Microsoft is trumpeting Windows' push into tablet PCs during its Worldwide Partner Conference, but with the Apple iPad dominant in the space and other manufacturers looking at Google Android, that push could be uphill.
can't doubt Microsoft's public enthusiasm for tablet PCs, at least among
management. During the company's annual Worldwide Partner Conference here July
12, a variety of executives have taken the stage to proclaim tablets as the way
of the future, along with the cloud, and Microsoft's intention to seize that
burgeoning market in the same way it dominated netbooks.
"We feel all of the energy and vigor and push that we have ever felt to
innovate and compete," Microsoft CEO Steve
Ballmer said, describing how Microsoft was apparently champing at the
proverbial bit to charge into the tablet PC market. "We need to push this
from a Microsoft perspective."
In a nod to both the partners gathered at the conference and Microsoft's
self-perception as a company that straddles both the everyday and business
worlds, Ballmer described the ideal Windows 7-equipped tablet as "a great
consumer-oriented device, but a device that fits and is manageable with today's
Ballmer then detailed the form those tablets will apparently take: "They'll
come with keyboards, they'll come without keyboards-there'll be many devices.
But they will run Windows 7, they will run Office, they will accept ink- as
well as touch-based input."
He added: "We are hardcore about this."
Indeed. Yet despite Ballmer's assurances that manufacturers are rushing to
build consumer-centric tablet PCs equipped with Windows 7, Microsoft
faces a steepening battle to claim its share of the market
, which is
currently dominated by the Apple iPad.
For starters, a number of manufacturers are reportedly considering Google
Android as the operating system for a selection of upcoming tablets. In
addition, Hewlett-Packard recently confirmed that its newly acquired Palm WebOS
will serve as the operating system for its own tablet PC offerings, among other
hardware products; it remains an open question whether HP will also build flat
touch-screen devices that incorporate Windows 7.
"The Windows PC operating system does not lend itself to a touch-screen
tablet experience," John Spooner, an analyst for Technology Business
in a research note after HP announced it will acquire Palm for $1.2 billion
"Microsoft itself is finding the tablet PC market more complicated than
To succeed in the space, other analysts have suggested, Microsoft will need
to make some fundamental changes to Windows 7, specifically streamlining the
operating system in ways that accommodate the tablet's slimmer form factor.
"Microsoft and its partners must develop UX shell(s) appropriate to the
tablet format to compete with Apple's excellent iPad experience,"
Forrester analysts J.P Gownder and Sara Rotman Epps wrote in a May 27 research
note, noting that any tablet version of Windows 7 needed to offer a "simple,
streamlined, guided experience."
The other key, the analysts wrote, will be price: "If a sub-$499 tablet
offers a bad consumer experience, it will fail. Prices above $750 would almost
certainly be too high for a complementary device that acts as a second, third
or fourth PC in the home."
Partners also need to be kept in the proverbial loop, added the research
note. "Microsoft must keep HP-the largest player in the U.S.
consumer market-in the game and tap into HP's TouchSmart lessons and assets,"
they wrote. "Dell, too, is a critical player for the consumer market. Dell
will need more hand-holding than HP, as it lacks the TouchSmart experience."
But can Microsoft hold its own in an environment where Apple has already
sold more than 3 million units, and other manufacturers are busily creating
tablet offerings with other operating systems? At least one analyst thinks so.
"I'm not convinced Microsoft will completely drop it," IDC
analyst David Daoud told eWEEK in a June 17 interview. "They're going to
do what they've always done very well, which is respond with all the resources
they have to a competitive threat."
Their success, however, could depend on altering Windows 7 to specifically
fit the tablet form factor. During a June 3 talk at the D8 conference, Ballmer
indicated that a customized version of Windows could run on tablets-but no
Microsoft executive has indicated that such customization is currently under way.
Whether or not Microsoft does carry out such an initiative, they're using
the WPC to push their intentions in the
tablet space. In the face of growing competition, however, that push will
likely be uphill.