How Did Windows Miss On The Tablet Market?

Seems like Apple and Google (via Android) are doing fine. So what happened to Windows? Or will we be seeing them soon?

We will be seeing Windows 8 tablets very soon. But they will be too expensive IMHO and fail.

There have been various flavors of Windows tablets for more than a decade, but they never really caught on. For one, they were clunky, pretty much laptop hardware with a touch screen. Most recent tablet PCs are actually normal laptops with a reversible touch screen, so they can be used as either a tablet or a normal laptop. Compared to an iPad, the tablet PCs are humungous, heavy, and expensive.

Then, the interface frankly sucked. Windows works pretty well with a keyboard and a mouse, but the touch screen adaptations were pretty awkwardly kludged on top.

Basically they were very niche devices.

I worked in healthcare from about 2002-2007 and they were HUGE there. Doctors, nurses, physical therapists, all loved their tablets. Especially the physical therapists for some reason. And that was when they were on XP, which, let’s face it, had a crummy pen interface. (The pen interface for Vista and Windows 7 is much, much improved.)

So my answer is, “they didn’t miss.” It was (and still is) a successful product in a large market. It just never caught-on with consumers.

One of the promises of Windows 8 is that it will run on ARM hardware as well as Intel. This time next year you’ll see plenty of Windows 8 tablets akin to the iPad/Android ones you mentioned.

I’m optimistic about this, and I think Windows 8 tablets will succeed for two big reasons (aside from the obvious impact of Windows 7 momentum carrying over from the desktop): By waiting a couple of years to enter the tablet game, MS is letting the other players identify what people really want and shake out the early implementation missteps (e.g. trackballs on early Android devices, no cameras on the original iPad, etc.). Also, supporting ARM and Intel with the same OS could be a game changer. There’s a lot of Windows .NET software already on the market that can be easily ported to ARM with minimal effort. This will allow you to run essentially the same apps on your ARM tablet and your Intel desktop machine. (If this encourages adoption of Windows 8, expect to see Apple do something similar to bring iOS and OSX closer together too.)

MS gave all the developers at last year’s BUILD conference a Samsung tablet running the developer preview of Windows 8 on an Intel Core i5 CPU. I was really impressed with what I read about that one and was hoping it would hit the market soon, but I guess we’ll have to wait until the official Windows 8 release (by which time there will be far better ARM options available I’m sure).

Clearly, touch-based user interfaces require larger “targets”, buttons and so forth, than mouse-oriented interfaces, even if the screen size and resolution is the same. This becomes immediately apparent if you try to operate Windows or other desktop OSes using a touch screen. Many of the on-screen clickable things are too small to hit with consistent accuracy, and even if you do hit them your finger obscures the target and you miss out on visual feedback, such as seeing a button depress.

Now, it would be technically possible to design a user interface in which every single UI element could be scaled up or down to appropriate sizes depending on whether you were using a mouse or your finger, or a stylus, but in practice no OS has really achieved that. There are always lots of UI elements, and lots of applications, that assume you are using the default input device and are fixed in size.

Lenovo / IBM has been selling these since the early 2000’s. Don’t know much about them, we almost got one but decided against.

Microsoft didn’t have a product that could really compete with iOS or Android - their mobile offering (Windows CE/Mobile) just isn’t very good - unstable, clunky, and until recently, incapable of handling anything other than resisitive touchscreens (which are horrible enough on a smartphone - and nearly impossible on anything bigger).

At the other end of the scale, they had the Windows NT/XP family - and so the Microsoft tablets we have seen are essentially modified laptops.

When I thought a tablet would be neat - maybe about 5 or 10 years ago - they were always clunky expensive tihngs, as others have said - a laptop with a hideable keyboard and a touchscreen. The iPad by comparison is a simple appliance designed to do simple jobs. While it can be made to do MS-Office type jobs, in general it runs web, mail, and canned apps. For that, it is a cheap and marvellous tool.

I think WIn8 pads will be a dismal failure because Microsoft has never managed to keep its code size to manageable proportions, and such a talet will be overloaded with extra code and features that users of an iPad appliance don’t want. What uses likely want is an iPad appliance freed from the anal constrictions of Apple’s control. Why can’t I browse a network share? Why can’t I download any application from anywhere? Why can’t I hook my VGA/HDMI screen or USB stick to this device? and so on… I suspect this is the experience Android will provide.

