'We view a tablet as a PC': Microsoft chooses to repeat history

It is beginning to look like Microsoft is about to repeat the Tablet PC history with Windows 8, and that is not a good thing.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

Microsoft is trying to excite the tech crowd with Windows 8, the next version of the platform that the company is pushing for computers of all types, including tablets to compete with Apple's iPad. The folks from Redmond have been showing early prototypes of Windows 8 that look a lot like the Windows Phone 7 interface, with live tiles sliding around the screen. It is obvious the attempt is to keep the Windows platform as the dominant line for Microsoft, while the rest of the mobile world has realized that full-blown computers are not what tablet customers want. It is beginning to look like Microsoft is about to repeat the Tablet PC history, and that is not a good thing.

"We view a tablet as a PC".

This statement given yesterday by Windows Phone president Andy Lees at the Worldwide Partners Conference as reported by Electronista was directed at putting to bed any ideas that outsiders have for a tablet OS based on Windows Phone.

According to Microsoft's transcript of Lees' talk the PC theme remained, but had a few caveats (emphasis mine).

One of the key important things here, though, is the change that's yet to happen, but it's about to happen, and that is the bringing together of these devices into a unified ecosystem, because at the core of the device itself it's possible to be common across phones, PCs, and TVs, and even other things, because the price drops dramatically. Then it will be a single ecosystem. We won't have an ecosystem for PCs, and an ecosystem for phones, one for tablets. They'll all come together. And just look at the opportunity here.

In 2010, if you count all of these things, there's just under 700 million units sold in that year. And yet if you look at the predictions from IDC and add them up, that will increase to over a billion units that are sold in 2012. And notice how it's additive; it's not that this is about replacing the PC. And that's why our strategy is that these new form factors are within a single ecosystem and not new ecosystems themselves. Windows has always spanned different PC form factors. And with Windows 8 we're going to take this to a whole new level including tablets.

Now, a lot of people have asked me, are we going to produce a phone that is a tablet? You know, are we going to use Windows Phone 7 to produce tablets? Well, that is in conflict with this strategy. We view a tablet as a sort of PC. We want people to be able to do the sorts of things that they expect on a PC on a tablet, things like networking to be able to connect to networks, and utilize networking tools, to get USB drives and plot them into the tablet. To be able to do things like printing, all of the things using Office, using all of the things you would expect from a PC and provide a hybrid about how you can do that with the tablet, as well.

The comments shined a light on Microsoft's view of the tablet market that is not accurate. It keeps alive the mistaken view that drove Microsoft's Tablet PCs, that full-blown computers are what consumers want in a tablet. That didn't work with the original Tablet PC, and that is not going to work for today's consumer tablets. It's looking like Microsoft is determined to repeat history, and a failed one at that.

Apple set the consumer space on its ear with the release of the iPad, the first tablet that breached the mainstream market in numbers. The iPad defined an entire market that has companies scrambling to penetrate, and none have done so successfully to date. What caught consumer's eyes in the iPad was the fact that it wasn't a full PC with all of the complexities those bring. No, the iPad was a pure mobile OS that focused on bringing a touch tablet experience that was simple yet full-featured enough to let users do the things that matter. Getting on the web, playing games and consuming media were the focus of the iPad with iOS, and consumers bought into the system by the millions.

The original Tablet PC designed by Microsoft is a full PC that nobody bought in significant numbers, and it has been around for a decade. The iPad sold more tablets in the first nine months than all of the Tablet PCs bought combined over a decade. That is a significant indicator of what consumers want, a simple mobile tablet and not a full-blown PC.

Microsoft seems to be pushing the 'tablet as a PC' philosophy in a desperate attempt to keep the Windows line driving everything it does outside the smartphone space. The choice to repeat history will likely have the same results as the first time; nice products that nobody buys because they are too complex to operate, maintain and develop apps for. Consumers don't want tablets that are PCs, they want them to just work.

Editorial standards