Microsoft's Windows 7 will reportedly appear on new tablets at January's CES. If Microsoft wants to dent the tablet market, though, it may need to adjust strategy.
Microsoft plans to reveal
a new line of Windows 7 tablets during January's Consumer Electronic Show,
according to unnamed sources speaking to The New York Times.
According to those sources, a Windows tablet by Samsung will
reportedly be "similar in size and shape to the Apple iPad," although "not as
thin." It will also feature a "slick" slide-out keyboard, and run Windows 7 in
landscape mode with "a layered interface that will appear when the keyboard is
Dec. 13 article also suggests that Dell and other manufacturers will produce
Microsoft's goal, of course, is to swipe some mind- and
market-share from both the Apple iPad and the growing ranks of Android-based
tablets. Company CEO Steve Ballmer will apparently debut the devices during his
keynote at CES, in essence repeating his performance at this year's conference,
when he unveiled tablets from Hewlett-Packard and a pair of smaller
Hewlett-Packard subsequently acquired Palm, leading to
rampant speculation that it would replace Windows as a tablet operating system
with the Palm WebOS. While HP will
reportedly use WebOS for a selection of
consumer-oriented tablets in 2011, it also produced a more enterprise-focused
Windows 7 device: The HP Slate 500, which features a 8.9-inch touch-screen,
inward- and outward-facing cameras for video conferencing, and a 1.86GHz Intel
Atom Z540 processor.
blog Engadget raised questions over the size of HP's Windows tablet production
citing a "trusted tipster with a contact inside HP" who said that HP planned
only a limited run of 5,000 units. The device quickly sold out on HP's
But if Microsoft wants to carve out considerable tablet
market share, particularly against formidable competitors, it might consider
the following factors:
Intel's Oak Trail
As Windows 7 ramped toward release, Microsoft executives
liked to claim in pre-briefings that the operating system would be more than
capable of running on netbooks and low-end laptops. That certainly proved true,
with Windows 7 loaded onto devices whose processors would have melted under the
demands of Windows Vista.
Tablets are a different beast, however, with their demands
for ultra-long battery life and super-fast boot times. Both Apple's iOS and
Google Android, originally built for smartphones, have demonstrated their
ability to fulfill both those requirements. Can Windows 7?
Microsoft's success with netbooks suggests that Windows 7
can run on lower-power form factors, but placing the operating system on
tablets might require an entirely different class of processor. Ballmer has
indicated in previous addresses that Intel's Oak Trail processor, due in 2011,
will power the upcoming generation of Windows-based tablets.
"Oak Trail is designed to be lower power," he said during
this summer's Financial
. "Lower power is good in a lot of ways. It leads to longer
battery life, no fan, lower kind of noise levels, a lot less weight-a lot of
things people like."
Whether Oak Trail is capable of delivering the
necessary processor speed and power management, Microsoft may also consider
stripping down Windows 7 in order to accommodate consumers' vision of tablets
as devices with a fast-booting, ultra-quick and streamlined user-interface.
However, that might require a more endemic redesign of the Windows experience
than Microsoft is willing to undertake at this time. What do you chop from
Windows in order to make it as slimmed-down as iOS or Android, if that's even
Apps remain a key part of mobile devices, whether powered by
Android or iOS. If Microsoft plans on making a serious run at the tablet
market, it needs to consider how to best offer apps by third-party developers.
Considering how Windows currently lacks an app store (unlike the upcoming
version of Apple's OS X, Lion, which
includes support for full-screen apps
), that support-and-delivery
infrastructure would need to be built from scratch before Windows 7 tablets hit
the marketplace. Then it would need to encourage developers to build for the
Microsoft could figure out how to port Windows Phone 7 apps
into Windows proper, but that prospect raises a veritable thicket of thorny
questions. Rather than plunge in, Microsoft could stay out of the tablet apps
game entirely-but given the popularity of Android Marketplace and Apple's App
Store, that could prove a costly mistake.
More Optimized for Touch
Windows 7 already runs on touch-screen laptops, whose
sliding keyboards essentially make them "hybrid" tablets. It also runs on a
small number of tablet PCs already on the market. What do all these device's
share? Windows 7's screen and icons look very, very tiny on them.
This isn't merely an aesthetic concern: those very tiny
buttons, icons and hyperlinks are hard to tap with a finger. Microsoft
executives have suggested that at least a portion of future Windows 7 tablets
will include a stylus of some sort, but the stylus isn't very popular now for
good reason: people simply like using their fingers to manipulate their mobile
devices. If Microsoft wants a tablet that will appeal to the broader consumer
and enterprise market, it needs to figure out how to make Windows more
optimized for human appendages.
Take a Page (or Two) from Windows Phone 7
Microsoft spent considerable resources designing Windows
Phone 7, which integrates Web content and applications into a series of
subject-specific "Hubs." Early sales of the smartphones are in dispute, but the
operating system has received relatively positive notes from critics.
More to the point, Windows Phone 7 integrates many of
Microsoft's existing assets, including Xbox and Zune, into a seamless package.
If Microsoft is unwilling to port Windows Phone 7 onto tablets-which would also
neatly solve its apps issue-then it could at least "borrow" some of its
baked-in elements for its Windows 7-optimized tablets. A touch-screen device
with SharePoint and Xbox functionality would be a strong player in both the
consumer and enterprise realms.