Will new Microsoft tablets scratch the Surface of what IT needs?

As Microsoft takes aim at the iPad with its new Surface tablets, IT wonders if its price tag and management features will make for a good fit in the business world.

Manageability and price are the two great unknowns that will determine the fate of the new Microsoft tablet, Surface, in the enterprise.

The tendency of IT is to put Draconian controls on anything we can.

Art King,
global infrastructure lead, Nike

With Surface, a new line of Windows 8- and Windows RT-powered tablets the company will manufacture and sell itself, Microsoft looks to cut into the success of Apple's iPad, a consumer tablet that has also become the device du jour in the business world.

By giving Surface tablets a physical keyboard, stylus and Microsoft software such as Office and Outlook, Microsoft has enterprise users in mind, said Gunnar Berger, a research director with Gartner Inc.

"[The iPad] was never designed for this," Berger said. "It was designed for the consumer."

How to manage Surface tablets?

Microsoft left out several key details during its Surface announcement this week, including availability dates and how IT will be able to manage the tablets. There is already some concern among IT because Windows RT, the new operating system for ARM-based devices, won't be able to join domains -- the traditional way of managing Windows PCs. Add these devices to enterprises that already support the iPad and IT has to take yet another approach to management.

"Do I want three different tools to manage my tablets?" asked Brian Katz, director of mobile engineering at the Bridgewater, N.J.-based pharmaceutical company Sanofi, during a panel discussion at this week's Mobile Connect conference in Boston.

If Surface can easily integrate with existing management tools, organizations may give it a shot, Katz said. If not, and users bring Surface tablets to work anyway, IT might end up locking down the devices so much that they're not user-friendly, said fellow panelist Art King, the global infrastructure lead at Nike.

"The tendency of IT is to put Draconian controls on anything we can," he said.

More on enterprise tablets:

Windows RT tablets, Windows 8 draw skepticism from TechEd tweeters

Top enterprise iPad questions facing IT: management, apps and security

Tablets: Going beyond the iPad

Pricing will influence enterprise adoption of the new Microsoft tablet, as well. Microsoft was mum in that area, other than to say the Windows RT Surface tablets will be competitive with the iPad, which starts at $499, and Surface for Windows 8 Pro edition will compare to ultrabooks, which can cost up to $1,000.

"It's going to be expensive," said Jack Gold, principal analyst with J. Gold Associates, an IT analyst firm in Northborough, Mass.

Microsoft tablet pros and cons

Microsoft's enterprise software could give Surface tablets an advantage over the iPad, which does not have a native Office app and whose email client is not as full-featured as Outlook. Microsoft will reportedly release Office 15 for Windows devices this fall, months before it offers an Office app for iPad.

For now, iPad users can't access emails stored in folders within folders on the iPad email client, Berger said.

"It's still not what I'd consider enterprise ready," he said.

Still, the iPad's user-friendliness will be tough to match. But as long as the Surface tablets successfully show off what Windows 8 and Windows RT can do, they'll have success, Gold said.

"It doesn't have to be an iPad," he said.

Assistant site editor Margaret Hanley contributed to this report.

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