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Editor's Note: This is part one of two articles exploring the evolving channel for Microsoft's Surface Pro and Apple's iPad. Part one will focus on the iPad, while part two will examine the Surface Pro. Both articles will discuss developments in the 2-in-1 device segment.
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Introduction: Tablets and notebooks converge
Signaling a clear commitment to the Surface Pro -- 2, 3, and now Surface Pro 4 -- combined with the Windows 10 operating system, Microsoft has unleashed a considerable business opportunity for channel partners. Where Apple's iPad may have been the device of choice for vertical applications, industry players see the Surface Pro a strong competitor in business accounts going forward. The most recent Surface Pro offerings are positioned in the 2-in-1 device category, a market segment also referred to as 'detachables.' Such products represent the convergence of tablets and notebooks.
In fact, Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 and 4 could accurately be said to be a tablet with notebook capability, while the iPad is a tablet. But the soon to be launched iPad Pro moves Apple's product more into the 2-in-1 device category, according to industry players.
Both Greg Parsonson, vice president of partner and product management at Zones Inc., and Keith Groom, director of Microsoft Solutions at Softchoice, resellers of Apple and Microsoft devices, expect to see business adoption of both of these devices going up -- although the course may differ.
Apple's iPad: A vertical play
Both partners agree that Apple's iPad had a head start in business accounts, particularly in realm of vertical applications. "The iPad is definitely more of a vertical play because Apple has done a very good job of developing vertical applications for the enterprise," Groom said, who added that the iPad is more of a vertical product than a general purpose one for businesses.
Parsonson noted that his company has seen a significant amount of vertical implementation in retail environments and food service, such as using the iPad to do line busting, preorder and on-site ordering or leveraging an iPad for table service, for example.
While the retail vertical has been one of the biggest for the iPad at Zones, the company also has significant deployments into healthcare. "We're seeing requests to change the doctor-patient interaction. The ability for a doctor to take notes and to be on the device to be able to update the patient file, to review patient documents, X-rays, and so on with the patient in a live environment," he said.
The result, he added, is faster turnaround time and increased throughput of patients that a doctor sees in any given time period. This application is used more commonly in a hospital setting but there's also uptake in the doctor's office. "It prevents the doctor from having to go back to the office, input the data and then go and see another patient," Parsonson said.
Keith Groomdirector of Microsoft Solutions, Softchoice
Both Zones and Softchoice are Apple Authorized Resellers and also support Apple's Device Enrollment Program (DEP). What that means is that the partners work with Apple to ensure that once the devices are in an end-user environment they're registered, hot and ready to go, i.e., imaged, prepared, asset tagged and in many instances, at Zones for example, the reseller has the ability through its mobility offerings to activate the devices on the four major carrier networks.
Zones' partnership with Apple has grown incrementally over time -- the DEP was added this year and is a value-added service. "Our focus on mobility as one of our specified solution tracks in our go-to-market strategy adds a lot more value beyond provisioning the box or end-user device," Parsonson said.
Value-added services at Zones includes the assessment of the customer's mobile environment, understanding how the devices are going to be implemented in the environment, working with the customer about workflow and the customer's needs around the devices, and how the devices are going to be used by the employees of the company, from retail to healthcare to mobile workforce.
"Implementing these devices in a business environment should increase productivity and lower cost and we help them achieve that," he said.
Both Zones and Softchoice have application development capability through their respective partner networks.
The iPad's trajectory as a 2-in-1 device
When it comes to the iPad in the enterprise and its use as a more general-purpose device, its run has been limited. "That's because the iPad runs iOS," said Jean Philippe Bouchard, research director, tablets at IDC, who noted a few things about iOS 9 and the iPad Pro.
"When Apple recently introduced the iPad Pro, they were very careful at showing everyone that it was a very professional device -- so, Microsoft was on stage, Adobe was on stage. … They needed to show that although it was running iOS, it was capable of running Office and Adobe," Bouchard said.
The challenge ahead for Apple to penetrate the business environment is to establish Apple beyond the iPhone adoption.
Considered a 2-in-1 device, the iPad Pro is included in IDC market projections for the 2-in-1 market which they expect to grow, the commercial market being especially key to that growth.
"While shipments of tablets have gone down (by about 8% in 2015) -- and that's not limited to Apple -- the only segment where we're seeing growth is on the detachable side," Bouchard said, and that means large screen and it's connected.
On that note, he expects to see the iPad Pro and Surface Pro 3 and 4 replacing traditional laptops.
The industry analyst agreed that Apple's relationship with both IBM -- for its MobileFirst for iOS offerings -- and Cisco for optimized networking for iOS devices and apps, iPhone integration with Cisco enterprise environments, and unique collaboration on iPhone and iPad -- will sweeten enterprise adoption of the iPad and broaden uptake.
Find out more about the iPad Pro-Surface Pro rivalry
Read about iPad Pro's app gap
Learn how the iPad Pro combines the best of PCs and tablets