As HP prepares to jump back into the tablet market with Windows 8, CEO Meg Whitman is talking about how HP will position its tablets against the competition.
"I think our sweet spot [in Windows 8 tablets] has to be around security," Whitman told CRN in an interview last week. "This whole security thing is a big worry, not just for big enterprises but also for medium enterprises and small and medium businesses."
The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend is making employees more happy and productive, but it also introduces IT challenges that organisations will eventually need to address, according to Whitman.
"The notion is that these companies are someday going to let employees show up with their own device, whether it's a PC, iPad, Mac," Whitman said. "I get the notion, but every CIO I talk to says, 'That could be pretty tough. And the first breach that happens, all bets are off.'"
HP is looking for a crack in Apple's armor, something to slow the runaway freight train of iPad sales to businesses. So HP is playing up its deep roots in enterprise IT to create the impression that it's better equipped to build a secure tablet.
However, the iPad is already well entrenched in Fortune 500 firms, and Apple sold more iPads in its fiscal fourth quarter (15.4 million) than HP sold PCs (14.7 million). What's more, the doomsday scenario of corporate data being compromised on an iPad -- whether from a lost or stolen device or through exploitation of a security vulnerability in iOS -- hasn't materialised.
These sorts of incidents could eventually become widespread, but until they do, security experts say HP could have a tough time luring customers with the promise of a more secure tablet.
"The fact is, companies do not adopt new technology based on security alone," said Andrew Plato, president of Anitian Enterprise Security, solution provider. RIM, he noted, offers the most fundamentally secure platform in the mobile industry, but that hasn't be enough to stop its steadily sliding market share.
"Security is a consideration, and an important one. But if you can make an iPad secure, and get all the benefits of ease of use and instant acclimation to the platform -- then why would you consider some other platform?" Plato said.
What the iPad lacks from a security standpoint
Out of the box, iPad does lack some security features, like device encryption, but these gaps can be addressed through add-on applications and controls. When businesses deploy large numbers of iPads, they've got plenty of security options, depending on what sort of users will be taking the devices out into the field.
"We see customers that are just deploying standard security with iPads, and we have others that are looking for more control over the devices, by using third party applications like Good Technology or running Citrix from their back ends," said Bob Venero, CEO of HP partner Future Tech.
Apple's tight control over application distribution, and its generally quick response in patching iOS vulnerabilities that have emerged, are also behind the iPad's solid security track record to date.
"The reality is that the iPad has held up very well against attack so far,” said Peter Bybee, president and CEO of managed security solutions provider Security On-Demand."Ultimately, what companies should focus on is controlling the access of external devices.
With Windows 8 tablets expected to arrive later this year, HP is looking for any advantage it can find to get organisations to hold off on buying iPads. In Whitman's view, HP's advantage over Apple lies in its ability to solve the IT challenges of BYOD.
"If we can provide devices that consumers really want … then we have an opportunity to solve problems for the enterprise and small and medium business segments with products that their employees like and are also secure in terms of protecting the enterprise's data," Whitman said.