Adrian Kingsley-Hughes over at ZDNet has joined in the fray to ask the uninspired question "Are businesses ready to replace Windows with iOS?". This meandering piece of clickbait caught my attention when a friend passed it on saying that it was just a matter of time before iPads replaced computers at the office. While tablets do certainly have their role in the workplace and they have the processing capacity to do a lot of the tasks we currently do on notebooks and desktops, companies would be stupid to ditch their fleet of Windows-powered computers for iPads.
When one looks at the role of technology in the workplace, it's easy to say that one tool can easily replace another, especially when we're completely unaware of how some people do their jobs. I've invested years into studying how people work and, as a result, I can tell you that no two individuals will do the same thing the same way. People with varying degrees of technological savviness will accomplish their tasks in ways that would leave a so-called "power user" scratching their head. I see this all the time when people prefer to move their right hand to use a mouse for 0.5 seconds rather than simply tap a
[tab] key or hit
[Enter] to execute a command, even when they're well aware of the benefits of using various keyboard shortcuts. People want to do things in their own way, and that's perfectly fine.
Another fallacy in a lot of the "iOS is ready for the Enterprise" argument is the over-simplification of people's jobs. Where are documents kept at the office? Only on personal computers? Perhaps. In the Enterprise, documents may be kept on a network store or only accessible through various proprietary tools for "security" reasons. Try opening a file that's located on a network share with your iPad and tell me you don't want to throw the thin computer through a wall. It's incredibly frustrating because that's not how any software on Apple devices are designed. Should IT departments forgo their complex directory structures and dump everything into a big, single folder for every iPad to connect to? Maybe. It's not very realistic, though.
Search on iOS is not very useful when you're looking for things that are not on the device. Sure, extensions can be written to look at the NAS or SAN or some web service, but people will need to be prepared to wait … and wait … and wait. It's not a good experience.
Then there's the problem with all the custom software that runs in the background. Time trackers, security monitors, network tools, and the like. How about all the Windows-only software that the company has had created just for them over the last decade or so? Will someone sit down and redesign everything from the ground up to be finger-friendly and optimized for a smaller, 4:3 screen? Who will pay for that?
When it comes to software for use in the office, we are seriously bad at making it. Does anybody really like the software we use every day at the office? Anybody at all? And people like Adrian Kingsley-Hughes think that by using iOS all our interface and software problems will magically disappear?
And then there's the sheer cost of using iOS. Let's take a role that no "serious tech person" thinks about: the receptionist. People look at receptionists as having just one job, and those people are sorely incorrect. The person who works at the front desk not only answers phones, but they greet guests, arrange schedules, deal with packages, and have a whole host of other tasks that most people never realize until the desk is empty. The role varies from company to company, but that's neither here nor there for this little thought experiment. These people generally work just as much as anyone else in the office, except they're expected to do it with a smile at all times.
So let's look at what it would cost for a receptionist to move to iOS. First, they'll need an iPad. Not a tiny one, either. The screen on the Mini would give people eye strain after a few hours. So let's go with a still-small iPad Air 2. Because companies always get the lowest model anything, this will be a white iPad Air 2 with 16GB of storage. As of this moment the WiFi-only models sell for $399.
Next we'll need to supply a keyboard, because having 50% of the screen disappear for an on-screen keyboard would be infuriating. So it only makes sense to go with a Bluetooth keyboard for the iPad. There are plenty of 3rd-party keyboards that sell for as little as $20, but we'll stick with the products in the Apple Store and go for a red Logitech Canvas Keyboard Case. This will also allow the iPad to sit on an angle so that a separate stand is not required on the desk.
Some people will undoubtedly need a larger screen, too, so let's pick up a Lightning Digital AV Adapter for $49, too. This will allow an HDMI monitor (or TV) to be used with the iPad, which will definitely come in handy at some point.
All in all, according to today's prices, the company will spend $547.95 every five years or so to get a laptop that isn't actually a laptop and, like many corporate computers, the device will probably be chained to a desk and never actually be used as a portable device. The battery will suck in less than a year and the smudges on the screen from all the finger-touching will just be an eyesore.
I wonder. How much does a basic Dell with Windows cost?
Those Dells come with a keyboard and mouse, too.
Apple is not in the business of Enterprise and, from what I've seen after nearly three years of Apple devices being used at the day job, Apple won't seriously be in the business of Enterprise until the product goes from being an individual's device to a generic tool that anybody and everybody can use and swap out. Having sleek devices in the office might look cool, and it might sound great when meeting with clients, but it won't actually enable more work to get done. Aside from cost, this is all any corporate IT department cares about.
Will the machine do what it needs to do?
iOS can do a lot for many people but, until corporate software catches up and we spend less time thinking about the technology as the centre of our business, it's just a silly thing for companies to boast about.