After the predictions for 2012 were posted came the reality of the 2011 market statistics. Maybe it’s not a surprise that 2011 was the year which the tablet really took off, but what is a surprise is the scale with which it took off. For me the real surprise was to see how badly Android tablets have done. Why does all of this matter? Because many enterprises are now at the tipping point where they have to make some decisions on what to do about tablets and that means choosing the right operating system and looking at the first enterprise apps to be built and deployed.

So what are the numbers? Mobile device analyst Flurry gave the following figures for the Christmas to New Year period: Apple iOs and Google Android device activations over this period were 6.8 million with 242 million app downloads. Amazing, not just the device numbers, but the number of downloads; as I observed in a previous post your sales and marketing department aches to be there with its own apps. However, that’s not the same thing as picking an internal tablet standard and writing and deploying apps. Measuring tablet numbers against notebook PCs in 2011, Flurry says that 72.7 million tablets were sold making a growth rate of 256% against a 30% growth in notebook PCs with sales of 258 million.

Okay point made, tablets at this volume are a game-change in ‘mobile’ – or is it ‘mobility’? One of the key points of my previous post entitled ‘Mobility rather than mobile applications is making the running’ was to understand the difference between delivering traditional enterprise applications onto a mobile device, which is generally called mobile applications, and rethinking the roles and use that lightweight non-desktop devices with wireless can bring, which is the point of true ‘mobility’. In true ‘mobility’ the devices are operating in an Internet/Web/cloud mobile which means ‘loose-coupled’ and free to move at will between any connection and any service. A pretty daunting thought to any IT department! And how that makes understanding app stores, both by type and use, important, which was another key point in the post.

These points lead consumers in the tablet market to make the decision to go with Apple as their first choice and frankly the ‘safe’ play for most IT shops will be to consider Google Android on a recognizable PC supplier’s tablet. It feels a more recognizable model but remember, we are not talking about the world we are used to, this is about a totally different environment in every sense. Perhaps this is a good time to mention another recent post on this topic ‘2012 The Unstructured Year’?! So now for the big shock in the numbers around Android shipments for tablets, which represent a very, very different picture to smartphones, where Android is leading.

I got my shock on this topic from James Kendrick Mobile News Blog on ZDnet under the title of “Latest Android figures paint dismal tablets picture”. Using Google data it shows that in the tablet market Android is simply out of the game with such a low level of activations of Android 3.0 Honeycomb in 2011 – yes maybe Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich may change this in 2012. Jason Hiner on TechRepublic provides a careful analysis of why and I really recommend you read this in full on his blog ‘Why Android tablets failed: A postmortem’,  but suffice it to say there are good reasons and the software developers will not be going for Android tablets without some big change happening.

So Apple iPad is the winner, and of course this can be seen everywhere, just by the visible numbers in use everywhere, including at every industry event. But why? Well firstly Apple has never made any secret of the fact that it is aiming at the user – it’s people-centric around your personal experience – and that defines this whole new market. The personal element of the PC has got less and less as time has gone on and in the workplace it’s become at least more and more of an enterprise-controlled device. Ah, but isn’t that necessary for security? Well yes, but that’s down to the technology and the way we use them.

Apple set out to build a controlled environment into which only fully checked apps are allowed and as such it’s really one huge safe domain for users to download what they choose without risk. It’s a point that Apple made way back at the beginning and got laughed at for promoting a ‘closed’ environment which was seen to be a bad thing. Well, as you now know, after reading about the problems the openness of Android has introduced, it looks remarkably like a good thing! In fact the more you think about it, the more you realize that the key point about using clouds to support user-provisioned services might just be the closed and safe nature that the cloud operator provides!

And that brings me to my concluding point.  At this stage it looks like game, set and match to Apple, but hanging over the market is Microsoft’s entry with Windows 8, and that could just be the combination of traditional IT capabilities and practices with a new ‘safe’ deployment model for apps on tablets. If that is true then it’s also true that Microsoft will probably provide excellent migration capabilities from the existing Windows environment to support iPads and Androids. So if the need is to move now then the answer is Apple, if not then wait for Microsoft to make its move whilst keeping an eye on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich to see if it has introduced the big breakthrough that Google needs.