What a Microsoft tablet needs to compete with the iPad

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

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  • Cue...

    Cue the Windows fanboys bombastically proclaiming that 12 months from now, the iPad will be an also-ran in a tablet space completely domainted by Microsoft, with Google undergoing Chapter 7 liquidation proceedings.

    My suspicion is that if Microsoft wants to compete for the tablet space with Apple they cannot do it head-on. A direct iPad competitor simply elicits the question: "Why should I buy Microsoft tablet instead of Apple's? Just because it's from Microsoft?"

    Instead I think Microsoft should position its tablets as laptops with screens that can be detached and when all you wanna do is relax on the couch and surf the web. I for one, would be sorely tempted to buy such a device (well... if I hadn't already bought an ASUS Transformer, which is basically a laptop with a screen that can be detached when all you want to do is surf the wed from the couch.) Let Apple own the dedicated keyboardless tablet market. Chances are a notebok/tablet hybrid will win back a significant number of consumers who fell in love with the iPad, but still need a laptop with some frequency. Why own two devices when you can do most of what you want with just one?

    And if I had to design the perfect windows 8 laptop, this is what it would look like:

    It would be similar to an ASUS tranformer, but more robust. While the Transformer includes an extra battery in the base for added runtime, my perfect Windows 8 transformer would basically include a second computer in the base: an intel CPU and other hardware guts that would allow you to run the full version of Windows 8 while docked, and Windows RT when undocked. There would be shared storage space between the two OSs (the My Documents folder, basically) so that you could still tweak or view your Microsoft Office docs when in tablet mode, but you'd have the full might of the 64 bit Office suite when you need it in dock mode, as well as all access to all your other windows apps. When docking the screen, you'd have the option of powering down the ARM guts and switching to Intel, or continuing to work with Windows RT when maximum battery life is important and you won't need any heavy hitting apps beside the Windows RT version of office to run.

    That's a Windows 8 machine I could easily see myself plunking down real money to buy.
    • Multiple Points of Attack

      There should be multiple points of attack/devices on offer. One point of attack should be a tablet with a great handwriting experience. People have talked it down for a while, but they ignore that the tablet PCs of the past were bulky and prohibitively expensive. With cloud storage, OS integration, and manufacturing advances, you could build a cheap tablet with a great handwriting experience that can share files with your laptop - preferably in a way where you can essentially drag that document from your slate to your laptop with some kind of over-the-air synching. Those who think that's not an opportunity, look around at all the people with notepads and pencils in front of them. One of several devices they should provide, which would be a clear winner over the competition in its portion of the market.
    • You and about 500 other gear heads

      which is one of the big problems ZDNet talkbackers have: Thinking their highly specialized tastes translate to the buying desires of the general public.
  • iPad's not going anywhere

    But I think Windows tablets have a shot to take market share in certain segments if they play their cards right. Business and enterprise are the biggest ones I think they can win. The convertibles you describe would be perfect for a large business if they get them to run decently. Running Office on a tablet without virtualization would be huge for business users, and I think it could be the "killer app" they need to wiggle their way into the tablet market.
    • Exactly

      iPad has not garnered much respect from corporate IT shops and BYOD is extremely risky where security is concerned. A tablet in which business IT can feel 'secure' about is a market Apple has failed to acknowledge and why should it with it's consumer success.
      • What stopped businesses from incorporating Win Slates before?

        These Windows Slates/Tablet PCs have been with us since 2001. As recently as last year, we've seen Windows tablets such as the HP Slate try to get the attention of the enterprise, and IT. No bites.

        We've had many other companies who've tried hard to court the enterprise with their tablets. BlackBerry playbook, Dell with their Streak, the recently failed Cisco Cius, no bites. Meanwhile the iPad is everywhere in the enterprise, with something like 97% market share.

        Basically I am not buying this "secure" line again. The Consumerization of IT is for real. BYOD is for real. Apple is taking security very serious.
  • What a Microsoft tablet needs to compete with the iPad

    Microsoft isn't too worried about competing with the iPad since they already have developers and a ton of them. The iPad is practically on its way out the door. Its time came and went now most people are realizing the tablet isn't a necessity. Any competition between Microsoft and the iPad is just for some residual sales.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • Dead on Arrival

      At first, I thought "way out the door" meant "flying off the shelves." Bold claims from a Microsoft shill. My (not so bold) claim is that any tablet from Microsoft will be dead on arrival, just like their previous tablets.
  • Too late

    They have arrived to late. This is the common routine for a companies board that is outsourced, noone on the board even works at Microsoft!

    This is a wasteful company and when they release a product its usually the end of that products lifecycle. A new more innovative product is about to be released and it will crush MSFT hopes of selling anything. They hype they involve promoting this release cost MORE than their actual development of it. Shameful as marketing gets ten times more money than development. No wonder Microsoft can not create anything, cause they do not pay their engineers fair cost of living wages. 90% of the development is outsourced on H1-B visas, no wonder than can never retain anyone. Their stock is flat for the last decade. You can make more money in your savings account than their stock.

