What a Microsoft tablet needs to compete with the iPad

Summary:Just what does Microsoft need to truly compete against Apple in the tablet space? Three words: developers, developers, developers.

As many of you know, rumors have been flying around lately that Microsoft is about to announce its own tablet at some secret squirrel event, but not just any tablet, no; many speculate that it's going to be an "iPad killer." Every time I read that, I can't help but shake my head and giggle a bit -- not because I think it's a fruitless sentiment (no pun intended), but because of the landscape that lays before *any* company hoping to dethrone (never mind hold a candle to) Apple in the tablet space.

[See: 10 extremely awesome iPad tips and tricks]

Put simply, if Microsoft is going to release an iPad killer, then they're going to need the support of something that Steve Ballmer has been forever immortalized as calling for: developers, developers, developers! (And, yes, that also includes Web developers, Web developers, Web developers.)

Apple's brand strength, marketing savvy, and user experience expertise aside, it's the app ecosystem that has peoples' app needs and impulse buys coming back for more. This is something that Microsoft is going to need to establish if they hope to truly compete against the iPad.

Fortunately for Microsoft, they may well have an ally in a form they have no control over -- the very same ally that Apple and Google mutually share: third party developer tools.

Mobile development platforms like Unity, Corona, PhoneGap, and Titanium are platforms that allow developers to code once, then compile for multiple platforms. So, theoretically, a hit app in Apple's App Store could simply be compiled for Google Play, the Windows Store, or otherwise with minimal (if any) code tweaks. Perhaps this is something that Microsoft is banking on, or, perhaps it's something they will just benefit from, thanks to the state of cross-platform-compatible developer tools.

From a developer's perspective, the Windows Store will be just one more potential avenue of monetization, so I believe that Microsoft will have plenty of developer support within the first year following the official launch of Windows 8; however, I'm not quite sure yet where consumers will stand with Windows 8-powered devices within that time frame. That's the biggest question in my mind, because the needs of tablet consumers are met fairly well right now between all that is available -- the ultimate, of course, being the iPad with its oft-dreaded price tag.

For the sake of competition and consumer choice, I really do hope that Microsoft is able to step their game up to the point of going toe-to-toe with Apple, but my skeptical disposition isn't quite as optimistic or hopeful. Truth be told, I'm smitten with my iPad and the plethora of apps therein. As a consumer, Microsoft is going to have to appeal to my wants, because my needs are fulfilled as-is. Then again, I'm an early adopter by nature, so I may well be one of the few who picks up a Windows 8 tablet just to see what I end up doing with it.

Where an actual Windows 8-powered tablet is concerned, I'd like to point you to what my colleague, Ed Bott, noted about much of what Microsoft needs to achieve from a device stance if they hope to succeed in being competitive in the tablet space. It's all equally as relevant and helps to show just what Microsoft is up against.

So, will Microsoft's big announcement really be an "iPad killer," or could it be something else altogether? I think a device like the Kindle Fire would be something of low-hanging fruit for Microsoft to go up against, but they've got to start somewhere, right? Whatever the case may be, the timing and substance of their announcement won't negate anything mentioned herein. Make no mistake, Microsoft has their work cut out for them.

-Stephen Chapman

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Topics: iPad, Hardware, Laptops, Microsoft, Mobility, Tablets

About

Stephen is a freelance writer and blogger based in Charlotte, NC. His contributions to ZDNet cover topics related to security, gaming, Microsoft, Apple, and other topics of interest with a tech/SMB skew.

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