CES: Why Windows Tablets Will Fail

Microsoft is expected to push Windows tablets at this year's CES, starting with Ballmer's keynote address tomorrow. I'm sorry Mr. Ballmer, but Windows tablets are doomed to fail.

CES 2011

The main theme at this year's CES is a tablet in every pot, with 80 tablets expected to get announced during the week-long show. Microsoft is expected to push Windows tablets starting with Steve Ballmer's keynote address tomorrow. I'm sorry Mr. Ballmer, but Windows tablets are doomed to fail, as they have since introduced in the early 2000s.

I have been using tablets since long before the cool kids did, and tablets running Windows at that. I carried a Tablet PC running Windows XP every day for years in my previous life as a consulting geophysicist. As useful as I found it to be, those tablets were relegated to a small niche market because not very many consumers needed the inking capability that set them apart from the touch tablets of today.

The current consumer craze was started by the iPad which proved that thin and light touch tablets have mass appeal which has OEMs scrambling to get on the tablet train before it leaves the station, if it hasn't already. Microsoft is planning to push the Windows touch tablet form to compete with the iPad and the flood of Android tablets that are expected to be announced at CES this week. The folks in Redmond may push tablets running Windows 7, or running an upcoming port of Windows to the ARM hardware architecture that is expected to get announced soon. Unfortunately, I don't think either platform has a chance to grab a piece of the mainstream consumer tablet pie.

Windows 7 comes closer to integrating touch operation into the system than any version of Windows to date, but it's just not enough. The OS at its core is designed for mouse/keyboard operation, both of which are missing on touch tablets. Windows 7 tries to handle touch operation but it is still hit and miss. Microsoft may be planning to address that in Windows 8, or even with a port to the ARM platform, but at a minimum that is years away from the market. It makes more sense to use Windows Phone 7 as a base for a touch system, but Microsoft has indicated it doesn't want to do that.

There's only one reason Microsoft would pass on WP7 for tablets, and that is to run legacy Windows programs on the slate. That's not really a good reason as most Windows programs don't work well on the tablet. That's the biggest problem with tablets running Windows 7 today -- as soon as you fire up a program all semblance of touch control flies out the window. Windows programs weren't written to be controlled by touch alone, and many of them are not usable on tablets. So what's the point?

No matter what path Microsoft takes to the tablet kingdom, an entirely new app ecosystem will be required to be of any use to consumers. A young app ecosystem is already growing for Windows Phone 7, it makes little sense to build yet another for tablets just so a Windows core can power the slate. Supporting multiple app systems is a daunting task even for the mighty Microsoft to undertake.

The iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab have been successful in the market because they are both powered by mobile OSes designed from the ground up for tablet operation. They also have large app ecosystems in place giving consumers what they want for the tablet -- apps. Windows has neither and is destined for failure in the tablet segment.