What Microsoft isn't saying about its iPad compete strategy

What Microsoft isn't saying about its iPad compete strategy

Summary: Some believe Microsoft is being coy about its slate plans. Others simply think the company is being clueless. I think the Redmondians are planting decoys, hoping they'll provide cover for missteps.

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Some believe Microsoft is being coy about its slate plans. Others simply think the company is being clueless. I think the Redmondians are planting decoys, hoping they'll provide cover for missteps.

Here's my latest theory as to what's going on, regarding Microsoft and its solution for slates (or lack thereof). Over the past couple of months, Microsoft execs have gone from saying Apple's iPad is nothing but a crippled PC, to claiming that Microsoft and its partners have myriad iPad competitors ready to launch any day now. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said there'd be Windows 7 slates out in time for holiday 2010. And at the recent Computex conference, Microsoft execs crowed about the many Windows slates due to launch this fall.

If any of these slates were actually true iPad competitors, Microsoft would be only somewhat late to the slate party. This isn't the case (making me happier by the day that I decided to buy an iPad to use as my on-the-go mobile device, rather than waiting for my longed-for "WinPad.")

The "Windows slates" Microsoft showed at Computex aren't running Windows 7; they're running Windows Embedded Compact. That means they aren't going to be able to run Windows 7 apps and won't sport the Windows 7 user interface. Instead, each of these Embedded Compact slates will feature its own custom interface.

Meanwhile, the Windows 7 slates coming in time for this holiday season are going to be business-focused products. (HP execs admitted this recently, noting their coming Slate 500 device will be for business users. If there are other Windows 7 slates ready to launch this fall, I'd expect they also will be business-focused devices. These models will be PCs without lids; tablets without the stylus. They won't have the long battery life, touch-centric user interfaces or built-in app store capabilities that have made the iPad a success.

Microsoft's real iPad competitors aren't going to debut until 2011 -- I'd guess mid-2011 at best. Ballmer didn't state this plainly at last week's Microsoft Finanacial Analyst Meeting, but he dropped some hefty hints. Ballmer touted Intel's Oak Trail processors as being key to Microsoft's iPad alaternatives. The problem is Oak Trail chips aren't going to be ready until "early 2011." Once PC makers get them in hand, it will take them at a couple of quarters to build and test slates that use them.

I'm curious as to whether Microsoft will continue to try to steer its partners to use Windows 7 as the operating system powering these slates. My guess, as I told TechFlash's Todd Bishop last week, is Microsoft may relent and allow slate makers to use the touch-centric Windows Phone OS 7 on these devices. (Microsoft could still claim that these slates were running "Windows," since it is making sure to brand all of its operating systems as "Windows.")

Bottom line: "WinPads" are still about a year away, I'm predicting. Expect Microsoft execs to downplay the coming Windows Embedded Compact slates and start acknowledging that this year's Windows 7 slates are business-centric devices. Instead of risking another Kin debaucle (launching then pulling a misguided product at great cost), Microsoft is rethinking its answer to the iPad. Better late than lame....

Topics: Microsoft, CXO, iPad, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Ugh. How hard could it be?

    Just throw WP7 onto a tablet. Boom. Done. It has a following of people, apps, and a <i>very</i> attractive UI that could be tweaked for a bigger screen. (Here is a great example: <A HREF="http://www.neowin.net/news/ui-centric-hits-a-homerun-with-potential-windows-7-tablet-interface"> Metro UI</A>. <S>If Microsoft <i>really</i> needs an iPad competitor (I don't think they do. I think tablet PC's work just fine.), there you go.</S><br>I lied. They do. Apple needs a competitor to get its sad looking iPad into the game. There is no reason why it has to be missing basic hardware even the most tiniest of laptops have. And give it support for the Mac platform to really get under their skin. <br><br>But, in typical Ballmer fashion, they're beating around the bush. I really wish someone would rip him out of there and replace him with someone who has a clue. Sorry for being so succinct.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • Not that simple

      @NStalnecker <br><br>MS won't be able to complete on battery performance on Win7 due to the fact that it only runs on x86/x64 hardware. And x86/x64 hardware will never be able to compete with ARM processors on battery performance.

      Edit: Oops... misread your statement. You meant Windows Phone 7.
      Michael Kelly
      • x86/x64

        @Michael Kelly

        Maybe not, but there are things OEMs could do to make up for the hardware. Using OLED screens instead of backlit LCD, and SSDs in place of traditional hardrives, for example, will save on battery power.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Not really

        @NStalnecker

        "there are things OEMs could do to make up for the hardware. Using OLED screens instead of backlit LCD, and SSDs in place of traditional hardrives, for example, will save on battery power. "

        So you are saying that the ARM based tablet producers will not use those same technologies? The fact is that x86/x64 will remain at a disadvantage.
        Economister
      • Wrong and wrong

        There have been reports of Windows running on ARM internally inside MS for about 3 years. And it makes sense since it would be VERY EASY to make it do so. Windows (NT) was built with a very small thin hw abstraction layer (HAL) which has been ported so far to DEC Alpha, MIPS, PPC, Itanium, and of corse reportedly ARM.<br><br>And of course all .NET windows apps will also work on ARM without even needing to be recompiled.<br><br>The advantage MS gets from oak trail is on par power consumption with ARM without losing support for native x86 apps. (cough office)
        Johnny Vegas
      • "There have been reports"

        @Johnny Vegas

        You are saying I am wrong based on "There have been reports"?

