Dec. 14, 2010 at 2:25 PM ET
Microsoft will almost certainly show off tablets based on Windows 7 at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, and that will almost certainly fall as flat as it did last January when they revealed, well, the same thing. If they launched a tablet running the Windows Phone 7 OS, however, things would be very different.
The report, appearing in The New York Times, says that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will show off "a slew of new slates." But since they don't seem to be running Microsoft's new consumer-friendly mobile platform, I fear that maybe Microsoft tablets never will.
Ballmer is, however, likely to show off a Windows 8 touch tablet. The presumed hope is that, by 2012, Windows 8 will marry Microsoft's desktop OS with its mobile OS, making touch interaction as convenient as keyboard and mouse. But in the meantime, Microsoft loses ground. Microsoft declined to comment on this matter. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)
Almost a year ago, Ballmer showed off a Windows 7 "slate" from HP, and in 12 full months, nobody seems to care. The situation got embarrassing when HP postponed its launch, and then bought Palm, in part because the WebOS was more suitable for tablets. When HP did launch the Slate 500 in October, it was billed as a niche business product. In the same breath, HP promised a slicker WebOS tablet for 2011. Dell came forth with its own Windows 7 slate-like device, the Duo, but that didn't really enter consumer consciousness.
The tablet business currently belongs to Apple's iPad, with a growing slice of buyers interested in Android tablets. That sliver will widen next year when Google introduces a more tablet-friendly version of the Android OS, and hardware makers such as Motorola introduce tablets that compete in size with the iPad. The point that should not be lost here is that both of these, as well as WebOS, are mobile operating systems, launched first on cell phones, and moved onto the larger tablet platforms with apparent success.
Although Windows 8 may prove to be far more tablet-friendly than Windows 7, the notion of a one-for-all operating system seems naive: Tablets are not PCs. Microsoft proved that all by itself when it introduced the Tablet PC a decade ago, aimed at the workplace, and hardly anybody bought in. The mentality in Redmond doesn't seem to have changed — the workplace still seems to be the target for Microsoft. Says one of the NY Times' unnamed sources:
The company believes there is a huge market for business people who want to enjoy a slate for reading newspapers and magazines and then work on Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint while doing work.
Besides the fact that RIM is already busily addressing this very audience with its BlackBerry PlayBook, and has a strong loyal base of potential buyers in the biz niche, the notion that computers are for doing spreadsheets and other work is just plain antiquated. The tablets we want don't need to do the stuff that our work computers do. They're windows (pardon the expression) to the Internet, and tomes of content meant for reading, watching, listening and even interacting, precisely when we're not working.
I was thoroughly impressed by Windows Phone 7, precisely because it was a consumer-friendly device, compatible with business but not focused on it. If Microsoft won't let that phone OS blossom into a tablet OS, it won't just lose market, it will never even make a toehold. And for the company that "invented" tablets, that's just sad.