Is Microsoft Ceding the Tablet Market to Apple?

Microsoft tablet

Someone should let Microsoft know that waiting to join the multitouch tablet game, a year and a half after Apple revolutionized it, just isn't going to work this time.

This news isn't coming from Microsoft itself, so a healthy dose of salt should be applied. The source is Jeffries analyst Katherine Egbert. She has been speaking to Microsoft's General Manager of Investor Relations, so the estimate is pretty close to the horse's mouth (and may, if anything, be a little optimistic).

The problem is Windows 7, which is absolutely not optimized for a tablet's touchscreen interface—particularly in a world of multitouch gestural interfaces. To see proof of this, look no further than Steve Ballmer's fumbling demonstration of HP's slate PC prototype from January of 2010. Ballmer's fingers repeatedly skitter past the tiny finger-unfriendly icons on windows. Check it out around the 3:30 mark in the video below.

This doesn't chime well with recent noises about a Windows tablet from HP, however. Does that mean HP won't deliver its Windows-based effort for another nine or 10 months? Egbert does claim that Windows 8, rumored for a 2011 release, is intended to be far more tablet friendly. So perhaps MS is pinning all its tablet hopes on this new OS, on the understanding that delivering a sub-par user experience really isn't going to be a good strategy. That slow-moving strategy has worked for Microsoft in the past—consider Internet Explorer, which emerged many years after Netscape, or Windows itself, which post-dated the original Mac OS.

It may not work this time, however. A tribe of Android-powered tablets is due very soon, even from big Windows-supporters like HP. And the iPad, which has already defined the entire market, is expected to sell 21 million units next year. Plus the updated is probably due for a reveal in the first months of 2011, and may well go on sale in April, months ahead of the predicted arrival of Microsoft-powered tablets.

MS is coming so very late to the game that it's going to have to come up with something astonishingly revolutionary if it's to make any sort of impact. Dare we hope for elements of the impressive Courier slate to show up? Sadly, it's a long shot.

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