Nobody needs the baggage of IE8/9/whatever, nobody needs megabytes of .NET overload, nobody needs to add extra crap galore - Flash, PDF reader, Java, Quicktime, codecs, maybe Firefox, Windows updates and service packs by the wazoo-load, etc. just to do basic system tasks; to the point where every tablet environment is sufficiently different that making something run becomes an exercise in frustration.

Apple can sell apps because they pretty much run everywhere, every time…

There may actually be a demand for all three of those things - the iPad is a fantastic commodity device with a great user experience, but it’s a little inflexible on how you can use it (but not everyone is inconvenienced by this)

Android devices provide some of that flexibility, but at the cost of being a bit more wild, unpredictable and fiddly (but well within tolerance for many)

Windows tablets might win in cases where people want to be able to run the Windows-only business applications on something that’s a bit smaller and lighter than a laptop

Dunno - maybe there’s room and demand in the market to support all 3 - or maybe not.

I heard a theory that companies like Apple and Amazon are able to make money selling tablet systems at a lower price because they own the store from which the users buy applications and content. But traditional hardware companies like Dell and HP are just going to be selling the tablet systems and will therefore have to price them higher. But things may change with Windows 8; users may find it valuable for their smartphone, tablet and notebook computer to all be running the same OS. And perhaps business customers will be willing the pay the surplus for a Windows tablet.

BTW, when is Windows 8 supposed to be released?

Windows has pretty good tablet support, starting with Windows XP Tablet Edition and much improved in Windows-7. Microsoft also has OneNote, widely regarded as a must-have application for tablet PCs.

But other than OneNote, there just aren’t very many applications that work well on a tablet. Even MS Word is awkward to use on a tablet. I think it’s a classic chicken-and-egg problem: not enough tablets out there to justify custom software, and lack of software contributing to low sales of tablet PCs. However, there is every indication that Microsoft is now taking the tablet market seriously with Windows-8, so things will probably change.

I think part of the success that Apple and Google/Android have enjoyed in the tablet market is that they both took something that worked well on small cell phones and made it larger, rather than trying to take something that was usable on large desktop displays and squash it down into portable devices.

And of course, you can’t ignore Apple’s complete control and integration of the portable/mobile OS and the hardware.

I’d argue that Android tablets aren’t exactly succesful. I don’t have numbers behind me, but the general idea I seem to see is that none of the individual models are selling very well except the Amazon and B&N entries, both of which are very, very different from Google’s vision of an Android tablet.

There’s lots of companies making them, but I don’t think there’s a lot of big success stories. I would wager most of the companies offering Android tablets have lost money on 'em. The ecosystem is horribly fragmented, and the devices are very hit or miss quality-wise.

Android 4.0 is going to improve a lot of things, but devices are just starting to trickle out.

Windows tablets have a shot, but MS had better get it right. Having a standardized, mandated interface is going to be a big boon. MS is going to be able to take a better shot at iPad quality than Android has so far, but it’s going to take a combination of really good software (which I’m expecting) and really good hardware (which I’m a little more skeptical of) and a solid price point to matter.

Microsoft missed out on the tablet market in part because its hardware partners were making big clunky expensive devices.

The ipad is significantly thinner, cheaper and with better battery life than previous microsoft based tablets.

A lot of people actually assumed that the iPad would be disliked because it did not feature a “full operating system.” People were upset when it was announced that it would run on iOS, the same OS the iPhone uses.

I personally see Microsoft’s new outing as a bit of a gimmick. Sure, it’s Windows on an ARM processor, but the compatibility layer is completely optional and most companies are assumed to opt out of using it. So you still don’t get the main benefit of Windows: the large library of Win32 applications that already exist. Instead, you get what are essentially tablet programs that will also run on your PC.

One of Microsoft’s big selling points was that you could run your existing apps on a tablet which meant that tablets had to support Microsoft’s existing operating system and all the cruft that entailed, both hardware and interface wise.

Apple did something bold and started with a clean slate and asked developers to write brand new apps. This happened to have succeeded spectacularly but it also could have failed miserably if there wasn’t enough developer enthusiasm to build a viable app ecosystem (see: RIM, Palm & Symbian).

At every step along the way, Microsoft’s moves made sense, it just didn’t in the overall big picture.

I think that’s the case for Amazon, who are selling Kindle Fires at a loss. But Apple makes a couple hundred in profit on each sale.

Well, it wasn’t as much of a risk on Apple’s part as you imply, since Apple had been selling the iPhone for 3 years, and the OS and apps are basically the same.
In fact, the ability to run iPhone apps is a huge selling point - the app only has to be purchased once for both devices, and people who had iPhones had no learning curve to speak of when using the iPad.

I love how you stated that.