Open ... and Shut Apple has given us much with its pleasing-on-the-eye iPad. But what it hasn't given us is a serious replacement for the lowly laptop or desktop.
As much as magazines like MacWorld may hype it as "The New Business Machine", the reality is that the iPad is only enterprise-ready in iFantasyLand.
Across the board, Apple's iPad apps are consumer grade, and most of them aren't much better in their desktop incarnations. For example, I've been forced to use Keynote at my last two employers, and it has been a mostly acceptable alternative to Microsoft's PowerPoint. But Apple's Numbers or Pages? Please... Whether on my MacBook Air or on my iPad, they are pale shades of their Microsoft competitors.
Even in the mostly positive press Apple gets from Macworld, the August issue (iPad vs. Mac: Which One is Best for Reading, Writing, Editing Photos & More!) makes it clear, for nearly every Apple app that runs on both the desktop and iPad, that the iOS version is not quite up to par:
For the most part, I love writing on my iPad. But I still do so only when my MacBook isn't around...
While we may indeed be entering the post-PC era... you'll want to keep that Mac around for... larger, more complex tasks - probably for a few more years, at least.
Even the magazine's review of Apple's less enterprise-focused apps skew away from the iPad for serious work:
If you're serious about editing and tracking your images, don't ditch the functionality of your desktop or laptop Mac in favor of iPhoto for iOS.
Although I enjoy the immediacy and convenience of editing video in the iOS version of iMovie, for more involved work, iMovie '11 quickly becomes the more tantalizing option.
It may be, as Jonny Evans argues, that Apple will skirt the shortcomings in its apps' functionality by continuing to embolden app developers to build industry-specific applications. Apple's Numbers, for example, is a weak-kneed alternative to Microsoft's Excel, but someone else could develop a serious Excel replacement that runs on the iPad.
What's more likely, however, is that Microsoft will bring its enterprise-ready applications to its own devices, as the company has touted with its soon-to-be-released Surface. While there's plenty of good reasons to suspect that Google's Android will prove Apple's most serious mobile competition due to its enterprise apps and strength in emerging markets, it's too soon to write off Microsoft's chances. Microsoft has the business productivity apps that enterprises want, and they're not the toy versions that Apple ships.
Also, Microsoft seems to have captured the imagination of mobile developers, with 62 per cent saying they plan to develop for Windows 8, according to a Vision Mobile developer survey. This number may be so high because, as mobile development expert (and former Apple employee) Charles Jolley speculates:
@mjasay this doesn't surprise me as many devs already support android & iOS. Also intent does not mean they actually have the rsrcs.— Charles Jolley (@okito) July 11, 2012
As Jolley notes, resource-constraints may ultimately favor iOS and Android development. John Lilly, partner with prominent venture capital firm Greylock Partners and former chief executive of Mozilla, agrees with Jolley, saying, "bet you a dollar that % [of developers planning to develop for Windows 8] is much lower in July 2013."
Regardless, someone is going to make enterprise-grade applications for the enterprise, and Apple appears to have neither the interest nor the ability to do so. While Apple doesn't need to originate all of the applications enterprises want, Microsoft's own success over the past two decades suggests that the dominant enterprise platform will involve more than an operating system and a good partner program. Microsoft, of course, had both, but it also offered the core application suite that enterprises needed to get work done.
Until Apple does the same, I can't see the iPad being more than a spectacular bring-your-own-device success story that ultimately gives ground to platforms that deliver hardware and serious software. Yes, enterprises may end up writing all of this software themselves, and it's also possible that "enterprise grade" is a misnomer, and Apple is redefining the enterprise experience by taking away all the cruft from over-engineered applications.
Maybe. But if you've tried to do heavy-lifting in Apple's iPad apps, you know what a drag they can be on getting work done. Even simple things like embedding images in documents or emails are difficult in the streamlined iPad experience. That may make for a slick consumer experience, but it's counterproductive to getting work done in the enterprise. And that is why there's still plenty of room for competition for enterprise dollars in tablet land. ®
Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Nodeable, offering systems management for managing and analysing cloud-based data. He was formerly SVP of biz dev at HTML5 start-up Strobe and chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfresco's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears three times a week on The Register.