As expected, Apple has confirmed 7 March as the launch date for the iPad 3 and possibly a couple of surprises. But, beyond the launch, will Apple start to make a major play for enterprise users before Windows 8-powered tablets arrive later in the year?
Set the Date
As leaked earlier in the month, Apple is ready to launch the iPad 3, with candid snaps of parts in the wild, codes on shipping manifestos and crates being securely dispatched around the world, its all systems go for Apple's covert delivery teams. Except the tablet to be on-sale mere days after the event, possibly with a price rise to cater for the expensive screen, but with iPad 2 becoming cheaper, creating a great deal of interest in the office market.
A couple of late breaking bits seem to suggest a third generation of Apple TV box will be launched, capable of playing 1080p movies and paving the way for the updated iTunes store to offer such content, up from the current 720p limit. There's also a peripheral code-named B82, which could just be a new style of cover or a remote control, or it could be the Apple games controller, if the company plans to have a serious stab at that market.
However, there's a little game we like to play when Apple posts an announcement, take a peek and you can see Keynote as one of the icons on the screen. Is that a hint that Apple is going to take tablets in the enterprise more seriously from now on?
A Tough Business
From launch, Apple has let the iPad sneak into most offices through enthusiastic users, but more and more has been pushing it to particular verticals like the medical fraternity, airlines and so on. But there doesn't seem to have been an all-out assault on the workplace.
That could change next week, and Apple has been slowly moving iOS towards a more enterprise-friendly stance. iOS5 introduced easier integration with Microsoft's Exchange and ActiveSync and the ability to send encrypted messages for improved security. Enterprise apps can be securely distributed among devices and so on.
But, Apple has been working at its own pace, secure in the knowledge that it owns the tablet market. By its own admission, Samsung says it is doing badly in the tablet space, HP and RIM saw their product launches spectacularly misfire and Microsoft has had to keep its powder dry until Windows 8 launches later this year.
Times are a Changing
That will all change when the public test version of Windows 8 launches today (lots of news on Microsoft's Leap Day event later) and the official launch happens in the Fall. Expect Microsoft and partners to push tablets into every nook and cranny of the business, as a presentation device, a meeting assistant, an executive tool and in every place where there's a worker on the move at some point in their day.
Microsoft already has the full arsenal of enterprise software at its disposal and is bringing Office to the ARM-powered tablets that will form the vanguard of this assault. Expect a rash of new versions, upgrades and patches to bring compatibility and stability across the platform. But once that has passed, Windows 8 could have a lock-in on the enterprise market and its endless billions in hardware budgets for years to come.
Apple does have plenty of enterprise iPad apps from its own Office suite and Keynote, there's good representation from the likes of Cisco, IBM and Oracle plus endless small-biz niche apps, but its the concept of the iPad as an enterprise device that needs a final shove into the limelight.
Apple has a few months to perform this push before Microsoft comes stampeding into the market, and the Seattle company knows its existence is on the line as king-of-the-enterprise if Windows 8 on phones, tablets and desktops fails to take off.
So, once the gloss has worn off from the high-definition screen, the better camera, possibly more memory and the other features that the iPad 3 will come with, listen to what Apple has to say about business, both large and small, it should be interesting. If iPad 2 does get a price cut, offices could be scooping them up in their many millions.
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