Where is the Microsoft Tablet?


It has been nearly 2 years since the release of the iPad and during that time we have seen a titanic shift in technology and the market’s expectation of what technology can provide.  It seem every week companies are coming out with a new iPad application.  If you watch local news or national programs they all seem to have a iPad application. The good news for the market is it is not just the Apple iPad.  Not far behind and rapidly growing its user base are the Google Android tablets.  The Android provides a greater range of choices while still providing access to thousands of cool and useful applications.  Soon there will be other entrants like the HP tablet based on the Palm OS.  The interesting thing is not what is coming out, but where is the 800lb gorilla?  It seems very hard to hide a beast of that size, but yet the gorilla has remained hidden.  You cannot even hear it whisper.

At the recent Consumer and Electronics Show, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was on stage delivering the keynote address.  What I guess was interesting about the whole presentation was not what he said but what he did not say.  At a trade show where everything was focused on tablets, Ballmer talked about everything but a tablet.  His big thing was Microsoft’s foray into engineering and developing for ARM (for you non-techies who read my blog it’s a microprocessor like Intel).  This should not be trivialized, this could have benefits.  However it is short on sex appeal.  Unlike some tech shows where new things are touted at CES, tablets were new, but there were sales to back it up.  So it was not just another gizmo.

Since CES we have seen launches of new Tablets like the Samsung Galaxy and iPad 2.  We see them developing channels for resale through the service providers.  Companies like AT&T and Verizon are eager to have these devices on their network as they can drive data plans.  Microsoft for years has been trying to build a resale channel with the Telco’s. An old boss of mine is in charge of creating the worldwide reseller channel with the telecommunications carriers.  What does he tell them when they ask, “what’s your tablet strategy?”  He also used to tell me in sales, “You are what your numbers say you are”. In its first weekend of sales the Apple iPad 2 sold over 500,000 tablets.     Now we can have positive adjectives to describe our numbers, which is fun or we can have negative adjectives to describe our numbers, which is pro fain.  Apple and Google would both have very colorful adjectives.  Microsoft, well lets just say they may need to spend time in the confessional booth .

One thing that seems to be holding Microsoft back and seems to fuel a lot of speculation and gossip is what  operating system will they use, when they do come out with a tablet (I gotta admit I am guessing on this one as I have seen nothing in the press or heard from old friends about this one)?  The debate is between Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7.  Do you mimic what Apple did with the iPhone and simply enlarge to the iPad or do you go with your bread and butter, your flagship product, Windows.  I can say from a historical point of view when push comes to shove, the big boys at Microsoft always win, with that in mind it would seem Windows 7 will come out on top.  All I know is while the debate rages on the market does not stop.

When thinking about what is going on can history really repeat itself again?  Microsoft was in the Smartphone business for quite some time before Apple joined the party with the iPhone, and before they could respond out the gates and off to the races came Google’s Android platform.  By the time Windows Phone 7 came out the market was in a mature phase, so the Windows Phone was just another player trying to be heard. The Tablet business is similar in many ways. Microsoft has been in the Tablet business even longer than the phone business, as the vision of a more interactive device had long been a pet project of Bill Gate’s.  Yet as I sit in my office it seems as if history has already repeated itself.  Apple came out withe iPad but not far behind, once again, was Google with their Android based Tablets.   To be honest this is all eerily similar to the early days of the PC industry where Apple made the expensive high-end computers and Microsoft did the cheaper low-end computers, except now we can replace Windows with Android.  One area of my theory can be brought into doubt by one single question, “Where is the Microsoft Tablet”?

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann March 24th 2011

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