CES 2011: Microsoft Windows 7 and the Tablet Challenge
CES 2011 officially kicked off the evening of Jan. 5 with Microsoft’s keynote address. President and CEO Steve Ballmer gave a jovial summary of Microsoft’s dominion while being flanked by a plethora of Microsoft evangelists showing off new technology, new games and new devices. Multi-touch and tablets were a focus later on in the presentation, with excited presenters all around. Some snazzy devices were shown off, too (HP and ASUS); but it begs the question: Can form factor win over when the operating system really doesn’t offer something new for personal computing?
No surprise here: A Windows 7 tablet is pretty much Windows 7 with some handwriting features layered on top. There’s no iOS-style of swiping through applications. There’s no Android/Google integration. It’s raw, it’s Windows — DLL files, antivirus and all. All the ‘tablet’ Windows 7 devices shown off by Microsoft in its keynote were hybrids, in the sense that they were not solely tablets without a keyboard. One laptop had a screen that would slide over the keyboard (akin to a giant smartphone) to go into “tablet mode,” (a.k.a., touching the screen) while another device by ASUS (that looks suspiciously like an iPad) was shown off with a wireless keyboard under it. The presenter dubbed it a “mobile workstation.”
I think we have a name for that: it’s called a laptop.
I hear you back there. You’re saying “So what? Windows 7 tablets have appeal because they’re running Windows 7.”
And you’d be right. You’d be dead right. That’s exactly what it’s about. It’s about running the same apps, and having that entire base of PC software available to you right away. But that market isn’t where the consumer demand is.
The Real Opportunity
As Apple and Google have shown, the ‘tablet’ approach should be something different than creating a ‘touch’ version of a standard operating system. When you do that, you end up dragging all the problems that existed with the desktop version of the operating system into the ‘tablet’ realm, and then add a layer of usability issues on top of that. Microsoft should really be providing something that increases functionality and productivity, not shoehorning old tech into a different form-factor.
Simply put: the consumer buzz is about tablets, but not Windows 7 tablets. Take a look at Google’s video for Android 3.0 Honeycomb. This is what consumers want from a tablet. This is what drives demand and increases productivity and usability:
The Blackberry Playbook shares these GUI features, and of course, iPad apps take advantage of larger screen real estate, too. But Microsoft has tried to shrink the Windows 7 experience onto a tablet, even though all the other successful devices have shown that users don’t really want standard OS + touch.
Google’s Got Momentum
CES 2011 is all about Android tablets. Lenovo was smart and took the hybrid approach with Android running on its LePad. Motorola is launching the Motorola Xoom, which will showcase Honeycomb. Those are just two out of (likely) hundreds. And these tablets will sell because they’re intuitive, because they don’t have a ‘start menu’ and because Internet Explorer isn’t the default browser. The level of interaction inside these devices has been design with fingers and hands in mind, not styluses and keyboards.
If Microsoft is smart, it will abandon this iteration of Windows 7 tablets, figure out how to make the Windows Phone 7 platform better, and get that platform running on tablets instead. There will always be a market for business or enterprise users who need Windows 7 and could appreciate the ‘tablet’ approach, but Microsoft’s tablet offering is very much not ‘consumer’ driven.