        To say someone is "wrong" you need facts, not vaporware and speculation.

        Your wishing something does not make it a fact.
        Economister
      • RE: What Microsoft isn't saying about its iPad compete strategy

        @Michael Kelly, I disagree. With Medfield, Intel has released an x86 architecture with the power consumption of ARM. I've I were MS I'd be working closely with Intel on getting Win7/Win8 on this processor.
        DevStar
      • Not so fast

        @DevStar

        "has released"? Not to my knowledge. Have you seen any test of production silicon to verify Intel's claims? I have not.

        You cannot compare vapor chips to existing silicon. For one, Intel is chasing a moving target. By the time the chip is released, ARM chips will be better.

        Secondly, Intel will present the most favorable and optimistic numbers. The real world performance may be very different.

        Sit back and relax. Competition is good. May Intel one day be competitive in the smart phone/tablet market? Probably. Will it happen with Medfield? Probably not.
        Economister
      • RE: What Microsoft isn't saying about its iPad compete strategy

        @Michael Kelly I have a HP Touchsmart tm2 with a mobile Core 2 Duo that runs on Windows 7 x64, 4g of ram and I am getting around 7-8 hours on my battery.
        bvonr@...
      • RE: What Microsoft isn't saying about its iPad compete strategy

        @Michael Kelly
        I only need about 4 hours, the iPad is way to limited to be useful to me.
        marks055@...
    • RE: What Microsoft isn't saying about its iPad compete strategy

      @NStalnecker agree completely, WP7 is the obvious choice. Win7 is just too heavyweight. That said, Microsoft do need to differentiate themselves, perhaps by making a slate that is a desktop replacement.
      calumg
      • I could use something like that

        Have a docking station that'll allow me to grab the screen and head to class, and when I return, sync the tablet with the storage space on the dock.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • RE: What Microsoft isn't saying about its iPad compete strategy

        @NStalnecker

        Like most good ideas, that's a heck of a lot easier said than done. Which data gets synced, and which stays at the dock? That answer is going to be different for different people with different needs.

        Personally I think the answer, if we are going to have a master/slave situation, rather than sync locally is to be able to sync via internet. And to do that we not only need great up and down speeds but an easy yet secure way to get past the NAT where the master machine resides. Again, easier said than done.
        Michael Kelly
      • RE: What Microsoft isn't saying about its iPad compete strategy

        @Michael Kelly

        How about just synching the complete user profiles, sort of the way roaming profiles work in enterprise? Maybe put in some simple settings for basics like choosing which profiles sync and which don't. All they'd have to do is make some minor adjustments to the existing Offline Files feature.

        I agree to some extent about WP7, but I'd like to see a stripped down version of Windows that leaves out features one wouldn't use on this type of device anyway. I still want the biggies - homegroup, file and print over the network, and the ability to view all content including recorded tv from the Windows Home Server.
        1DaveN
      • RE: What Microsoft isn't saying about its iPad compete strategy

        @DaveN_MVP: "I'd like to see a stripped down version of Windows that leaves out features one wouldn't use on this type of device anyway. I still want the biggies - homegroup, file and print over the network, and the ability to view all content including recorded tv from the Windows Home Server."

        You can do all of these things on a phone OS easily: for instance try Air Video on the iPad -- it plays back HDTV recordings from your HTPC/Mac beautifully. The only thing running Windows 7 on a tablet gives you is a barely functional touch interface and abysmal battery life.

        Each day Microsoft wastes on on trying to shoehorn Win7 instead of WP7 onto a tablet, more Champagne corks pop over at Google & Apples HQs.
        Ted T.
    • RE: What Microsoft isn't saying about its iPad compete strategy

      @NStalnecker Oh wait, throw WP7 on a tablet? Isn't this the same as throwing iOS 3.2 on a tablet with the iPad? So then it will be okay for us to bash Microsoft like everyone bashed Apple for producing the iPad with the iPhone OS?

      Hypocrite.
      cyberslammer
      • Re-read my post.

        Instead of running your mouth like usual, please re-read my post. Especially the part where I say Microsoft doesn't "need" an iPad competitor, tablet PC's work just fine. The iPad is nothing but an oversized iPod, with nothing new to justify buying one. But if they do want one, there is no reason not to go with WP7.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • RE: What Microsoft isn't saying about its iPad compete strategy

        @NStalnecker Yeah, those tablet PCs have been selling great haven't they. Does Microsoft "need" an iPad competitor, no but they sure do want one. And who wouldn't with the sales figures that the iPad has achieved? Apparently it's not the right device for you but your small minded view of the iPad obviously doesn't apply to everyone or it would have been the absolute failure that all the haters predicted. I really hope MS and/or Android can get something released soon that even comes close because it will keep Apple on it's toes so the next version will get better.
        non-biased
    • The hard part is Balmer understanding that Windows 7 on a tablet is a BAD

      idea. There are a lot of smart people at MS that could make a great tablet OS based on WP7, but, Balmer won't let it happen. The Windows compact tablets will really muddy the waters and all have different interfaces, playing right into Apples hand.

      They need to replace Balmer. Period.
      DonnieBoy
      • Not quite so

        Windows does just fine, IMO. But Ballmer just doesn't have a vision anymore. He's literally running around over there trying to do alot, but very little actually comes forth.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion