Microsoft Tablet: Once Too Early, Now Too Late?
Bill Gates was one of the earliest and most ardent proponents of tablet PCs. Back in 2000, the Microsoft co-founder showed off the company's first tablet prototype at the now-defunct Comdex conference in Las Vegas. Of course, it wouldn't be until a decade later that the tablet actually became a reality for mass-market consumers with the arrival of the iPad.
But now comes word via Taiwanese tech site DigiTimes this week that Microsoft is readying an iPad competitor that would run Windows 8 and hit the market by the end of 2012. Well, better late then never, right? Once again, Microsoft has had to wait for Apple to create consumer demand for a high-tech category before it jumped in. See: iPod, iTunes, iPhone.
But is it too late this time? No. The tablet market is still at an early stage, with high growth predicted in the years ahead. Gartner projects tablet sales will total 54.8 million units in 2011 and surpass 208 million in 2014. Even if the iPad still commands the largest share of the market in the next several years, there's room for other players to grab share of a growing pie.
It's also a logical step in that Microsoft is trying to compete with Apple, Google and other tech giants on just about every front, from the desktop to the Web to portable music players, gaming consoles and smartphones. And considering the tablet has long been a Gates pet project, it seems only fitting Microsoft should finally bring that vision to fruition. Whether it can is another question.
The only consumer hardware product that has been a proven blockbuster for Microsoft is the Xbox 360 game system. Despite the rollout of its Windows Phone 7 devices last fall, Microsoft still hasn't made inroads against Apple or Android in the smartphone wars. Perhaps the alliance with Nokia and the forthcoming Windows Phone upgrade dubbed Mango will change its fortunes.
Considering the form factor and usage of tablets more closely resembles PCs than smartphones, Microsoft should have a higher comfort level with the hardware. That a planned tablet would run Windows 8, its flagship product, would give Microsoft a strong software base to build the device around. Reportedly, it would rely on Texas Instruments and Taiwan-based OEMs and ODMs to build the hardware. And much will depend on what the hands-on user experience is like and how well Windows is adapted for a branded tablet.
Given that Microsoft is already coming late to the tablet party, not actually releasing a tablet until the end of 2012, if the DigiTimes report is accurate, would put it even further at a disadvantage to rivals. The sooner it gets in the game the better. But there's no reason why it shouldn't try.