Will Broadwell Kill ARM-Based Tablets? Maybe, with a Little IT Help

Rob Enderle
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Eight Hot New Tablets Hitting the Market

As part of the Broadwell launch, Intel has been showcasing a 2-in-1 device that is substantially thinner and lighter than an iPad Air and that will run full versions of the MacOS and Windows. Personally, I think that coupled with the changes to Windows 9, the next version of Office, and a few other things that have yet to be announced, this could create a Windows 95 moment. But I also think it could render large tablets redundant. By large tablets, I’m talking about products like the iPad, which work well only as a consumption device and can’t really be used successfully for work.

Given that fewer is always better when it comes to form factors, IT might want to consider helping drive that redundancy trend if it emerges.

Let’s talk about this trend, why you might want to push it and how you’d go about doing that.

Tablet Growth Decline

If you have been watching both Apple and Samsung, which lead the tablet segment with their iOS and Android products, they have experienced a sharp drop in tablet growth so far this year. Based on anecdotal information, this appears to be primarily due to two things: A large number of people who had hoped to be able to create on tablets found they couldn’t and shifted back to PCs, and a large number of people figured out that the latest tablets from either company aren’t a significant enough improvement to justify buying a new one. There is likely a third reason for the decline and that is that a lot of folks just didn’t find the tablet all that compelling in the first place and put it on the shelf never to be seen again (I’ll bet the majority of these were gifts).

PC sales, on the other hand, have started to pick up again and Intel just had a record quarter as a result. This was even before Broadwell was released, and with Broadwell, the pressure on tablets from PCs will be significantly higher.

PCs Replacing Tablets

With massive pressure on cost, the new 2-in-1 products coming to market in the second half of this year should be far more attractively priced and, as noted, thinner, lighter, and more capable than the iPads and Android tablets based on ARM currently in market. (These new tablets were showcased at Computex earlier this year.) Yes, ARM can get thinner, but beyond this point you lose structural stability and you’ll end up with far more broken screens. In fact, whether we are talking ARM or x86, we are likely close to as far as anyone will want to go in terms of thinness because of the increased risk of breakage.

We’ve already seen firms that have tried using iPads or Android tablets run into compatibility problems with those OSes.  Also, connectivity issues still make field deployments of these non-Windows products too difficult, which is why many in health care, legal and the NFL, apparently, have already started to move back to Windows for tablets.

The advantages of Windows tablets range from legacy app support to less complexity (i.e., supporting multiple platforms is fun only if someone else is responsible for it). In any case, we know support costs drop when complexity drops, and since you can’t move 100 percent to ARM, then moving back to 100 percent x86 should be very attractive. So the three reasons to help push this emerging trend back to x86 and away from pure-play ARM tablets are reduced support costs, better legacy support and reduced complexity. Given the security issues with these new platforms, security may be last in terms of user drivers but first when it comes to corporate policy and compliance.

Driving the Trend

As always, the best way to assure a trend that benefits IT is to actively advocate it. This means bringing in products that better compete with iPads and Android tablets but run Windows—once they are available. The best time to do this will likely be when we can start previewing Windows 9 (which is looking more and more interesting), because Windows 7 isn’t that great with tablets and Windows 8 is still struggling for broad acceptance.

But this isn’t a tactical move and any product that replaces a Windows alternative with Windows 9 should have a platform lifecycle that exceeds the useful life of the product. Windows 9 should be the logical successor to Windows XP, so a product that will have a useful life has the potential to exceed a decade even though the useful life of a thin PC or tablet is likely closer to four to seven years.  

Make sure executives and influential employees are offered trials and this will drive employee interest. This interest should eventually allow you to cycle in Windows tablets, which an ever increasing group of users will accept voluntarily. If I’m right, with this advocacy in place, employees will increasingly bring in or specify Windows 2-in-1s over traditional tablets. Once they do that, your cost issues and technology diversity problems should go away.

Wrapping Up

Obviously, if you see the new Broadwell hardware and you find it less compelling than I do, or you find that Windows 9 isn’t the fix for Windows 8 that I expect it to be, you won’t follow my recommendation and you shouldn’t. But if you are like me and see both as a potential to restore your organization to something far more standard, then consider helping to drive the coming trend rather than ignore it or fight it.

In any case, Intel’s new Broadwell processor is potentially a game changer and it is worth coming up to speed on the new hardware even if only to make sure your personal request for your next PC or tablet takes it into consideration. Things have sure come a long way in the last decade.

Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm.  With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+

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