Next week sees the BUILD conference kick off, and it is expected that Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows division at Microsoft, will be showing off Windows 8 on a tablet. Many people are wondering if Microsoft's focus on tablets will pay off. I'm wondering if Microsoft's focus on tablets will work ... this time.
Why do I say 'this time'? Because Microsoft has been talking about tablets for some time now. A decade ago then Microsoft CEO Bill Gates was talking up tablets at Comdex 2001, a plan which fizzled out of existence. Then last year current Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was talking up tablets at CES 2010, even going as far as to demo a device ... which never shipped.
In other words, Microsoft has been looking at putting Windows onto tablets for a long time now. Do you own a tablet with Windows on it? Probably not. Not many people do. I've been in the market for a good Windows-powered tablet for over 10 years, and even I don't have one.
In the wake of the iPad and Apple selling some 30 million, and countless OEMs flooding the market with Android tablets, Microsoft now thinks that the time is right for yet another attempt at breaking into the tablet market. Will it work? I don't know, but to be honest I think that for Microsoft's sake it has to.
Here's the problem ... the desktop (and notebook/netbook) market is stagnant (no, it's not dead, nowhere near). Systems are having to last longer (and thanks to Moore's law outpacing the demand being placed on systems, that's to be expected), and there's less and less to draw people into a new operating system (unless you sell the upgrade really cheaply, as Apple has proved with Mac OS X 10.7 'Lion'). Microsoft might still be pulling in the big dollars in terms of profits, but it's reliance on the PC market isn't firing up the investors. Compare Microsoft:
As people turn to web-based services, the browser has become the operating system. Does it matter what operating system you're using when you're on Facebook or Twitter or Flickr or Google Docs or Office 365? It doesn't.
So with desktops, notebooks and netbooks all stagnant, Microsoft needs new places to put Windows on. The smartphone is one of those areas, the other is tablets. Windows Phone is out and slowly it's gaining ground in the face of still competition from the iPhone and Android handsets. Windows tablets will also release to very stiff competition, in particular from the iPad, which by the time any Windows tablets hit the scene will already have an install base measured in the tens of millions.
So what does success or failure hinge on? Many thin that it's down to one thing ... Microsoft making Windows simply work on a tablet. No. If that was the case Windows tablets would have taken off a decade ago. There's a lot more to tablet success or failure than that.
Windows being truly usable on (not sort of usable)
Microsoft making a compelling case for Windows on a tablet
OEMs building compelling products that people want
Getting Windows to run on tablets and then making Windows actually usable on those tab lets is only part of the story. Microsoft needs to show that it works, and works well. Then the OEMs need to get on board and make solid products at a decent price. And then stand behind those products.