2010: The Year Microsoft Lost Tablet?

The following is a guest editorial by Rob Bushway, the founder and former owner of GottaBeMobile.com.

For the past six months I’ve been sitting on the sidelines watching Tablet dominate the news cycle. From the Crunchpad to the JooJoo, from the Courier to the iSlate, from the Android Tablet to Windows 7 Starter Edition Tablets – it is almost dizzying to watch.

Engadget is covering Tablet like they’ve loved it from the beginning. The New York Times is declaring 2010 to be the year of Tablet. Gizmodo is giving Tablet more press than their usual love-affair with porn-filled flash drives. The other day, I think I even saw Mary Jo Foley trying to ink on her recently-acquired Kindle. Suddenly, Tablet is the cool kid everyone wants to hang around.

To see Tablet finally get its’ due is indeed a great thing to behold.  People are finally catching up with what GottaBeMobile has been saying all along: there is something intimate about curling up to a slate device while surfing the web, marking up a book, taking notes, consuming media, and catching up on that long-neglected novel.  I’ve been covering tablet technology for the past six years and it seems like as every year came to a close, we hoped that the next year would indeed be the “Year of Tablet”. That time has finally come.

There’s an eerie silence amongst all the excitement, though, and it is coming from none other than Microsoft and its’ partners. This silence is very concerning and it will cause Microsoft to suddenly see something they owned get snatched from their hands if they don’t quickly change their ways.

Here’s how it is happening:

1)   Windows 7 Starter Edition:  OEMs are putting out Tablets with Windows 7 Starter Edition for one reason only: cost.  Tablet and Touch bits should be included in EVERY Windows edition Microsoft sells. They should not miss a single opportunity to show-case Tablet functionality. They should make it easy for OEMs to build low-cost machines around Tablet functionality. The days of Tablet being a premium offering are long gone.

2)   Microsoft Courier: I’m a firm believer that Courier exists. I have no proof to back that up except that everything we’ve seen has Ken Hinckley, InkSeine, and Codedex written all over it.  Instead of letting Google Android and Apple iSlate dominate the news cycles, Microsoft should be talking up Courier every chance it gets. Show it to your MVPs, demo it in a press conference, showcase the need for Courier. Instead, Courier remains as secretive as an iSlate. As far as the public is concerned, Microsoft isn’t doing anything Tablet related. After January 26, Apple will have invented Tablet. Is that what Microsoft wants?

3)   Touch: the Windows 7 launch was supposed to be all about touch computing, showing off lots of different platforms and use-cases. Instead, the launch turned out to be a contest about how little  Microsoft and its’ partners could talk about touch. Is this because of a problem in the digitizer ecosystem or is it something else? Don’t let Windows 8 be the next time we hear about Tablet and Touch.  You will have lost the market opportunity by then. Microsoft, don’t do to Tablet what you did to Windows Mobile. You may not recover.

4)   Origami: The Year of Tablet is really an affirmation of what Microsoft layed out for Origami back in 2006. That kind of foresight shows leadership and vision and should be talked about and built upon; instead, Microsoft isn’t saying anything.

5)   OEMs: Haven’t Motion Computing, Fujitsu, HP, Lenovo, and TabletKiosk been leading the way in the Tablet PC space for the past six years? Haven’t they been selling compelling slate solutions to schools, businesses, and hospitals?  You certainly wouldn’t know it from any of their marketing pieces of late. In fact, they’ve been almost non-existent the past six months. Where are Motion’s consumer-based $500 slate solutions? Can you say LS800??? Motion, you certainly know how to design a winning slate,  how about showing Michael Arrington and that JooJoo dude how it is really done?

HP, all you have to do is reintroduce the TC1100 with an Atom processor and the world will go crazy, causing some to mistake it for the iSlate. You’ve got the designers – put them to work.

Dell – don’t even get me started…

Microsoft – what are you doing to help your OEM partners capitalize on this momentum?

6)   ISVs:  Based on what I’m not reading on Twitter or GottaBeMobile, the ISV space is virtually non-existent. Do you really think Android on a Tablet is going to be successful? Have you seen the demos? They are abysmal. Where’s your great design work, demos of multi-touch apps, magazine reading, book reading, inking in a tablet planner, and so on.  Are you ready to see Apple take ownership of a space that you could really own – taking 30% of your revenue?

Microsoft, what are you doing to help your ISVs capitalize on this momentum? How about helping Amazon make the Kindle on the PC a great touch and tablet app rather than just an ok experience? That app screams for ink markup – where is it? Showcase why Kindle on a Tablet PC will be better than Kindle on an iSlate…

Microsoft, OEMs and ISVs: you’ve owned the tablet space for the past six years. Certainly, costs and other issues made Tablet a challenging solution for many consumers early in the game. That’s behind us now. You’ve got Windows 7 and a very compelling story to tell. Tablet is happening today and it has the masses talking and wanting to buy. Act like the experts you are and dominate the news cycles by introducing compelling solutions, and showing off ink and touch.

Don’t let Apple steal what you birthed and raised. If you keep doing what you’ve been doing the past six months, though, you’ll look back dumbfounded about what was snatched from your hands. Doctors, students, and every day folk are all carrying iPhones, iPod Touches, and Android devices. If you are not careful, they’ll all be carrying Android Tablets and iSlates, next. Is that what you want?

Don’t let 2010 be defined as the year Microsoft lost Tablet.