Trouble in Tablet Land?

Where will the Tablet PC go tomorrow? It's time for Microsoft's marketing department to provide some solid direction.

It doesnt take much tea-leaf reading to see that the Microsoft-championed Tablet PC is at a crossroads.

When Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates launched the Tablet PC back on November 7, 2002, he touted the technology as "a whole new way of experiencing the personal computer."

According to the vision expressed at the time, the Tablet platform was more than a PDA. It was better than a notebook. It was the mobile form factor of the future, destined to spawn an entirely new class of apps — like Microsofts own ePeriodicals, for one. (By the way, whatever happened to ePeriodicals?)

/zimages/3/28571.gifeWEEK Labs took a close look at the Tablet PC hardware and software at its introduction. Click here to read the analysis and reviews.

Cut to 2004. At the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference last week, Microsoft officials wavered as to how and when Redmond will deliver the functionality pioneered via the Tablet going forward. Company execs said they are not sure if there will be a new mobile version of Longhorn, a Longhorn version of the Tablet PC operating system (or both).

At WinHEC, Microsoft execs almost went so far as to admit that the company is now resigned to positioning Tablet functionality as just another notebook computer feature. (Or, if you prefer the Microsoft spin on this, for the Tablet PC to "assimilate" the mobile PC segment.)

Company officials claim this was Microsofts vision all along. But tell that to the Tablet PC OEMs, channel partners and software developers who have been working to build businesses around the Tablet as a differentiator. Many were counting on Microsoft to push the Tablet as a whole new kind of computer, not just a collection of whizzy add-on functionality.

According to one developer who declined attribution: "The retreat is serious. Well be [moving] into the Tablet as all and All as Tablet [phase] within five to ten years. Its like a plan to shoot itself in the head."

Theres other evidence that the Tablet is on increasingly shaky ground, at least marketing-wise. Consider these data points:

  • The "Lonestar" Tablet release is going to miss the back-to-school market.

A couple of months ago, Microsoft decided to merge the next version of the Tablet PC operating system (code-named "Lonestar") and XP Service Pack 2 bits into a single beta release. SP2 is on track to be released to manufacturing in July, at best. Microsoft officials said at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference last week that the company is planning a major Lonestar marketing push in October.

/zimages/3/28571.gifRead more here about Lonestar.

Thats all well and good for the holiday season. But what about the back-to-school market? Academia seems to be one of the Tablets sweet spots. Why didnt Microsoft just decouple the Tablet release from XP SP2?

/zimages/3/28571.gifTo read the full story, click here.