All eyes are on Microsoft with tomorrow’s much-anticipated and written-about release of Windows 10. This next generation of Windows could prove a key turning point for the rugged market – and the rugged handheld market in particular, which has seen fluctuating demand in recent years due in large part to OS uncertainty following the lack of success with Windows 8.1. The launch of Windows Embedded 8.1 Handheld as a successor to the popular but aging Windows CE and 6.x began inauspiciously with delays and lack of device support from market leaders, with the result that the only devices available supporting the OS were from vendors limited market share. Unsurprisingly, Windows Embedded 8.1 Handheld’s market share has mirrored that of Windows Phone in the consumer market by languishing in the single digits behind Android and iOS. More significantly, however, the rocky launch has altered enterprises’ perception of Windows as the de facto operating system for line-of-business mobile deployments.
Microsoft’s stumble becomes Android’s opportunity
In the aftermath of Windows Embedded 8.1, organizations faced a difficult choice – undergo the migration to Android, or delay refresh cycles of their aging installed device base in the hopes of a better rollout with the subsequent iteration. Such a decision has serious implications for how front-end systems running on devices interact with corporate back-end systems. Rugged devices effectively facilitate the transfer of data between front and back-end systems, with the latter running on Windows; a transfer to Android complicates the relationship and requires additional coordination. This added layer of complexity has served to dissuade more conservative companies from migrating to Android. Organizations unencumbered by legacy systems, however, are looking increasingly to Android for its lower cost devices and familiar user interface. As a result, VDC’s data shows that Android has come to represent roughly 15% of the rugged device market, with growing levels of acceptance in the United States from larger organizations. A key turning point for the operating system came with the decision by Home Depot in 2014 to select Android for its latest mobile deployment, marking one of the first Tier-1 companies to forgo Windows for a large-scale deployment.
Success lies with the ISV community
One of the key factors that will ultimately determine the fate of both Android and Windows in the enterprise will be the reaction from the ISV community that supports them. While Microsoft has the advantage of scale and legacy to assist development for Windows 10, and seems to be positioning itself as a cross-platform productivity solutions company, it still needs active and engaged developers. Much of the development community has shifted towards the volume opportunity that comes with the popularity of the dominant mobile platforms (Google’s Android, and Apple’s iOS). This makes partnering with key ISV critical for Microsoft going forward – for this reason, VDC believes that it is likely that the company will pursue an acquisition of a rapid application development vendor with a robust developer community.
Time is not on Microsoft’s side
Although Windows remains the predominant OS in enterprise by a considerable margin, the gap has steadily narrowed in recent years with the growing emphasis on mobility and the explosion of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) as a viable option among smaller and mid-size organizations. The ability of consumer-grade devices to work in the enterprise has opened the door to Google and Apple, who have made significant investments in showing enterprise support through strategic partnerships. A majority of respondents to VDC Research support multiple operating systems for their line-of-business applications, and increasingly, the focus of development is for Android and iOS. Putting an end to Android’s recent success in the enterprise-rugged space and regaining market share will depend largely on Microsoft’s ability to ensure that the OS is implemented quickly in business environments. Time is not on their side, with patience increasingly running thin and adoption rates growing for Android as it shows it suitability as an alternative OS. To quickly integrate the new OS, Microsoft will need to work tightly with OEM and ISV partners to ensure rugged devices work effectively with the new OS and applications are supported. Zebra, a dominant player in the rugged space, announced that it will have several products running Windows 10 by the end of 2015. However, these products will be joined by others running Android; illustrating the company’s effort over the past few years to incorporate both operating systems so as to meet various industry demands.
A last chance to dominate?
Windows 10 represents a key turning point for Microsoft, particularly as the company is doubling down on software, given its most recent round of layoffs that cut 7,800 jobs from the phone business and writing off nearly all of the value from its Nokia acquisition. After considerable pushback on Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone from the consumer and enterprise markets, Microsoft can ill-afford another misstep. Any further stumbles will place the OS in jeopardy of losing market dominance and leave the playing field wide open for the competition in both the rugged and enterprise-issued markets.
With Matt Hopkins, Research Associate