Prediction: Microsoft will dominate the tablet market
Allow me to make an easy prediction: Windows will dominate the tablet market.
To some people this will sound like a bold prediction. We've been exposed to an unprecedented flow of hype about one particular product in this marketplace: the iPad. I decided to write this post as a reaction to the latest slew of blog posts about iPad and Microsoft's corresponding strategy. So, I ask you to step back from the hype for a few moments to get some perspective, while we take a calm, rational look at the current state of play.
Apple practically conceived the tablet market single-handedly when they launched the iPad, creating genuine consumer demand in key marketplaces around the world through one of the most aggressive marketing campaigns ever witnessed by mankind, and that campaign is still ongoing -- it's almost impossible to miss.
Why will Microsoft dominate the tablet market? The answer is as simple as it is obvious. Windows will continue to dominate, for the same reasons it has always dominated the PC and laptop market and continues to do so, by a wide margin.
For starters, in truth, Windows is a good product. Almost every PC and laptop in almost every business and home on the planet is powered by Windows, and Windows 7 has been the fastest-selling OS of all time. There are good reasons for the success of Windows. Those who would disagree with this presumably must consider themselves more intelligent than the majority of companies and other individual users. In my opinion, the user is not stupid; far from it. To deny the inevitable outcome of the extraordinary momentum behind Windows is, literally, to be in denial
This year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2011) was a landmark event for the tablet market. The opening keynote presentation was delivered by Microsoft's chief exec, and in it he showed-off some genuinely impressive hardware from a variety of manufacturers -- most notably a new generation of tablets running Windows 7. I watched the live video stream online, and knew there and then that my first tablet device would be the Asus Eee Slate, a full-power Windows 7 PC in tablet form, which is available to buy right now at a reasonable price. On my tablet device I need to run real, serious software like Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Adobe CS3, Photoshop, real PC games, a real web browser like IE9 or Firefox, etc -- maybe even all at once if I want to! I won't be able to download the "Tilting Beer Glass" iPad app, but that's honestly not a problem. I often hear of friends and folks online who purchased an iPad but soon abandoned it. Despite what they say on the TV ads, iPad is little more than a kid's toy, a gimmick. Apple pioneered the tablet market and must have invested millions in marketing to pave the road, but there's no victory in showing-up early when you've brought a knife to a gun-fight. [Incidentally, Apple didn't even show up to CES -- they simply weren't there. I did see a headline claiming that Apple drew attention away from CES with some PR stunt or other, but I never heard what that stunt was so evidently the headline in question was overstating the case somewhat.]
As one tech blogger acknowledged recently, "it's fair to say that Apple did not design the iPad for the world of enterprise". Well, that's an understatement, and it's one example among many blog posts interpreting certain Microsoft activities as being a strategy to "fight against iPad in the enterprise". I hope these bloggers will forgive me for challenging this popular view. Let's not pretend that iPad is even in the enterprise! We could debate the semantics of this and compare random statistics reported by Apple. But it's useful to consider iPad's position in the enterprise with reference to that of Microsoft's products, which are wide in range, integrated, and most importantly ubiquitously distributed throughout the world and present in abundance in most homes and workplaces. Microsoft products, including Windows, certainly are there in the enterprise, big time, where they are well-established and extremely successful. And Microsoft's reach is by no means limited to the enterprise. Meanwhile, buried within the tsunami of hype emanating from iPad, are sober individual commentators/commenters who quietly question iPad myths, point out that claims about iPad's market share are a myth in real workplaces, and express real-life concerns about iPad security.
Let me make another obvious prediction. The iPad can never replace people's laptops and PCs, or even make much of an impact in these markets, because it simply does not even begin to have the same capabilities -- not even close.
Over the next few months and years, as people upgrade or replace their existing laptops at the usual rate, or buy their next new gadget, a proportion of these consumers will try a tablet. And generally these people won't choose to waste their money on downgrading to a much less useful product. Don't underestimate the common-sense and of the masses. The migration of some users from Windows laptops to Windows tablets is a natural evolutionary step.
So Microsoft has already won the tablet war, and they have barely even started. There's already talk of phones running real full operating systems. As Intel recently reported, mobile phones running Windows 8 are already possible (yes, a full, true OS on a phone!) using their new generation of microchip technology, sparking rumours that full-power PC phones are already in the pipeline...
The tablet market may never have a big impact on hardware trends in consumer and enterprise computing overall (seeing beyond the disproportionately prolific hysteria generated by Apple's PR hype). But whatever happens, it's clear that computer software in the foreseeable future will be dominated by Microsoft just as it is now.
26 January 2011