Clearing the slate

“The operating system is called Windows,” claimed Steve Ballmer when asked about Microsoft’s plans for the tablet/slate/pad form factor at the company’s annual Financial Analyst Meeting on Thursday. He expressed dismay at the iPad’s strong sales figures, “[Apple has] sold certainly more than I’d like them to have sold,” he said. Ballmer then promised that Windows-powered devices will be shipping “as soon as they are ready,” going on to explain that they would get a boost from Intel’s low-power Oak Trail platform next year.

The message was clear: Microsoft still doesn’t understand why its Tablet PC concept has repeatedly bombed over the best part of a decade. Apple sold more iPads in its first three months of availability than PC vendors sold Tablet PCs in the whole of last year; in fact, the number of iPads sold in that period is likely to eclipse the number of Tablet PCs sold both last year and this. But still the company is persevering: stick a regular PC operating system on a laptop, give it a touchscreen, and then take away the keyboard and pixel-perfect pointing device. Ballmer even reiterated the company’s position: slates are just another PC form factor. Source

Even for Balmer this is hardheadedly wrong. How can you learn absolutely nothing from the giant sales of the iPad? Some people clamored for Apple to release a OSX version trackpad that would have run the desktop OS. There would be a market for that, but nowhere near the consumer market the iPad received. They wisely realized that this was so.

A touch screen interface is just does not fit your normal keyboard/mouse design. Desktop OS’s have been designed to use a keyboard and mouse and their whole interface is designed around this as it should be. Touch interfaces require much larger buttons and other interface elements. You just don’t have the same precision with a finger that a mouse pointer has. The reason every tablet up to now failed commercially is that they were compromise devices used to work with current OSs and could be functional, but not in a natural way.

The other factor is real portability. You want to take a tablet somewhere and be without power for an extended period of time. Constant recharging or having to carry a power cable with you destroys such portability. To get the power of Desktop OS’s you require powerful CPU’s that suck up power. While the Atom processor uses less power it also makes the same OSs run less efficiently. Nobody thrills at the speeds of netbooks. A mobile OS such as iOS and Android is designed from the ground up with concerns about power and being able to use less powerful CPUs efficiently. The iPad with iOS has great battery power and a processor fast enough so that you never feel like you are waiting for something to load. Whenever a decent Android tablet actually comes to life we will see similar results.

But a tablet based on Windows 7 will be useful for some, but a snooze fest for most consumers. Instead Microsoft should be thinking of using their new Windows Phone 7 OS for a new tablet – that could be something worthwhile. Though their naming of the OS was rather shortsighted.

Instead Steve Balmer will continue to whine about the iPad’s success and wonder why Microsoft which has been developing for tablets for a long time can’t get any traction.