Hewlett-Packard executives have indicated that the company will manufacture a line of Windows 7 tablets for the enterprise. But will Microsoft need to alter Windows 7 to make that happen? Tablets may require different treatment than desktops and notebooks.
Ever since the Apple iPad helped turn consumer tablet PCs into a burgeoning
market, more business-oriented users have questioned whether the form factor-with
its virtual keyboard and cloud-centric features-is capable of serving as a true
During the iPad's initial rollout, Apple took great marketing pains to
reinforce the message that the device was effective for document creation as
well as for e-mail. Those who hated virtual keyboards, the company argued,
could use the iPad Keyboard Dock.
Nonetheless, tablets continue to be seen primarily as media-consumption
devices-a perception that Hewlett-Packard seems determined to change,
apparently with a series of enterprise-focused tablets that run Windows 7.
"Our focus is working with still our largest software partner, Microsoft,
to create a tablet for the enterprise business," Todd Bradley, executive
vice president of HP's Personal Systems Group, was quoted as saying during the Fortune
Brainstorm Tech conference.
"I think you'll see us with a family of Slate products, clearly a
Microsoft product in the enterprise, and a WebOS product broadly
also said at Brainstorm,
seated beside former Palm CEO
If that's so, the question becomes: What form will Windows take on those
enterprise tablets? Business users will presumably want as many
productivity-related features as possible, as well as the chance to run a broad
range of software; but depending on which version of Windows is deployed as an
operating system, that desire for increased productivity could drastically
affect the tablet's overall performance.
A good comparison may be netbooks. While the stripped-down laptops have
indeed found a niche in the enterprise, particularly for use by road warriors
with a need to always be connected to the office, the devices have been
generally dismissed as incapable of more robust functionality. If Microsoft and
its manufacturing partners want to craft tablets capable of performing a wide
number of tasks, they may need to consider changes to the form factor's
hardware and software.
During Microsoft's annual Worldwide
Partner Conference July 12,
Steve Ballmer characterized his company as enthusiastic about the tablet space,
arguing that Windows could be loaded on a variety of form factors.
"They'll come with keyboards, they'll come without keyboards-there'll be
many devices," Ballmer said. "But they will run Windows 7, they will
run Office, they will accept ink- as well as touch-based input."
According to one analyst, though, Microsoft's previous experiments in the
tablet space have shown a need to more radically rethink how Windows operates
on nontraditional form factors.
"The tablet market that the iPad is exploring Microsoft initially
identified and tried to target with the incomplete Origami effort," Rob
Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group, told eWEEK July 29, referring
to Microsoft's ultraportable PC project.
"Origami did showcase that
you could likely do an iPad-like product with a Windows core, but you'd need to
rethink the interface."
Specifically, Enderle wrote, "Either hardware would need to improve to
provide the performance and battery life needed, or Windows would have to be
modified to live under existing hardware limits, much as Apple did with ... the
And if Microsoft wants to make a decisive play, time is running out.
"Hardware is improving and it is likely that Windows 8 will be even
more efficient than Windows 7," Enderle added. "However, the [tablet]
market is being built now and until Microsoft has something in it that is
competitive they will be pounded for not being able to compete."
At June's D8 Conference, Ballmer acknowledged that Windows could indeed be
customized in order to fit the needs of a lightweight, keyboard-free device. In
the weeks since, however, Microsoft has made no indication that it plans to
create such a product.