As Apple unveils new iPad Pro, one question: Do businesses want them?

As Apple unveils new iPad Pro, one question: Do businesses want them?

The future of business tablets still uncertain


Today Apple is reportedly announcing the latest addition to its iPad Pro line, a smaller, 9.7 inch device. There's been a lot of mixed reviews regarding how well (or not) the iPad has been selling, but one thing is almost universally agreed on: Tablets have not reworked the world of business computing as many thought they might.

There are a lot of obvious use cases for tablets: Paired with accessories, they make great cash registers. Put on a pedestal, they make great kiosks. Sales reps love them. What's not obvious is if they can take a bite of an already declining laptop market.

Despite a marquee partnership with IBM and a few major sales, such as a 15,000 iPad deal with Eli Lilly, the iPad Pro continues to appear to be selling, overall, like a niche business device.

That might not be bad news for Apple: Business sales have never been their strong suite or core to Apple's success, and iPhone still dominate profits from the mobile industry.

But it might mean that Apple's relevance will continue to be sidelined in the business world outside of support for mobile.

It's impact, however, is still being felt.

Raza Haider, an executive director in Dell's commercial PC group, said that Apple helped make design matter in the enterprise.

CTOs have been facing a revolt. Traditionally they have said there's your corporate black notebook, you'll take and you have no choice, he said. But expectations have changed. For three years in a row now, CEOs — not CIOs, not CTOs — have said that devices they give to employees are a critical part of recruiting and keeping the best talent.

That's partially been driven by the rise of BYOD.

Apple has been one of the winners of this, said Haider. People are going to say, 'I'm going to bring in my personal device and I don't care.'

But while Apple's laptops have continued to grow a small foothold in a market that shrank 7.5% last year, tablet sales remain disappointing.

Instead, growth appears to be going towards ultrabooks — lightweight, long-battery-life equipped laptops — and two-in-ones or convertibles, which can quickly go from being laptop to tablet and back again as needed.

According to Haider, that's simply a matter of productivity: Without a full keyboard and full traditional operating system, workers just can not be as productive as they need to be.

As Windows 10 is more widely adopted, Haider expects Dell's tablet-ish portfolio (including tablets, two-in-ones, and convertible devices) to go from about 10% of Dell's commercial sales to possibly as high as 25% of their sales — but for now, ultrabooks are a stronger category.

For Apple, the open question is will its Pro line of iPads be laptop-like enough to capture some of that market? So far, the answer has generally been no, and IBM announcement has not publicly shown much impact yet.

It will be interesting to see if today's announcement is able to start changing minds and opening corporate wallets.

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