Microsoft plans on entering the tablet market in a big way with its upcoming Windows 8 operating system, which the company is optimizing for touch screens in addition to traditional keyboards and mice. However, some well-entrenched tablet foes could give it considerable difficulty, according to an analyst.
"For tablets ... Windows really isn't a fast follower," Forrester analyst JP Gownder wrote in a Nov. 29 corporate blog posting. "Rather it's (at best) a fifth-mover after iPad, Android tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, HP's now-defunct webOS tablet, and the BlackBerry PlayBook tablets."
What do all those products have in common? With the exception of HP's TouchPad and a few other tablets that have crashed and burned over the past few months, their manufacturers have time to refine their hardware and software. That leaves Microsoft in the unenviable position, Gownder added, of facing products in their second or third generation by the time the first Windows 8 tablet lands on store shelves sometime in 2012.
Windows 8 tablets also face pressure from Amazon's Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet, which "are reshaping consumer expectations in the market, driving down price points (and concomitant price expectations), and redefining what a tablet is."
If the iPad and other competitors are the rock, then the low price-points of the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet represent something of a hard place. Certainly other manufacturers have lowered their tablets' pricing in a bid to spur adoption. Both Hewlett-Packard and Research In Motion, for example, slashed their respective devices' sticker prices by hundreds of dollars, increasing sales in the process. But cutting prices either reduces or eliminates margins, a prospect surely unappealing to Microsoft's manufacturing partners-even if they do so to compete against the iPad.
Microsoft, for its part, needs those manufacturing partners to be enthusiastic to make a truly broad-based push into tablets. But in addition to a competitive price, those tablets will need hardware capable of running Windows 8 in the truly "no compromises" way envisioned by Microsoft-not to mention light enough to stand against other next-generation tablets as truly portable mobile devices. There's also the small matter of battery power.
No pressure, Windows team. But Microsoft seems devoted to delivering a Windows 8 for both tablets and PCs loaded with an array of new, powerful features. To best appeal to tablet users, the operating system will offer a "Metro" interface with touch-optimized, app-connected tiles, paired to a more traditional desktop interface; users will have the ability to flip seamlessly between the two.