPad option and those businesses which have formally adopted the tablet form factor in their operations also typically choosing the Apple devices.
However, the ABC noted in its tender documents issued this week that it required suppliers to be able to sell it a range of tablets running different operating systems, including the iPad but also Android and Windows. The ABC is looking to be able to procure Apple’s new iPad (also known as the iPad 3) in a model which comes with 32GB of storage and with both 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity. It did not stipulate which tablet models running the other operating systems it was after.
It’s not the first time that an Australian organisation has opted for an alternative tablet strategy, rather than simply fixating on Apple’s iPad.
In December it was revealed that students and staff of years 9–12 at Brighton Grammar School, Victoria would each be provided with an Acer Iconia Tab A500, as part of what is being publicised as the first large Android program for an Australian school. At the time, the school told Computerworld that one of the reasons it had chosen the Android platform was its support for Adobe Flash, which the iPad does not support, but also because of Acer’s reputation in the education sector and the device’s ability to support some hardware features, such as an SD card.
In addition, although education departments around Australia have broadly focused on the iPad, some have left the door open to similar Android rollouts, setting liberal purchasing policies in the area or conducting trials of both iPads and Android tablets.
The ABC’s platform agnosticism may also give the incoming wave of tablets based on Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system a boost. The platform has not yet been released in its final form, but it has been engineered from the ground up to support the tablet form factor, and Microsoft partners such as HP and Dell are planning to release tablets running the new operating system.
Joe Kremer, the managing director of Dell Australia, this week attacked the dominance of Apple’s iPad in the tablet field, telling the Financial Review that the iPad wasn’t fit for use in large organisations and that the battle to conquer the tablet market isn’t over yet. The comments provoked a fierce debate on Delimiter about the manageability of the iPad in the enterprise.
If the ABC does deploy a significant number of tablets, the rollout may have the potential to change the way the organisation supports its staff in general. The ABC currently runs some 5,600 Windows-based PCs, of which some 1,300 are laptops, and some 230 Apple machines. The deployment of iPads to some staff at Australian company Brickworks has had the result that some of the organisation’s laptops are no longer needed.
At the moment, Australia is in a fascinating phase when it comes to the consumption of tablets in general.
On the one hand, we have the massive current market dominance of Apple’s iPad. Analysts have pegged the device’s local market share at around 76 percent, but I personally believe it to be even higher. I know very, very few people with an Android tablet, and even then those that do have one often have an iPad as well, as many families have more than one tablet at this point, and many technology early adopters have several. Apple’s dominance also extends into the enterprise, where small and large businesses alike have very rapidly adopted the iPad as an amazing tool to help get their job done.
And of course, other non-Android tablet competitors such as the BlackBerry Playbook and the HP TouchPad are virtually already dead.
However, on the other hand, the tablet market is about to receive a massive new rush of blood as a number of major Microsoft hardware partners such as HP, Dell, Lenovo and so on launch new tablets based on the new Windows 8 operating system.
It’s worth considering that most of the iPad competitors at this point have come from companies which are not really known for their strength in the enterprise and business markets. Vendors like HTC, Samsung, ASUS and so on are more known for their strength in consumer-land and with mobile phones, and they have attempted to extend these skills to the tablet market but broadly failed.
HP, Dell and Lenovo, on the other hand (while they have consumer offerings) all have a massive presence in the enterprise IT and small business market, and I feel that this is where they will try hard to make their tablet play over the next several years in Australia with Windows 8.
Think about it. Apple, as an arch-consumer company, has struggled consistently to make headway into the enterprise, as has Google. Microsoft, on the other hand, virtually owns the enterprise at this point, with its Office/Exchange/Active Directory/SQL Server/Windows Server/SCCM/Kitchen sink stack which provides everything businesses and government departments need to get the job done.
Because of this situation, you end up with a weird dichotomy where Apple’s iOS devices, while hugely popular in consumer-land, have taken a while to percolate into the enterprise, and Google’s devices have largely failed, while Microsoft appears to be making inroads with, of all things, Windows Phone 7 mobile phones, which are getting nowhere in consumer-land. In short, the enterprise loves Microsoft, and this could play heavily into the tablet story.
Is the ABC thinking along these lines with its tender released this week? I doubt it. Likely its staff just want iPads at this point, and its purchasing team is keeping their options open just for the sake of it, as government-owned enterprise often do.
However, I would not be surprised at all if major Australian corporations were eyeing off Windows 8 and its bevy of hardware partners at this point, and wondering if the platform will allow them a much greater degree of control, flexibility and manageability over the tablets that they use than Apple’s iPad will. And after all, I guarantee you that a chief information officer or IT manager would have no problem contacting their local HP, Lenovo or Dell account manager to talk tablets, while the same is definitely not true for the often difficult to reach and deal with (according to what I hear) enterprise team at Apple.