Doubt Clouds Windows Tablets vs. iPad, Android

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-08-01

Doubt Clouds Windows Tablets vs. iPad, Android

No one doubts that Microsoft threatens to eclipse others in any market it enters.

But until the company produces a tablet computer built from an operating system other than its new Windows 7 desktop operating system, few seem willing to give the software giant a shot against Apple and Google in the burgeoning tablet market.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made headlines when he said at the company's financial analyst meeting July 29 that Microsoft has a lot of intellectual property and other pieces to make tablets.

"We have a lot of IP, we have a lot of good software in this area, we've done a lot of work on ink and touch and everything else-we have got to make things happen. Just like we had to make things happen on netbooks, we've got to make things happen with Windows 7 on Slates."

However, some in the industry believe Microsoft is headed for failure by continuing to push for touch tablets running Windows 7 instead of building a more nimble OS especially suited for the touch interface that carries tablets.

Indeed, Apple's iPad runs a modified version of the iPhone OS. Google's Android platform was designed from the ground up as a mobile OS and is powering more than 60 smartphones in a growing market.

Harvey Lubin, a graphic design professional in Canada, noted that many of the large PC manufacturers that displayed prototypes of Windows 7 tablets at the last Consumer Electronics Show in January have ceased developing those machines.

Most PC manufacturers have since switched gears and jumped on the Android train. And Hewlett-Packard acquired Palm to use that company's mobile WebOS for tablets even as it prepares to offer a Windows 7 tablet to appease its long-time partner.

"Microsoft's management still has not seen the light, and they stubbornly continue to push for touch tablets running their Windows 7 OS," Lubin told eWEEK.

"Although they certainly have the financial resources to do what other companies like Apple, Google and Palm have done, they have not made any effort to develop a new operating system designed specifically for this next generation of personal computers."

IMS Research analyst Gerry Xu told eWEEK he is pessimistic about Microsoft's chances in the tablet market. Like Lubin, Xu believes PC makers may move away from Windows over time because the current Windows 7 is too bloated for the tablet form factor.

Analysts Skeptical of Microsofts Tablet Plans


"A tablet needs a lighter OS like Apple OS, Android or even Meego," Xu said. "Look at the tablet: touch screen, no physical keyboard, always connected. Usages of a tablet are simple. You won't use it to input a large amount of information and process complex tasks, while Windows is designed for these tasks."

The result will be poor user experiences on tablet devices, Xu added.

Forrester Research analyst Sara Rotman Epps agreed that the user experience is a concern for non-iPad machines, especially in the case of Windows, where Microsoft seems intent on "shoehorning" a PC OS into a tablet form factor.

"The concern about Windows tablets, and Android tablets, is that they won't provide as tight an experience as the iPad because OEMs won't have the same level of control over the OS: With the iPad, Apple controls both the device and the OS and so has complete control over the experience it delivers for users."

Even so, Epps said tablets that run Windows or Android could eventually collectively outsell iPads because multiple OEMs will be selling them.

Caris and Company analyst Sandeep Aggarwal is also reticent to count out Microsoft, calling the competitive risks from iPad/Tablet and mobile "overblown."

"We think that in the coming months Microsoft will very likely emerge as a strong force in the tablet market and will be able to offset some of the cannibalization of Windows-based PCs/netbooks that is happening because of the absence of compelling tablet devices running the Windows OS."

Another thing bothering analysts: Asked when Microsoft would ship its tablets, Ballmer said: "They'll be shipping as soon as they are ready. It is job one urgency. No one is sleeping at the switch."

But how long is too long to wait to ship? How many iPads will sell by the time a suitable Windows tablet appears? Will there be 60 tablets running Android by the time Microsoft ships its slate machine?

For Microsoft's tablet strategy, there are more questions than answers. This is not a good thing. Lubin believes the fight is already finished.

"Even if [Microsoft] announced today that they were going to start development of a new operating system for tablets, it would be several years before they had anything viable, and by that time their competitors would have been well-established as leaders in this product category."


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