Microsoft is planning to hold a Windows Phone 7 launch event next week to show off a new slate of smartphones from its partners. The event should be quite important for Microsoft as it will be an essential first step in its plans to reinvigorate its mobile division.
But reports are swirling that Microsoft could also show off some Windows 7 tablets at the event. There’s no word on how much time Microsoft will spend on that or how many products it will show off, but a discussion on Windows 7 tablets seems like a logical addition to its event.
However, the chances of Windows 7-based tablets doing much to beat the iPad in the coming months seem rather slim. Microsoft has been touting its tablet strategy for months, and yet the company has been unable to field an iPad competitor.
When it eventually does, most will be hard-pressed to see why they should choose Microsoft’s option over any other.
Here’s why Windows 7-based tablets will have a tough time gaining ground on the competition.
1. It’s Microsoft
Microsoft has been offering tablet versions of its software for years. Yet the company has been unable to deliver a product that has captured the allure of customers the way the iPad has. Realizing that, it’s hard to see why its Windows 7-based tablets would be any different. Yes, the software might be more capable of running on a tablet, but it’s still Windows. And most folks aren’t keen on seeing that on a tablet.
2. Vendor support
It should be interesting to see how many companies follow through on actually offering a Windows 7-based tablet in the coming months. At CES earlier this year, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said that a slew of vendors are signing up to build the mobile devices. Now he is predicting we will see some of them by Christmas. So far though, device makers have been silent on the possibility of releasing such products. Vendor support could prove to be the biggest issue standing in the way of widespread Windows 7-based tablet adoption.
3. Apple has cornered big displays
Apple is unique in the tablet market for one major reason: Its iPad’s display is much larger than competing products. In fact, the RIM PlayBook boasts a 7-inch display. So does the Cisco Cius and the Samsung Galaxy Tab. The Dell Streak has a 5-inch display. Unless Microsoft unveils partner tablets that offer iPad-like screen sizes, the company could have a hard time getting its devices into homes around the world. After all, the bigger the display, the more likely the product sells. Apple has proved that.
Microsoft plans to unveil Windows Phone 7 smartphones next week that will run on GSM networks, T-Mobile and AT&T. Verizon, a CDMA provider, currently has no plans to double down on Windows Phone 7 the way the competition does. Whether or not that will spill over into the tablet market is unknown. But if Microsoft’s partners are forced to partner with either AT&T or T-Mobile for 3G networking in their tablets, the companies could have difficulty selling their products. The iPad has AT&T 3G networking, and many view it as a mark against the device. How will they view it in a product that pales in comparison to the iPad in every other way, including 3G?
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5. The applications strategy
Microsoft’s decision to make Windows 7 available to tablet makers could be either good or bad from an application perspective. On one hand, Windows 7 works with the vast majority of applications in the wild, so the company won’t need to worry about compatibility. But at the same time, consumers might expect an App Store-like experience for programs. If customers see more value in simple applications than full-blown programs, Microsoft will have to scramble to change things up if it wants its tablet strategy to survive.
6. Android OS is the better option
Google’s Android OS is quickly gaining ground in the mobile market. And most believe that the company will perform just as well in the tablet space once vendors start delivering products running on the software in the coming months. Unfortunately for Microsoft, the more successful Google is in the tablet space, the less successful it will be. Both companies are vying for a finite number of vendors that want to build tablets. If more companies see value in Google’s operating system over Microsoft’s, Windows 7-based tablets might not be around for long.
7. HP won’t be on-board
When Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled Windows 7-based tablets at CES, the focus of his presentation was the HP Slate. For a while, some believed that the device wouldn’t be made. But it has re-emerged in the wild. Regardless, Microsoft shouldn’t expect HP to be its key partner. With the acquisition of Palm, HP has made its true intentions in the mobile market known. Going forward, even with a Windows-based Slate on store shelves, the company will likely focus most of its efforts on WebOS to the detriment of Windows and Microsoft.
8. The functionality question
Apple’s iOS is designed for tablet use. So is Android OS. But Windows 7 isn’t. It’s a desktop-focused operating system that helps users be more productive with the help of a mouse and a keyboard. It’s not necessarily designed for a finger and simple use. Of course, Microsoft would disagree. But perception is what matters most in this context. And functionality comes second. Few would think Windows 7 would be an ideal tablet platform. And even fewer would like its functionality on a tablet. That alone could derail the company’s tablet plans.
9. Wait for the smartphones
Over the past few years, Microsoft’s inability to compete with Apple and Google has caused the company to rush. It rushed Windows Mobile 6 to the market, it rushed Kin smartphones, and now it’s trying to get into tablets when its own smartphone platform isn’t available yet. If Microsoft wants to see its tablet strategy work, the company should take a step back, evaluate how Windows Phone 7 is doing, and go from there. Patience is a virtue for the software giant.
10. Google is too powerful
As mentioned, Android OS will likely be the biggest competitor to Windows 7. But that’s the least of Microsoft’s worries. Google has its sights set on Microsoft in every market that they both compete. It wants nothing more than to take the company down. It can do that with Android and by leveraging its relationships with vendors. Microsoft knows it. And so does Google. That’s precisely why Google and its power could be too much for Microsoft to handle in the tablet space.