Saturday, December 18, 2010

Microsoft’s New Take on Tablets

The other day, rumors of Microsoft addressing the growing tablet market were circulated, discussing a major announcement at the upcoming CES in January. Presumably at the Microsoft Keynote, Ballmer will showcase some of what we’ve already seen from a recent New York Times article about Samsung’s newest Windows 7 tablet. There are, of course, rumors that Ballmer may throw a curveball our way with an unveiling of Windows 8 functionality on tablets, especially with the expected Apple announcement of the iPad 2 probably coming sometime in January or early February.

With all that said, I find the news from Microsoft interesting, but not necessarily as encouraging as I would have liked. Don’t get me wrong. I love my Windows on tablets and have for many more years than most consumers were aware tablets existed. However, right now the tablet industry is growing rapidly and while hardware is a big reason, the software interfaces of iOS and Android are what make these devices so accessible to their users.

So, when details leaked that Samsung’s newest device, the Gloria, will have a touch-centric portrait interface and a traditional Windows landscape interface, I wasn’t sure what to think. The idea of convertibility in business tablets isn’t new by a long shot. The TegaV2 did it in another way, with dual-boot Android/Windows while other devices like the Inspiron Duo converts from netbook to tablet PC on the fly.

And then there is RIM which has been making hefty claims recently about how their tablet will “redefine what a tablet should do”. I can’t see them producing anything that completely revolutionizes the approach that Apple seems to have forced so many other developers to take, but while consumer tablets are starting to look very much alike, there is still a very wide open field for the business market – arguably the much harder group to placate.

And that brings me back to Microsoft, because frankly, this is a company with the largest business user install base in the world on traditional computers. But, they’ve fallen behind in all things mobile and it’s partially because of a lack of innovation. They continuously play catchup, as can be seen in their recent Windows Phone 7 launch which doesn’t seem to be doing as well as they had hoped (despite a slick interface and solid reviews). Right now, a company that pretty much had the tablet OS space to themselves for the last 8 years has been marginalized as most new tablets are sporting Android or some other non-Windows interface.

Yet, Windows 7, while decent on a tablet, is not designed for tablet use alone, and powerful software tools like Microsoft Office still cannot stand alone on a tablet without some upgrades like InkGestures or Thinix – great tools but necessary add-ons for full tablet functionality.  

I don’t know what Microsoft will show to us in three weeks, but I’m hoping it’s something new and exciting. They really need to blow people away with something that allows for the kind business use that many tablet owners have been waiting for or they’re looking at yet another market that they cannot quite catchup to. 

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