Apple, HP and Dell show when it comes to PC alternatives, IT is trying to serve two masters. These three vendors topped the list of preferred vendors in a recent evaluation of alternative client devices, including tablets and netbooks. In fact, only 2 percentage points separated top-ranked HP and third-place Apple in our survey of 493 IT professionals. That's a pretty close game.
However, the IT pros who evaluated alternative devices from these companies like them for entirely different reasons. Call it "function" versus "fun." We asked our IT respondents to rank products on a set of client-specific features, including the ability to centrally manage the device, enforce security policies and how suited the devices were for accessing corporate applications. We also asked about the fun factor of the device--that is, did it have that certain je nais c'est qua that makes people go "Wow!" and grab it out of your hands.
Our results show an inverse relationship between devices that are fun and those that are a good fit for the enterprise. The highest-ranked features for HP and Dell (application access, security policy support and central management) are the lowest-ranked features for Apple. By contrast, Apple's highest-ranked feature is, as you'd expect, fun factor. And you don't have to be IBM's Watson to guess how IT pros ranked HP and Dell for fun--dead last.
What does this mean for IT? Probably a lot of headaches. At present, organizations aren't handing out a lot of tablets or netbooks to employees. For example, when we asked what percentage of eligible users had received a tablet, the vast majority was only 1 to 5 percent. However, users are buying iPads with their own money, but bringing them on business trips or using them at the office to check e-mail, which means support issues for IT. And if IT decides to try and get out in front of the issue by handing out corporate-approved devices, they had better score high on the fun factor, or else they'll become expensive paperweights.
HP, among other vendors, hopes to combine fun and function. Its TouchPad tablet boasts both enterprise and consumer features. For business users, HP says the TouchPad supports viewing and editing Word and Excel files. It supports business-friendly SaaS apps such as Google Docs Box.net, has a built-in camera for videoconferencing and can connect wirelessly to HP printers. On the consumer front, it's got a similar weight and screen size as Apple's iPad, and offers goodies such as Kindle support and 3D games. As yet unanswered is whether HP and other would-be iPad beaters can have their cake and eat it, too.