Why Microsoft Needs To Build Its Own Tablet

Let's assume, just for fun, that Microsoft really is going to announce its own tablet on Monday. There are only two questions should be asking ourselves: would it be a good idea? Or would it be the best idea?

The Tablet Case

All we know for sure is that Microsoft has an event on Monday, in Los Angeles, and that it's going to be major. But that doesn't mean we can't deduce; Microsoft's Windows Phonapalooza is that Wednesday, so any look at the next generation of live tiles will wait until then. Making this much ado about its Yammer acquisition would be a cry for help. And Windows 8 is already pretty much a done deal.

Process of elimination, then, doesn't leave us with many options. A new phone? Doesn't seem likely; Microsoft's still in a big comfy bed with Nokia. And while Lumia 900 sales haven't been what either company might have hoped, the product itself doesn't have the kind of glaring faults that might spur a break-up. A star-studded preview of Office 87? See: Yammer sadness.

So that leaves us with two options for Monday:

  • Steve Ballmer is going to fly around in a jetpack giving blogger-wedgies for an hour.
  • Microsoft is finally, more than two years after the iPad, going to introduce a tablet.

I'd rather see the first. But I'm pretty sure it's the second.

Home-Grown Hero

So a tablet, sure! It's about time. But remember, this isn't just any tablet that's being rumoured. It's a Microsoft tablet. Built from the ground up in Redmond. And why is that so important, again?

Because that might be the only way Microsoft can win.

If you were about to enter the tablet market, who would you rather emulate? Apple, with its cohesive ecosystem and Scrooge McDuckian money piles? Or Android, whose offerings are as muddled as a Pollock — and about as functional, too. Remember, too, that Microsoft's Windows Mobile wounds are still fresh. It trusted its hardware partners too much, and paid the price. It's shown with Windows Phone — in the form of strict hardware requirements — that it won't make that mistake again.

It's a no-brainer. When Google wants to build its platonic ideal of an Android tablet, it has to ask Asus very nicely and trust that it'll go well and that its other hardware partners won't be pissy about it. Apple, meanwhile, just goes ahead and builds itself an iPad. Microsoft's clearly got the resources, the determination, and the built-in user base to go it alone. And it's demonstrated that it has the most important thing of all: patience.

X Marks the Spot

Over a decade ago, Microsoft wasn't a gaming company. It wasn't a hardware company. But it saw that gaming was a profitable business, that people's living rooms were where the next generation of computing was taking place. So it built itself an Xbox.

At the time, Microsoft was facing two entrenched powerhouses: Sony and Nintendo. Both had rabid fan bases. Both had exclusive titles that propelled sales. But Microsoft was willing to sell each unit for a huge loss to build market share. It offered innovative online features that locked people into its ecosystem. Oh, and Halo.

The parallels aren't exact, but they're clear enough. Microsoft learned with Xbox that you can't just dip your toe into a new market, you have to make the biggest splash you can muster. And while that first console took a while to catch on — particularly overseas — today, every other console sold in the US is an Xbox.

Microsoft can afford to play the long game. The success of Xbox has been its model for Bing. It provided the framework for Windows Phone, although Nokia has been a problematic surrogate. And it will — or at least, it should — light the way for its tablet efforts as well.

The Big If

So look again at the tablet market. Two entrenched powerhouses, both with rabid fan bases and established ecosystems. All of Microsoft's PC friends are busy making Android tablets already, and the ones that aren't don't have the best track record lately.

Meanwhile, look at Microsoft: still willing to take huge short-term losses (see: Windows Phone) in hopes of long-term gains. Content deals long in place from its Zune misadventures. A huge investment in Nook that gives it an instant iBooks and Kindle competitor. An operating system that feels different and good and fun. Hundreds of millions of established Windows users around the world.

We don't know what Microsoft is announcing Monday. But if it's a tablet, and if that tablet is home made? That could be the smartest thing to come out of Redmond since its little black Xbox.


Comments

    People excited and speculating about a Microsoft announcement? WHAT IS THIS MADDNESS??

      LOL. It's becoming more that way with MS all the time lately. They are making some bold moves and it's fun to watch. I don't think anyone could doubt that the Metro interface of Win8 will be great on a tablet.

      Interesting times!

      It was once the norm to see big crowds outside Harvey Norman as sheeple eagerly awaited the midnight release of a new version of Windows.

    Your probably right about the tablet, but I'm curious, given that apple is on the brink of releasing the new iPhone, what makes you think they aren't having their phone os

      (oops hit submit by accident)
      Preview. It would make sense that they get some momentum before apple release iPhone. That way they get the iOS vs ICS vs wp8 comparisons rather than the dated wp7.

      Because we already know a fair bit about Apollo, and it seems likely that Microsoft would want to concentrate on the Windows8 tablet experience by showcasing it on new hardware. It could be about WinPhone8, but all signs points to the firt retail Win8 RT tablet as the the most exciting thing to unveil.

      If you bothered to read the article you would know why it is not going to be anything to do with WinPhone.

