Microsoft's Tablet Strategy: Every Which Way but Baked
Microsoft reportedly plans to show off a variety of tablet computers in January at the Consumer Electronics Show. At least one of the devices will apparently run Windows 7, but there's also speculation that the company will create a stripped-down version of Windows 7 to run on tablets. Critics say that to compete with iPad and Android tablets, Microsoft will need to look to Windows Phone 7.
Microsoft will take yet another stab at the iPad's supremacy by demoing Windows 7 tablets at CES 2011, according to the New York Times.
Microsoft chairman and CEO Steve Ballmer will reportedly showcase devices from Samsung and Dell as well as other manufacturers at the show.
Apparently Microsoft's encouraging partners to build apps for these devices focusing on HTML5.
Redmond will also demonstrate a tablet and other devices running Windows 8, the Times stated.
Details of the Rumors
The Samsung tablet will be similar in size and shape to the Apple iPad, but not so slim, the Times said, citing anonymous sources.
Samsung's tablet will reportedly run Windows 7 in landscape mode, but will have another user interface that will appear when the keyboard is hidden and the device is held in portrait mode.
The Windows 7 tablets will run office apps and also serve as e-readers.
Microsoft's allegedly urging partners to build HTML5 apps for the tablets and host the apps on their own websites rather than offering them through. Most of these apps are reportedly still in production.
Microsoft might actually offer a stripped-down version of Windows 7 on the forthcoming tablets.
"Microsoft makes it a practice to not comment on rumors or speculation," spokesperson Sarah Reid, who works at the software giant's public relations agency, Waggener-Edstrom, told TechNewsWorld.
The Piercing Lance of Doubt
Microsoft's plans to introduce Windows 7 tablets last year hit a rocky patch when HP, whose Slate tablet Ballmer showcased at CES 2010, turned away to focus on its own tablet running the webOS operating system instead. However, HP later went on to produce the Slate 500, which indeed runs Windows 7.
Meanwhile, possible partners like Samsung and Dell are apparently focusing on Android tablets, and whether or not they will play ball with Microsoft is open to question.
"The Android tablets, when compared to the iPad, are selling well," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld.
"These companies are hoping to make up the gap between them and the iPad by having a blend of products that may be a good hedge until they can field something more competitive," he added.
"The division at Dell that would build a tablet is the same division that built the Streak, and those guys have told me that Android is the key operating system for their mobile phones," Kevin Burden, a vice president at ABI Research, told TechNewsWorld.
"They'll do at the most one to two models of a Windows 7 phone in a year," Burden added. "I don't imagine they'd want to take whatever work they're doing on the Android tablet and come out with a Windows 7 or Windows Phone 7 tablet. Dell's building expertise in Android, so 80 percent of their development is going into that OS," Burden elaborated.
Samsung and Dell did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Which OS Again?
Which operating system Microsoft tablets will run will depend on how the software giant positions those devices in the market.
"If you put Windows 7 into a device, it can do anything you want it to do, but you'd better have it connected to a power cord," ABI's Burden pointed out. "Windows Phone 7 will be superior in terms of power management, and battery life's a key factor in mobile devices, so it's most likely to be the OS Microsoft uses on the mobile platform."
Further, it doesn't make sense to strip down Windows 7 for the tablet.
"With Windows 7, you're talking about real PC apps on the tablet, and that's not what tablets are about," Burden explained. "You'll want whatever apps are available on a smartphone, which is Windows Phone 7 apps."
Further, Windows Phone 7 will be more competitive with Android than the full version of Windows 7 will be, Burden stated.
"There clearly will be Windows 7-based tablets, but the real response to the iPad won't likely come until Windows 8," Enderle suggested. "We won't likely get much of a sense for that offering until later this year, and it isn't really due until 2013."
The Real Battle
Whether or not Microsoft will showcase Windows 8 at CES 2011 is open to question.
Microsoft has renewed its efforts to get into the tablet market because it's cannibalizing PC sales and will continue to do so. Goldman Sachs predicts tablets will eat into 35 percent of the PC market next year.
However, perhaps Microsoft should look further into the future.
"While I understand why Microsoft would be interested in the tablet space because tablets are the product du jour, the bigger opportunity is not just the current media tablet but what lies in the future," Richard Shim, a senior analyst at DisplaySearch, told TechNewsWorld.
Ultimately, a lot of the value of mobile devices will lie in connecting secondary devices such as media tablets, e-readers and digital cameras, to primary devices like notebooks and smartphones, Shim said.
"That's the cloud computing idea, where you take content on all devices and make it available and accessible to multiple devices," Shim said.
"Apple has the initial infrastructure for this, but nobody has taken the lead position in connecting all these devices and making it easy to access their content because the concept of cloud computing is still immature," Shim explained.