Microsoft could eventually become a strong competitor in the tablet PC market, despite the sales success of the Apple iPad and manufacturers' planned use of Google Android on a number of upcoming devices. That was the pronouncement of one Microsoft executive, who sought to draw a parallel between the tablet PC market and the netbook market, which is currently dominated from a market-share perspective by Windows. Asus recently announced two tablets running Windows 7.
Microsoft is publicly suggesting that, despite the early
dominance of the Apple iPad and news of strong Android competitors in
development, Windows could eventually become a dominant force in the tablet PC
"There are always lots of noises at the beginning of a new category," Steve
Guggenheimer, a corporate vice president at Microsoft's Original Equipment
Manufacturer Division, told
the Wall Street Journal June 1. "Windows has proven to be a phenomenal
platform for our partners to make money... They know we are going to continue
to build support for the operating system."
Taking a swipe at Google Android, which will run on a number
of manufacturers' tablet offerings by the end of 2010, Guggenheimer apparently
said: "There are two things you have to look at: Is free really free, and what
does that mean over time?"
He also cited the netbook market, in which Windows
eventually took a dominant market share, as an example of how the tablet market
could eventually progress in Microsoft's favor. "It was 95 percent not on
Windows, and three years later it is 95 percent on Windows," he said, according
to the Journal.
However, the landscape between netbooks and the nascent
tablet market boasts some substantial differences. In the case of the latter,
the Apple iPad has already managed to seize a commanding market share, with
sales of 2 million units since its April 3 general release; in addition, Google
Android is also expected to become a strong competitor in the space later this
Acer and Dell have both unveiled tablet PCs that run
Android, and Hewlett-Packard-which previously announced its own version running
Windows-will likely use the newly acquired Palm webOS in its own offering.
That combination of early aggression by competitors, and the
willingness of Microsoft's manufacturing partners to consider tablets that run
competing operating systems, could alter the tablet PC market's evolution in
ways very different from that of netbooks. At the very least, it could somewhat
strain Microsoft's relationship with some of those manufacturers.
"This [Palm] acquisition will stress HP's relationship with
Microsoft, but given the company's scale and likely continued support of
Windows 7 Mobile, it will not seriously damage it," research
firm IDC wrote in an April 28 report.
Nonetheless, other manufacturers evidently see porting
Windows onto their tablet offerings as the best way to seize market share of
their own. Ahead of Taipei's Computex conference, Asus released specs and
photos of two upcoming tablets that will run Windows 7.
In addition to Windows 7, the Eee Pad-which will supposedly
come in either a 10-inch or 12-inch model-will support Adobe Flash, and include
hardware such as a USB port and camera module. Asus did not offer a release
date or pricing.
But ultimate success for any company in the tablet space may
come down to its software offerings, and having enough applications on offer.
"It's all about the platform if [Asus] really wants to do
well in this field," Edward Yen, an analyst with UBS, told
Reuters May 31. "I'm sure the hardware is fine, but the biggest question
now is how it's going to attract enough users to create the critical mass
needed for an app store."
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.