Microsoft said it's got high hopes for Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets in Sweden – but the early signs aren't good.
The country is something of an early adopter when it comes to technology. One reason that 90 percent of Swedes have a PC today was its 'home PC reform' programme, which began in 1989 and was designed to improve computer literacy by pushing powerful and expensive PCs from the workplace into people's homes. Employees got a tax break for leasing PCs from their employers, which back then were more likely than not to be Windows PCs.
"That was many, many PCs sold to people that were employed," Thomas Floberg, Microsoft Sweden's business group lead for Windows, told ZDNet at the recent Nordic Windows 8 launch in Stockholm.
"That created a boom for PCs and that is part of the reason there is such a high PC penetration. It's not unique to Sweden but we were fairly early in that respect."
The programme was canned in 2006 because the government no longer considered cost to be an obstacle to owning a decent PC. Clearly not: the smartphones of today are not short of computing power, while low-cost tablets are rife – and Swedes are enthusiastic adopters of both, with 51 percent of the country using a smartphone and 11 percent using a tablet.
"I have high expectations when you look at Windows 8 tablets" — Thomas Floberg, Microsoft Sweden's business group lead for Windows
Sweden's high rate of PC adoption has historically benefited Microsoft and gives the company's local executives hope that, along with the country's tablet take-up, Swedes will take to Windows 8 and its ARM-friendly offshoot, Windows RT.
"Something that is unique with the Sweden and the Nordics is that there is very high penetration of PCs and high adoption of tablets," Floberg said. "People have really bought a lot of PCs in the past and now they're moving to the tablet form factor and I have high expectations when you look at Windows 8 tablets." It's a similar picture for Windows RT tablets: "We have high expectations as well because [the Swedes] have been adopting other tablets," Floberg said.
Adopt other tablets they have: iPads have already taken 35-percent market share of the mobile device market, according to figures from Net Applications, while iPhones account for 42 percent, and the bulk of the remaining 20 percent are Android devices. Microsoft has practically nothing.
Apple is even eating into Microsoft's share of the desktop market in Sweden. Apple's OS X has just a seven-percent share of the desktop worldwide, but in Sweden, OS X (10.6 Snow Leopard to 10.8 Mountain Lion) runs 17 percent of the nation's desktops - well ahead of Vista, a smidgeon ahead of XP, but behind Windows 7's 53 percent.
For all its Microsoft legacy and tablet enthusiasm, Sweden will be no slouch to win over to Windows 8 and RT – and Microsoft doesn't appear to be putting huge effort into doing that.
Where's the hardware?
While Microsoft has launched its Windows 8 Metro-focused TV advertising campaign in Sweden, there's no hint of a release date yet for Surface RT or Pro in the country.
Microsoft has already released the Surface RT in some European countries, including Germany and the UK. While it makes sense for Microsoft to target its firepower at some of Europe's bigger markets, both Sweden's tablet uptake per capita is the same as the UK's and more than twice that of Germany - which has the lowest rate of tablet adoption in Europe.
It's down to other hardware makers to carry the RT standard in Sweden: Dell's Windows RT XPS 12 hybrid is available online, but in Swedish stores there's not much choice and the RT options are retail outlets are slim.
According to staff at one large retailer in Uppsala near Stockholm I spoke with over the weekend, there's been no interest in Asus's attractive 64GB Vivo Tab. To its disadvantage, the Vivo sits on a table surrounded by a dozen Android tablets, separated from Apple's island of iPads. Making things worse, the Vivo is priced above Apple's 64GB Wi-Fi-only iPad with Retina display.
Of course, this is just anecdotal evidence, and the current lack of Windows RT options makes it premature to say whether Microsoft's "high expectations" for Windows 8 and RT in Sweden are over-inflated, but it's hard to believe under these conditions that high rates of PC and tablet adoption will benefit Microsoft today.
Microsoft may well be making a credible stab at keeping up with the move to touch-centric computing with Windows 8, RT and Surface, but without actually delivering it to those parts of the world where its share is most under threat, it would seem Microsoft is willing to cede yet more of the desktop and tablet market to the likes of Apple.