Of course Steve Ballmer’s statement yesterday that Microsoft was “hardcore” on Tablets and that we’d see some Microsoft Tablets in 2010 was going to prompt a lot of discussion. Heck, even before he said it there was talk, most of it not too pretty. There is a decided lack of confidence from many quarters that a Windows 7 Tablet just isn’t going to be that competitive for a number of reasons, as Microsoft tries to play catch up after finding itself trailing the pack when it started the race in the pole position.
One of the early responses to this (and I’m sure there will be many, many, many others in a similar vein) comes from Gary Marshall on TechRadar. He’s buying into that “if it has a stylus it’s a failure mantra” that Steve Jobs (the guy who popularized the “Death Grip” as genius engineering) made popular.
Well, Gary Marshall is dead wrong in my opinion. And Microsoft probably is too. I don’t have much confidence myself in a Windows 7 Tablet at the moment, but I’ll keep my mind open to see what happens. What I won’t keep an open mind on is this: Microsoft’s only chance to compete with a Windows 7 Tablet is to embrace the pen/stylus and digital inking and market it as a key feature. Forget it will run FLASH. Forget it will have ports. Forget all of the iPad doesn’t have this feature nonsense. Don’t come up with some silly UMPC like tough interface. It is a waste of resources and everyone will turn it off within hours of turning on the device. Use the semiotics that Tablets and Slates embue and focus on the one thing Microsoft came lose to getting right and that’s digital inking. And yes, that requires a damn stylus. There is your differentiator, and you own it, Mr. Ballmer. If, Microsoft is going to put effort into a Windows 7 Tablet, then it needs to take advantage of digital inking (and force the OEMS to build with screen technology that can handle it), AND every single Tablet needs to come with OneNote installed out of the chute. Any teenager who has used a Tablet PC and OneNote could design the advertising campaign for Microsoft and certainly would do better job than those responsible for Microsoft’s marketing and advertising efforts in the past.
I know, I know, I know. Who wants to bog down a device with Office software? Who wants all that overhead of Windows 7? I may be decidedly wrong here, but I have to believe that there is a market out there of users who actually do want an iPad like Tablet that can really and truly handle Inking as a part of their daily computing chores and could care less about the media madness. They can’t get it in the US reliably anyway because the broadband pipes are so clogged and insufficient to handle the load and the caps and restrictions are too draconian. No one but the bean counters care about the advertising revenue that these platforms are targeted to reap. Microsoft’s only chance at any success with a Windows 7 Tablet (note I’m not talking about any thing else here but Windows 7 based Tablet/Slates) is to focus on what they’ve done well with Digital Inking in the past and push that segment further and into the market.
Anything else and we’re looking at a repeat of the Kin disaster.
I’ll be honest, I don’t hold out much hope here for this to occur. Microsoft has been playing catch up for far too long and if you aren’t using the word “defensive” to describe its actions the last several years, than you aren’t being honest. Sumocat has already posted that Microsoft is looking for some iPad users to test out some things here in the near future and that points to where things are probably going.