Tablets

Four missiles I'd launch to re-write Microsoft's tablet battle plan

Patrick Gray lists four things that he'd do to regain a foothold in the tablet space if he were in charge of Microsoft. Do you think Microsoft stands a chance in this market?

In my last post, I discussed the near-complete absence of Microsoft in the ongoing tablet wars, despite the fact that they effectively created and owned the category until the arrival of the iPad. Likely to their chagrin, Apple has dominated the tablet market in a matter of months after Microsoft spent years attempting to gain traction for its Tablet PC form factor.

It's easy to sit on the sidelines and critique a company, and one that has had as many dramatic successes in technology is bound to also make its share of missteps. Therefore, rather than just throwing rocks, here is how I'd attempt to regain a foothold in the tablet space if I were Microsoft.

1. Fire the committee

Microsoft's Tablet PC had the classic "designed by committee" feel, as opposed to the cohesive vision imposed on the iPad by the larger-than-life personality of Steve Jobs. The former gives you a device that checks off most of the technical "requested feature" boxes but lacks a cohesive user experience, and it misses the boat on key elements like battery life and quick booting.

Microsoft needs an iconoclastic personality driving a tablet device, working with a group of people who have expunged innovation-killing concepts like vertical markets, enterprise sales, and channel partners from their vocabulary. While this may seem anathema to a company that derives a significant portion of its revenues from business customers, Microsoft has a highly successful example in its Xbox division, where a handful of strong personalities took on an entrenched competitor and came to dominate an industry through a consumer focus, rather than the old enterprise standby.

2. Get your head out of the cloud

I've written extensive about "cloud computing," and my core contention is that no one cares about "the cloud" save for a handful of IT folks and marketing wonks. The rest of the world, from Fortune 500 CFOs to the grandmothers of the world, can't tell cloud computing from a storm cloud and have no interest in the technical wizardry that makes it happen. They do, however, get excited about compelling services, whether those come from clouds, client servers, or tin cans and bailing wire.

My mom loves her iPad but can't understand why her iPad and iPhone can't seamlessly share pictures with her computer or easily print and share documents with others. I believe Apple is making a tactical mistake by emphasizing "cloud" in its marketing for the next iteration of its connected services and running after offerings I'm not sure are all that exciting to the masses (I have yet to meet someone chomping at the bit for "music in the cloud," for example).

Microsoft has built or bought a raft of cloud-centric products, and rather than worrying about whether they are called cloud, Azure, Sharepoint, etc., they should make them tie deeply into all product offerings and work seamlessly and ubiquitously to the point that they pass the "mom test." Integrated products that share data seamlessly across devices are likely to be the future in this space, and if Microsoft can combine the right pieces into a cohesive and compelling offering, it could differentiate its tablet product and beat competitors and their disorganized offerings to the punch.

Continuing with the Xbox analogy, the console was an also-ran to gaming giant Sony until the connected Xbox Live offering hit the shelf with a simple and compelling story: play games with your buddies, even if they're half way across the world. Microsoft could replicate this strategy only if it gets away from talking about clouds and shows real-world, emotive situations where all this stuff actually comes in handy for real people. If you truly want to make waves, build exciting applications that tie into your cloud platform for Android and iOS, leaving users pondering what wonders would await them if they adapted a full Microsoft experience.

3. Go schizophrenic

The common complaint about the current crop of tablets is that they're best for content consumption; poking around the web or playing a quick game is no problem, but writing War and Peace is still best done on a traditional computer. Microsoft has the technical prowess to make what might resemble a split personality tablet of sorts -- capable of doing all the iPad-type tasks instantly, yet also able to load traditional Windows applications and pair with a wireless keyboard for all the things that currently require a traditional laptop or desktop computer.

While this might look like a niche at first glance, the dozens of add-on keyboards and other jury-rigged attempts to make the iPad act like a laptop seem to indicate a strong market. Just as the netbook was going to be the world-conquering "4th screen" that faded as quickly as it arrived, tablets are going to have to offer more value than they currently do, and a multi-role device seems like a compelling differentiator. Take this to the next logical, conceptual step, and you have a multi-role device that's your notepad and Excel workhorse in the office, movie screen or e-reader at the gym, and gaming device at home.

4. Realize the price of admission

The price of admission to even compete in this market is a small, sexy device with a minimum of nine hours of battery life. Anything less on the hardware front will simply be ignored and suffer the fate of HP's tablet -- stillborn until placed on a money-losing fire sale. Microsoft should select a competent hardware partner with a knack for producing good looking hardware, something they're seemingly doing if rumblings about Samsung producing initial devices are correct.

While deepening its tablet investment after a decade of spinning its wheels and reentering a highly-competitive market are daunting prospects, Microsoft has a proven ability to take out entrenched competitors. Hopefully, some of the Tablet PC experience can migrate to a product that combines the best features of Windows with an iPad-like experience into a multi-role device.

About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

14 comments
delf20k
delf20k

I looked at the price of an ipad 2 and decided I would rather have a $700 touchscreen net book with better specks instead. Ipads may be trendy but they are limited and expensive as well. If Microsoft ever manages to make soothing trendy as well as practical and inexpensive then apple will be in real trouble in that market as they rely on having the trendiest product in a market to sell things at an inflated price.

