Riding on the popularity of the Apple iPad, hardware makers are bringing more tablets into the market. While most of these slates will be powered by non-Windows operating systems (OS), analysts believe Microsoft's OS dominance will not be affected.
Hardware makers Acer, Asus, Dell, LG have all announced development of tablets running on Android. While HP is building its promised Windows 7 tablet, the company is also developing slates running on WebOS which it acquired with its Palm acquisition.
Despite the forecasted flood of non-Windows tablets, Lillian Tay, principal analyst of IT Hardware Markets at Gartner, believes Microsoft's foothold in the operating system market will not waver. According to Tay, these tablets will be secondary companion devices for media consumption, while personal computers--where Microsoft has a dominant market share--will remain the primary content creation workstations.
This is especially true in the enterprise sector where users will still prefer to use their PCs for office productivity tools, she said. However, tablets can be useful for salespersons on-the-move who need to consume information only from their device, she noted.
In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, London-based Tony Cripps, principal analyst at Ovum, pointed out that there are no evidence the tablet market is eroding demand for desktop PCs, laptops or smartphones. He proposed that rather than replacing anything, tablets can actually grow the entire market for portable devices.
Currently, the tablet market poses no threat to Microsoft's Windows operating system market share. However, the scene may change in five to 10 years' time when the cloud becomes "less cloudy", said Gartner's Tay.
She explained that the move from PC to tablet can happen when the network infrastructure is "always on and always good" and the cloud is mature enough to host the applications and data required by users.
Microsoft strongly positioned with tablet software
Although news headlines have been reporting on tablets populated by non-Windows OS, Cripps pointed out that Microsoft's first tablet operating system, Windows XP Tablet PC edition, was released in 2002, and the company has recognized demand for tablets.
"The difference now is that it is increasingly able to offer its tablet software on lower-cost hardware," he said. "Microsoft is in the strong position of being able to offer tablet software derived either from its PC OS (Windows 7) or its embedded systems and smartphone group (Windows CE or Windows Phone 7), and to offer these accordingly to different market sectors and needs."
Apple's iPad success has triggered alarm bells at Redmond, with CEO Steve Ballmer even stepping out to reassure that the company is working on its own tablets to combat the iPad.
A previous IDC report predicted that media tablet shipment in Asia-Pacific will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 65 percent from 2009 to 2014, to reach 9.6 million units.