    This was made in India, they only have an office in Redmond now. The entire company is outsourced today. A real fact noone is willing to talk about.

    We are willing to speak before Congress and tell the story of how one company destroyed an entire industry. During this election year, contact your local politicians and let them know.

    Does not matter as development is out-sourced to India anyways. Lets celebrate and promote India, Pune, New Delhi, innovations, congratulations!

    The entire development is from non-us-citizens on H1-B visas working for the lowest wage. Which has ruined the industry and made local workers impoverished and starving taking jobs under a standard cost of living. With real estate rising, local recruits around Redmond can NOT afford gasoline to make it to work. Driving prices down and the defeat by apple has proven costly to the surrounding areas. Prices still remain what they were and rising yet wages have fallen 75% since 2008. The wages have bottomed out all the way to minimum wage, which makes it IMPOSSIBLE logically to afford food. Thousands of Microsoft employees wait in food lines and at the food banks around town as they work on projects like this. Demand better wages, and you will get quality products.

    As tech companies follow the same routine, they lead by example and thousands of other major tech companies do the same. They have ruined an industry completely. Since they do not support workers rights this application hardware device will be over priced and less-quality than the already systems being sold today. Boycott Microsoft for crimes against software humanity. Demand higher wages for all tech workers.

    Together we can win back our lives and save this country. We support Redmond workers and demand justice.
  • Whatever they do, the price will have to be right

    It's really the same thing I've been thinking ever since Android tablets all came out and did very little in the market. They all pretty much followed the same mistake: offer a tablet that's about the same as the iPad, but not an iPad, for about the same price as an iPad. Does anyone spot the problem there?

    And I would give MS the same advice I would still give Android sellers: you have to undercut the iPad on price by at least $200 while offering as much or more tablet hardware wise.

    If the MS tablet is more than $300 I will go out on a limb and call it a failure before it hits the street. Why? It's not an iPad, for one, and so doesn't have the marketing magic nor the humongous app store. The only card anyone has left is price. If you want any market share at this point you're simply going to have to buy it.

    And even with that strategy, the clock is ticking.
    • And don't forget

      And don't forget, people will not want to repurchase all of their stuff to run on some new system.
      • A key point...

        It has to be compelling enough to convince an iPad user (or Amazon, Android user) to reinvest into another platform (apps, content).
  • I love Windows,

    but for any Microsoft fan or anyone else to say that Apple is out the door or soon to lose its place is just ridiculous. I agree with dsf3g with his idea for a device which is like a Transformer and behaves in two ways depending on if it's docked or not, and if it Microsoft can get something like that done that works and is below $900 or so, then I think it can match the Apple market share in the tablet space. I'm eagerly waiting for the Google tablet, but Microsoft's announcement today might make me hold unto my money for a while longer (and I would not spend it on any Apple product because they're just overpriced when it comes to computers and the iPads are way too expensive for a consumption device).
  • Sick Of These iPad Killers

    It won't happen anytime soon.

    The simple reason is that the iPad success is not only due to the impressive piece of hardware that Apple brings to the market every year but because of a non-technology related factor: the coolness factor.

    Apple hardware is trendy these days. It's more of a social current than a technology one. And no other manufacturer will be able to compete for some time.
    • coolness factor

      Interestingly, many highschool girls (non-geeky, fun loving 16-years olds) are asking for Galaxy rather than iPhone. This is something to recon with.
    • Well, that and adding a Thunderbolt port

      I take it you don't think routing the flux capacitors through the Heisenberg compensators is gonna do it. Shame on you.
      Robert Hahn
  • Windows 8 tablet will do good, if the hardware is right

    Windows 8 has all the good stuff, with the right quality hardware and support for USB and Enterprise managebility it will earn its share quite easily. Nothing in iOS is unique or great, but with the hardware, ecosystem and price makes it attractive.
    • "the hardware, ecosystem and price makes it attractive."

      Well that's the trick, isn't it? What it all comes down to, assuming the rumor of an MS Tablet is correct, is can Microsoft design and build consumer-friendly hardware, establish a viable ecosystem, and make money at it?

      Ostensibly all the pieces, or at least their foundations, are there, but the question is can Microsoft successfully execute? The answer, at least recently, is that Microsoft has hardly been winning at execution lately (c.f. Kin, WP7). Can that change? We'll see.
  • Microsoft going to announce a Barnes & Noble tablet

    Microsoft going to announce a Barnes & Noble tablet


    This is a damaged brand and has absolutely ZERO respect and cache in 2012. They would be better off changing their name, as this is a company that has done NOTHING but steal the ideas of others and turn them into buggy, virus prone crap.