RichardMtl
RichardMtl

I like how you worded that and I completely agree. I hate the 'cloud' so much I wrote a few blogs myself about it. Most veterans and smaller business don't care about it. People are getting fed up with Microsoft. Try finding anyone under 30 who would own anything but a Mac? I've been in the business for over 25yrs and when I first observed this trend, I started really learning Mac OS X. Lately, I'm seeing another trend and that is seniors. Maybe it is because they are seeing their grandchildren using Mac? Just this month I had 4 long term clients (now all over 65) all buy Macs and they are VERY happy. They are asking me to help them out with their iPhones and iPads too. You know what they say, "Once you go Mac, you never go back" :) Tablet... MS cannot be serious about waiting another year. IMHO, it is already too late. No one wants anything but an iPad. Cost isn't an issue either. A client asked me to quote on a laptop for his daughter (entering university) and I quoted her on a $600 Dell. She wanted the $1800 MacBook Pro. I told the client I could get him THREE Dell laptops instead of the Mac, but she worked part time and paid the premium herself. Among the under 30 crowd, PC 'are not cool'. If the iPad stays around $500, IMHO, Microsoft would have trouble selling their tablet for even $200. Is RIM selling many Playbooks are $249? They will soon follow HP. Maybe at $99 Walmart might take a chance on a MS tablet :) Richard www.compunetics.ca

bikingbill
bikingbill

To be annoyingly pedantic, I think you'll find War and Peace was written in longhand on paper and ink. No wonder it took seven years to write.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer like.author.displayName 1 Like

As in, maintain separate operating systems. One for mobile devices oriented toward content consumption, one for 'traditional' desktops, laptops, and other productivity devices.

netham45
netham45

Having one common platform allows maximum portability, seamlessness, and connectivity. It'd be stupid and disruptive to keep the two very similar areas of computing segmented for any longer.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

computing is always "similar" The OS is about the hardware, not the computing. Mobile hardware isn't similar to desktop or laptop hardware - so having a single OS try to use two different sets of hardware equally will ALWAYS mean using them equally poorly. Having OSes that play well together is an entirely different thing than having a single OS trying to do two completely different jobs at the same time. Mobile hardware has many strengths unique to it, strengths that need to be supported and enhanced by the OS. Same with non-mobile hardware, unique strengths. Trying to serve both at once is just another form of bloat.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

but in reverse. They tried to jam XP onto tablets where it didn't really fit. (The lack of a 'killer app' didn't help.) This time they're trying another one-size-fits-all, going the other way.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer like.author.displayName 1 Like

I just don't see how it's supposed to work. Mind you, I've never seen WP7 or it's competitors; I'm approaching it strictly from a 'traditional' Windows background. I don't think the way people use phones, tablets, and other content-consumption devices the same way they use desktops / laptops. You say the two areas are very similar; I think the differences in the way these devices are used and manipulated are too great to successfully implement a single OS across these platforms.

Jaytmoon
Jaytmoon

I've used the DPV for about a week in a virtual environment. First thing I said was wth is the off button(5 layers down)! The metro desktop is turned on by default and that's fine if your using a touch screen pc, But using Win8 on a traditional system (sans touch) is imho a waste. I'll likely stick with win 7 for the forseable future

belli_bettens
belli_bettens like.author.displayName 1 Like

So what you've done is looking at what Windows 8 has to offer and then write an article to 'inform' MS what they should do while it's already in Win8. 1. Drop the old Tablet PC paradigm (while you've been living on the moon the last 2 weeks, techies all over the world welcomed Win8, with it's Metro UI) 2. Cloud is heavily integrated into Win8, without MS calling it the cloud (like the pictures going back and forward without users required to understand how it works. As you described) 3. Being able to run legacy application on a MS tablet, what a great idea! Surprise: Win8 can! 4. Longer battery life: hmm, let's think about that. Maybe it can be achieved by using ARM processors? Wow! Win8 will support ARM! I mean, great hindsight Patrick! Jeez I usually don't lower myself to this kind of cynical comments, but this article is just too ignorant to comprehend.

netham45
netham45 like.author.displayName 1 Like

I fully agree that the author is pretty much taking everything that MS has said that they're changing with Win8 and claiming they're his ideas. At least he's not spouting crap about how MS is stealing ideas from Apple like a large portion of the other authors seem hellbent on doing.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer like.author.displayName 1 Like

Odd, most comments about Metro posted here at TR can be summarized as "What the .... ?"

pc_techs_ct
pc_techs_ct

What division of MS do you suppose he works for? Damage Control?

belli_bettens
belli_bettens

I don't want to make a statement about Win8, although I've read all the articles, I did not yet had the chance to try it out myself so it would be stupid to form a solid opinion about it. I just pointed out that he describes everything that's already included in Win8, without even mentioning the OS in the article. And at the same time he pretends that he came up with it himself. I just find it ridiculous. And maybe you're right about my choice of words, as far as I know (not being a native English speaker), being welcomed is not the same as being embraced. But correct me if I'm wrong, I'm not that pretentious as the author :-) Edit: I looked up the definition :-p silly me :-) but I'd be glad to welcome an alternative phrasing :-)