      Well the fact that on June 20 they are hosting their Windows Phone Summit, it is fairly easy to say that it won't be about Windows Phone.

    Doesn't matter what Microsfoft do I think Windows 8 will be successfully eventually. They have the largest strong hold in personal computing and the market has proven they people like portable consumption devices that are also capable of some productivity. If people use Windows at home or work then people will opt for Windows tablet. I think that most iPad users that have Windos machines will move to Windows 8. I think Android has the hardest road ahead as the only people that will continue to use Android are the same people that use Linux, unless google push Chrome OS or promotes Android as a complete desktop solution. Like wise I think people will eventually adopt Windows phone as it will be the logical choice. As a business or a heavy user it is difficult to really on google software and services alone.

      Man - this just isn't supported at all. Just look at Windows phone's market share.

        I don't think it is a valid comparison. No-one has an expectation of running Photoshop on their phone but most seem to believe a tablet should be a proper computer. When you also put X-Box into the picture, and the integration you'll get between all of them, I think Jake's conclusion is probably pretty close to the mark.

        They said the same thing about Xbox when it launched.

        Playstawhat?

      I think Windows 8 will be reasonably successful on desktop and laptop computers. But only because of OEM installations.

      With tablets, they're not only the underdog, they're also the underdog who's late to the party. Microsoft need to not only make a good tablet OS, they need great (not good) hardware, fantastic third party support, and a price point to undercut Apple.

      HP and RIM have tried to release their own tablets with their own OS's and pretty much failed. RIM should have succeeded if only from the corporate support. Instead they came out with a very so-so product and a stupid price point.

      Look at that tablets that are successful right now. iPad, Nook and Kindle Fire. The differences between the iPad and the Kindle/Nook are massive. It's in this space (7" cheap tablets) where android is having success, every time it goes up against Apple here it loses. They're simply not competing, they charge more for a worse product.

      Microsoft will be in a similar situation. I doubt they'll be releasing a 7" beefed up e-reader, It will likely be a 10" high res, high powered device. They MUST get the design as good as the iPad. They MUST get the software working as good as iOS. They MUST get the price LOWER than the iPad. If they fail on any one of those things people wont buy. Why would you? You can get a better iPad.

        "They MUST get the design as good as the iPad" - shouldn't be too hard.
        "They MUST get the software working as good as iOS" - hardly a hard one there, simple.
        "They MUST get the price LOWER than the iPad." - nope - ppl will pay more for a quality bit of kit - not toys.
        "If they fail on any one of those things people wont buy. Why would you? You can get a better iPad."
        Why, because it's not Apple, I doubt you could really compare an Ipad(toy like item) Vs a device with a 'real' & productive OS on it.

          I know I should be feeding a troll like you, but why on earth would you describe an iPad as a "toy"? It's a tablet computing device, it's functionality is just the same as you can find on an Android tablet or the upcoming Windows RT OS.

          Consumers will purchase the cheapest device that meets the requirements for their usage. In most cases, for tablet, these requirements are rather simple. Browse the web, play angry birds, look cool at the coffee shop. iPad has no problems here. Android tablets, we run into a problem with the looking cool factor, they're all pretty bland and plasticy right now, and they're no cheaper than the iPad. What's Microsoft going to do better here? It will still be the likes of Asus and Acer making these tablets, so design is out of their hands (which is why they need a flagship device of their own). Provided they can get it looking at special and desirable as an iPad, they really do need to compete on price. People won't pay more for these devices. How well are the top of the line Android tablet selling? They are arguably better spec'd than the iPad, yet are hardly making a dent in it's sales.

          What defines a "real" and "productive" OS? Office tools? Android and iOs have those. Email? That's there as well. Productivity will come from third party applications. There's an iOS and Android application that allows you to print documents from your device to various Xerox printers connected to a corporate network, will there be one for Windows RT as well? What incentives do developers have to develop on Windows RT? The market is non-existent right now, and Microsoft have published no strategy to take market share. It's a hard business case to pull off right now. So we'll have to wait and see. Which in itself will cause problems.

      microsoft are so stupid
      they have the biggest userbase and software base than anybody and dont leverage off it

      create tablet
      add w8
      create new w8 "app market place" to consolidate softwre (like download.com)
      market existing and "new" "apps" in new market place but package it like they are all cheap and intuitive little applications, even though they are pieces of software that have been around for ages)
      claim biggest market share to drive marketing hype: "Microsoft Courier 2 - 700 million users and 1 billion apps from day 1"
      ???
      PROFIT

    Looking at the documentation for javascript touch events that MS has developed I'd say it will probably be easier to create web apps that work seamlessly across touch-enabled and/or mouse enabled devices than with the touch events that Apple has developed. So it follows then that developers may actually prefer developing for a Windows tablet. If that's true then MS will rule unless the others adopt the same event models.

