3 ways that Microsoft’s Surface tablet could impact unified communications resellers

Soon after the news that Cisco have killed their Cius tablet project, Microsoft have announced their “Surface” effort – a 10.6” tablet device, either with WinRT (labelled as the consumer model) or Win8 Pro (supposedly to be targeted at the Enterprise).

Microsoft Surface

© 2012 Microsoft Corporation

It’s still early days – the announcement gave us no clue of a release date, or even pricing – but is it too early to gaze into the crystal ball, and try to make some predictions? Here’s three ways that I think the Surface announcement could impact UC resellers.

1) Resellers will be forced to acknowledge the tablet market

Are you already skilled up on tablets? Are you comfortable offering them to your customer base? If not, you might need to change that.

Apple’s iPad with its closed, consumer focussed architecture, lack of transparent file system access and dearth of enterprise security features is not the most natural choice for a business tool. What is does have, though, is almost total market supremacy driven by ease of use, making it hugely accessible. It’s because of this that it has been adopted in droves for commercial use (although not necessarily in a formal capacity – more on the BYOD trend later).

Aside from the iPad, there’s also plenty of Android tablets to choose from. Most notable, in our opinion, is Asus’ Transformer range which is seemingly much better suited to business use – the battery life, keyboard and of course Chrome (with better HTML5 support than Safari) making it much more akin to a laptop than a tablet, whilst still at the size of an iPad (including its keyboard dock).

Now Microsoft has finally been driven by a rapidly growing tablet market and inevitable shrinkage of their core desktop/laptop business to take the plunge in this space. You can see where it might fit into the market – integration with the Microsoft product suite, although closed and proprietary, should finally give hard pressed IT departments a product with the tight reins of control that they are used to on the desktop. Surface does bring some new user focussed innovations – for example, some of the Windows 8 gesture based controls are very intuitive – but will this be enough to see it steal significant market share from Apple and slow Android adoption by other hardware vendors? It’ll be interesting to see how Apple and Google respond – and whether that response will be the result of a greater focus on the business market.

Whatever the outcome, if you’ve got a close, consultative relationship with your customers then it’s fairly likely that they’re going to ask you for your opinion on tablets. Time to do a little research – and to start you off, here’s a tip: did you know that tablets can make an excellent OCM operator console on the VoIPCortex PBX?

2) It could strengthen the argument for developing a formal BYOD policy

BYOD – Bring Your Own Device – relates specifically to the steady (and often stealthy) introduction of personal mobile devices (tablets and laptops as well as mobile phones) into the work place.

Now, it goes without saying that mobile phones and laptops are far more common in business than tablets. With this comes a fairly obvious understanding about what is, and what isn’t, acceptable practice when using personal and company owned devices for business purposes. The tablet, however, is new ground.

The tablet might not contain the sheer volume of sensitive data that a laptop does, and it might not contain all of the precious contact details of clients and partners like a mobile phone does. However, if a tablet truly is being used as a productivity tool, it will contain precious data – and like mobile phones, it’s designed to be very portable, so there’s a reasonable chance of losing it. While you can go some way towards combating this with technical solutions, like device management suites, it can’t completely take the place of a formal usage policy which will dictate exactly what devices can be used for, how they can be used, and who’s responsible when things go wrong.

So what does this mean? With the growing likelihood of your customers wanting to use tablets in business, you should consider skilling up on BYOD as a whole. Get familiar with the steps required to put a policy together, and add another string to your bow as your customers’ trusted consultant.

If you’d like to know more about BYOD, we’ve already posted some of our thoughts over at this blog post.

3) It highlights the importance of open standards

Let’s face it – Microsoft’s track record with hardware offerings is patchy. The Xbox has been their only long term success – is anyone still using the Zune, and does anyone actually own a Kin? What about Response Point,Redmond’s SME PBX killer that was axed within months of hitting (or rather missing) the market? In addition to this, tablets from many business-centric vendors have struggled to make a significant dent in the market (Cisco Cius, HP TouchPad, Blackberry Playbook and more) so there’s no shame in approaching the Surface with caution.

However, if you deploy a device with open standards into an open UC solution instead, it won’t matter if it turns out that that device is more of a Zune than an Xbox. Solutions based on open standards then you’re never at the mercy of one vendor making your entire solution obsolete.

So how do you feel about Surface? Does it have the potential to make it big in the business market, or is it just a “me too” that’s arrived two years too late?

About Rob Pickering

Rob is a reformed software engineer who has spent much of his life developing computer networking applications and infrastructure. His career started in the 1980s with hands on development of the Internet TCP/IP protocol stack through a spell as a development manager at 3Com in the 1990s before founding ipcortex where he is currently our CEO.
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