Microsoft: Where's your $199 Windows Tablet?

Summary:A tablet computer combining Windows Phone Mango OS and cloud computing could be a mobile monster.

As I write this, Amazon is in the process of preparing shipments of hundreds of thousands of 7" Kindle Fire tablets to customers, which are awaiting delivery of their $199 devices next week. It's also now in the process of priming their retail partners such as Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart and Staples to sell the device for the holiday season.

Similarly, Barnes & Noble is also preparing their own retail store channel for the 7" NOOKTablet, which is priced at $249 and has similar capabilities.

It was reported this morning on our sister site, C|Net, that demand for Amazon's Kindle Fire was so huge that the company increased its order with its contract manufacturer, Quanta, to five million units for CY 2012.

This holiday season, it looks like consumer attention for digital convergence devices is going to belong to cheap Android Tablets and on the higher end, Apple's iPad.

And yet on tablets, Microsoft is nowhere to be found, except on niche products such as Windows 7 slates that nobody other than specific verticals are really interested in buying.

Microsoft has recently introduced its own Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" OS and has rolled the update out to carrier partners to refresh existing Windows Phone 7 devices.

Additionally, a few new phones have been released that have been designed with the new OS in mind such as the Nokia Lumia and the HTC Trophy.

But the Windows Phone market share overall is still very tiny when compared to either Android or Apple's iOS.

Part of the problem I believe has to do with overall carrier commitment to the platform as well as having to deal with wireless contracts as a consumer. If you're going to to have to commit to a 2-year service contract, consumers are much more likely to want to go with a device that has a robust app ecosystem.

Absorbing the data costs over a 2 year period are substantial, so there is higher risk involved from the consumer with a relatively unproven platform.

But what if you didn't have to absorb wireless data costs at all? What if you could put Windows Phone Mango's OS onto a $199 7" tablet, similar in capability to what Amazon and Barnes & Noble are releasing?

Well, then I think we'd have a winner.

So what's stopping Microsoft from effectively duplicating Amazon's efforts and say, partner with an HTC or a Nokia to make a 7" tablet with Mango running on it, backed up by Microsoft's cloud services, such as Zune Music Pass and Microsoft Live/XBOX?

And if Yahoo really is in the running to be bought by Microsoft sometime in the near future, then it makes the value proposition for the consumer in terms of cloud services considerably higher.

What's stopping Microsoft from doing this on a 7" tablet is essentially the same reason why we never saw a 10" tablet with this OS either: Politics. And in my opinion, it's self-destructive.

Yes, we all know that Microsoft's tablet future is in Windows 8. They've spelled this out for us quite clearly in recent demos and announcements during the BUILD conference, and everyone's had a chance to play with Windows 8 on the desktop and we can all see where they are going with Metro and a seemingly full port of Windows to the ARM platform.

That's a given.

But Windows 8 at best is going to be ready during the holiday season of 2012. That's a year from now if things go perfectly, and we know that it's certainly possible for things to slip, perhaps into the spring or even summer of 2013.

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In that time, untold millions upon millions of Kindle Fires and iPads are going to be sold. All while Mango tries its hardest to get market share in the cutthroat smartphone space.

It kind of seems like a bit of a waste to have this great, completely finished, best of breed embedded device OS with back-end services and an App store which could conceivably be preloaded onto any commodity 7" device (one which would almost certainly help to improve Windows mindshare in mobile space) just to sit on the sidelines and not even create a blip on the consumer radar.

Just think, you could have a 7" tablet with pure Microsoft Office and Exchange capability, integrated social networking, with Internet Explorer and a decent, although arguably much smaller app ecosystem than the competition.

But there's a window of opportunity here because Apple has no intention as of yet to produce a cheaper 7" iPad (as far as we know) and the fractionalization of the Android space by Amazon and Barnes & Noble does introduce some undesirable variables.

For example, if you have an Android phone, and you buy a Kindle Fire or a NOOKTablet, you might think twice about buying applications on Google's Android Market if you can't use the same app on your 7" tablet.

If you bought a Kindle Fire, you'd want to side load Amazon's Appstore for Android on your phone and consolidate your purchases.

If you bought a NOOKTablet and you have an Android phone, you're completely out of luck and you'll definitely need to double-purchase, assuming the app even exists in B&N's marketplace.

Those types of concerns wouldn't be an issue if you were in Microsoft's ecosystem.

Unlike Android, which has a totally fractured ecosystem, the smaller Windows Phone OS ecosystem is totally controlled by Microsoft, which is not unlike the way things work with Apple's products.

Smaller app ecosystem aside, I'd gather that if such a device were produced, you'd see much more of these Wi-Fi only devices fly off the shelves than Windows Phones, and then developers would really start to jump on the platform.

Then maybe the ecosystem wouldn't be so small anymore.

In effect, this would be a vehicle that could result in Windows Phones becoming more popular due to increased developer interest on the 7" tablet.

I see this potentially as being the reverse of what happened with iPad. In Apple's case, iPhone drove the iPad because of the app ecosystem. Instead, I see Windows Mango being much more attractive to consumers and even business users on a tablet today than on a phone.

The tablet demand would drive the smartphone adoption instead.

How quickly could Microsoft do this? Well, if they were to partner with someone like an HTC, and to take the guts of a dual-core smartphone and throw it in something like a Flyer chassis, they could probably jumpstart something and have it ready for shipment by the spring.

But they'd have to really get off their asses.

Nah, makes too much sense. They'd rather wait for Amazon and Apple to completely lock up the market.

Would you buy a $199 7" Windows Mango Tablet? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Hardware, Amazon, Laptops, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Tablets, Windows

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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