December 16, 2010, 5:29 PM — Earlier this week, I talked about the iPad’s influence on the tablet market and how Microsoft is going to be re-introducing Windows 7 tablets next month at CES. A number of people added their thoughts in the comments of that post. Ironically, there were two completely opposite schools of thought about Microsoft’s tablet strategy that emerged from those comments (which mirror a lot of people’s differences of opinions over tablets as a whole).
The first opinion is that Windows 7 is a better choice for tablet computing than other options like Apple’s iOS, Android, or even RIM’s PlayBook. The attitude is that a Windows 7 tablet is a full featured PC in a slimmer and more portable form than a typical notebook. This gives the tablet full access to all Windows software, the range of enterprise network and Internet capabilities built into any Windows PC, a robust ecosystem of peripherals and accessories, and the option of using a stylus for more detailed input than a finger based tablet or smartphone OS.
The other position is that Windows 7 tablets are trying to put too much capability into a predominantly mobile device. The result is excess costs, an interface that is unsuited to finger-based input and pretty much requires a stylus, offers unneeded complexity of configuration (since the device is essentially a full PC), doesn’t offer apps-optimized for tasks on the go – essentially that simply taking a desktop OS and running it on mobile hardware isn’t a good idea because it doesn’t factor in how people use mobile devices differently than they do a PC.
Both sides make some good points. However, when you look at the tablet market before the introduction of the iPad (the first tablet designed from the ground up around mobile use and not based on an existing desktop OS), you notice that Microsoft introduced tablet PCs about a decade ago. While they did sell, they never emerged beyond a small niche market. That indicates that something about them (price, ease of use, lack of focus on mobility, the stylus, Windows itself, battery life, or something else) was missing the mark when it comes what consumers want. It could also mean that the device was too similar to a notebook that there seemed to be no differentiation of function between the two.
Something about the iPad, and later Android tablets like the Galaxy Tab, and tablet/reader hybrids like the Nook Color, clearly hit that mark with consumers. I think that something comes down largely to two factors: a clear delineation between the tablet and the PC and a focus on mobile use.
The iPad and the Galaxy tab don’t try to be full-fledged PCs.