Why 200 million workers want Windows tablets instead of iPads

A customer tries out a Surface at Microsoft's store in Palo Alto, Calif., last October. Credit: IDGNS San Francisco

A Forrester Research study from yesterday got a lot of attention because of one surprising fact: workers would rather have a Windows tablet at work than an iPad. 

Buried a little deeper is one likely reason why -- and it also explains why Microsoft might never put out a version of Office for the iPad.

First, the surprise. In a survey of nearly 10,000 employees from 17 countries, 33% said they'd prefer a Windows tablet for their next work tablet. Based on Forrester's estimates of the total size of the "information worker" market, that means 200 million people are clamoring for a Windows tablet.

Only 26% wanted an iPad for work, and 12% would pick an Android tablet. That seems pretty startling to the tech press, given the middling reviews and sales performance of Windows 8 and Surface so far.

The numbers were switched around in similar proportions for smartphones: 33% want an iPhone for work, 22% an Android phone, and only 10% a Windows Phone.

But equally interesting was the chart of common app usage for work on PCs, tablets, and smartphones. The top work app on all three devices was email. After that, it split in an interesting fashion.

Check it out:

Credit: Forrester Research

Word processing was the second most used app on a PC, used by 80% of workers. It was number three for tablets, down at 40%.

But on smartphones, word processing was way down the list, behind social networking, expense-reporting apps, and HR apps, and in the same neighborhood as data dashboards, finance apps, and travel apps. 

In other words, smartphones are suited for quick lookup and data entry.

Tablets are more like PCs, and workers want to use tablets like they use PCs -- for productivity. Right or wrong, most workers probably associate work productivity with Microsoft Office. And, by extension, with Windows.

This is still Microsoft's best chance to make a dent in the tablet market -- by promoting it as the best tablet for running Office to get work done. That's also a very good reason for Microsoft never to release a full version of Office for iPad.

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