      I think what MS is hoping will entice developers is the massive market they already have. It is the opposite situation to WinPhone, where the market is tiny so no-one is interested. With Windows you have reach far greater than anything Apple or Google could dream of. It is a really interesting situation because not only do you have 500million potential customers, you don't have 600,000 other apps to compete with for attention. That is not something we have seen before and I think it will be very interesting to see how it goes.

    I'm not so sure about an MS tablet. They gave up on Zune last year and I think that will make them extremely cautious when it comes to setting themselves up to be lampooned as Apple wannabes in the future. But who knows, maybe they've revived Courier?

    id buy it... hopefully they have a 7 ich kindle fire competitor... because the rumours are that apple will be announcing something similar soon so they might want to beat apple to the punch... and thats all im interested in because the lenovo yoga should cover the rest for me at uni

    Be interesting how apple responds next year. Will they run a intel processor? How will it affect the price of the ipad? Processing speed Asus already blows the ipad out of the water.

    Has the tablet war begin yet??? I thought it did but perhaps not. Bring on 2013

    The DOJ's and the EU's anti-trust matter hanging over Microsoft's head for the past 10 years has done the damage it was manipulated and intended to do. Some would say it probably did more damage than it should have.

    In the same light Apple has done, is doing and will continue to do what Microsoft was not able to do with total impunity! All this and at margins that would make any banker blush!!Be it Hardware (iPhone, iPad, iPod iMac etc), Software (Safari, iTunes, Apps store etc) you cannot move a millimetre unless Apple allows you to. And then at a great cost and with minimal rights. I find it astounding that this exists - but then again the law, business, politics and perception is a potent mix.

    As far as Monday's announcement goes - I hope that Microsoft do announce their own Tablet (perhaps Nokia manufactured) because if they rely on their so called partners - Samsung, HTC, AsUS, Acer etc they will be hung out on the line to dry and will be on their knees begging for support - like they have been doing with Windows Phone 7. These guys will go for whomever gives them the cheapest deal and where they can make the biggest margin - who can blame them.

    Without Apple, Microsoft and Google - Samsung, HTC, ASUS & Acer would be nowhere. They are great ODMS but do not have the glue to put things together ie; the Software expertise. All have tried but to say that their attempts have been juvenile would be being kind to them.

    Microsoft has got to show leadership and courage and get on the front foot. And if their partners want to come along then great, if not Microsoft does not need to beholden to them.

    This would what i thought MS should have done all along with tablets.....i'll wet my pants if this comes true :)

    In a few years the Rabid Redmond fanboys will be posting endless photo-shopped mockups and impossible speculation based on the shape of a new sim-card reported to be for the coming Vista-Tab 5 while others bemoan the battery life of the Vista-Tab 4S while at the same time reminiscing about just how bad the blue-grip-of-death was on the Vista-Phone 4

      i take it that you didnt like vista. It was a lesson that MS needed to have and it made windows 7 so much better.

    Never heard anyone call the original Xbox 'little' before, heck even most people don't call it big in favour of extreme hyperbole adjectives.

      haha yeah my thought exactly

      "little black Xbox"??
      LOL there's a reason that "liek xbox hueg" was a meme ^_^

      lol that reminds me of the pennyarcade when xboxes first came out
      http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2002/03/25/

    Leak photos of a prototype have come to light.
    Here. http://forums.appleinsider.com/image/id/168161

      Lol, I'll get some for the kids :)

    They can call it "Next of Kin". You can have that one for free. Your welcome MS.

    I would very much like them to call it the Zune XL: Landfill Edition so that we can combine the failed Microsoft attempts to match Apple in one convenient punchline.

    So "Nokia" made the first real windows phone. Do you think Nokia is going to make the first real Windows Tablet?

    If they can truly create a Windows 8 "TOTAL USER EXPERIENCE".. whether it's a tablet or not.. I will buy it.

      That is exactly what you will get. Just as the experience is different with a Wacom tablet or trackpad, compared to a mouse, a touchscreen device requires different parameters. Overall though, you can use anything you like to control any part of Windows 8. But, just as it is easier to draw with a Wacom tablet/pen than with a mouse, it is easier to interact with the desktop with a mouse than it is with your fingers. It is about horses for courses - you can use your mouse in any situation - Metro or desktop - but your fat fingers have limitations, just as a mouse has limitations when it comes to drawing.

      Win8 is giving you more options and you are free to use whichever suit your needs - mouse, trackball, keyboard, trackpad, tit-thing, touchscreen or connected peripherals - all of them will work everywhere. But just as a keyboard is not always the most efficient way to jump from one menu item to another, or the way some users prefer a trackpad and other prefer a mouse, you will be free to choose to interact with your computer using whatever means you like. It is not restricting you to doing one thing one way and another thing another way, you can work however you want to create your own, PERSONALISED '"TOTAL USER EXPERIENCE"'. If you are a Mac user you are probably not used to being free to choose but that's how Microsoft rolls. They don't presume to know what's best for you, they empower you to decide for yourself.

    seen as most tablets revolve around the same basic hardware (arm processors, flash memory and alike) why doesnt someone just make a table, and then install your own OS like a PC?

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