Two major rumors in the last week have me thinking about ecosystem viability and what it means for tablet PCs in the next year or two. The first rumor was a potential game changer as a video surfaced (via CrackBerry) of a Playbook demo in which an RIM representative can be overheard saying the PlayBook will support Android Apps. It’s not the first rumor of this sort, but it’s the first one to come directly from RIM (even unconfirmed).
The other rumor is that Microsoft’s newest operating system – Windows 8 – won’t be ready for tablet integration until the second half of 2012. With recent rumors pinning the development of Windows 8 around build 3 and a beta likely to be released this summer, the timing seems about right (though possibly a bit earlier in 2012 than some people think). That’s a long time to wait to get into a market that is starting to boom as we speak.
Both rumors (and the reaction of writers to them) point to one thing – the market can only support so many development ecosystems. It’s not so much about the people who buy these devices. If the Apps and hardware are there, people will buy any number of different operating systems.
That’s not the problem. The problem is that when there are too many options, developers tend to shift resources to those platforms that are the most profitable – in this case iOS and Android. RIM seems to be at least contemplating that as they don’t deny rumors of Android support on the Playbook. And while this is a great way to drive sales, it will probably further deflate the Playbook development community. Why would a developer produce two apps – one for Android and one for Playbook – when they could just as easily create only an Android app?
On the other side of the coin, Microsoft is still playing catch up, and unfortunately they are doing it slowly. It’s sad to see a company that was so much at the front end of tablet PC development fall so far behind the curve. By the time they release their first tablet specific OS, if Windows 8 is tablet specific, the iPad will have been on the market for two full years with a third generation device just having launched (if it follows Apple’s normal development cycle).
Android will have had a full year to propagate on new tablets and there will be at least two other major players on the market in the Playbook and HP’s WebOS. If Windows 8 was released right now, it would be a little late to the party. By 2012, the party might be moved somewhere else entirely.
This is a new age of ecosystem sales. People don’t just buy devices – they buy the experience those devices offer. And the more people buy into the iOS and Android experiences, the less likely any of them will shift to a new model, especially developers who make so much money with the current offerings.
- Of course, things can change. We don’t know what Windows 8 for tablets will look like. Deep integration with a desktop, advanced handwriting support, a centralized app store, actual ARM support for longer battery life – these are all features that could help Microsoft’s new offering succeed. But, will it be too little too late? That remains to be seen.