Editorial

Then and Now: Microsoft betting on the tablet again

As Microsoft gets ready to show off its latest vision of the tablet, it is a stark reminder that this isn’t the first time that Microsoft has stood on stage to show off tablet software.

Image Credit: Life.com

THEN:

The date, November 7, 2002 in New York City, Bill Gates showed off his vision of the tablet. The software was based on Windows XP and was built around using a pen for input. This introduction was a shakeup to the current market; Microsoft was dropping the traditional keyboard and mouse and opting for a pen to be used for input.

The initial reaction was positive and Bill Gates was bold about his latest creation. In an interview with Businessweek, he said “This is Big, Don’t Doubt me”. Gates knew that the future was away from the mouse and keyboard and that a more natural user interaction was key.

The product looked to be off to a solid start, Microsoft had 7 hardware vendors lined up to create devices and with positive initial reviews, Microsoft surely had another home run on its hands.

By far the most recognizable product to come out from this era is the convertible laptop. While having the ability to function like a standard laptop, you can swivel the screen around and use it like a tablet with a stylus.

The product was good, it had the right vision, but then why are we here again talking about Microsoft getting back into the tablet game?

You can blame many things such as high prices, it being ahead of its time or a stubborn consumer base, but one thing is for sure, Gates knew that tablet computing was huge, unfortunately Microsoft has yet to capitalize on it.

It could also have been that Gates didn’t design a new interface, he assumed that using roughly the same Windows XP UI with a stylus would be satisfactory, unfortunately that wasn’t the case.

Whatever the reason may be, Microsoft never got a solid footing in the tablet market. Their products, even with Windows 7, never gained mass consumer adoption like the iPad has. You can blame a lot of things or you could even argue it was a success since it still has a following to this day, but Microsoft needs a competitor to the iPad and what they currently have on the market will not cut it.  

Their first run at creating a tablet craze has sadly failed. Microsoft had the right vision but the wrong implementation. While Apple did create a blockbuster device, they simply scaled up a phone OS to make it happen, not exactly revolutionary in terms of functionality.

NOW:

So here we are, a little under a week away from Microsoft getting ready to show the world it’s next iteration of its highly popular Windows platform. They have already shown off their Windows 8 tablet interface which is a stark contrast to the tablet software Microsoft showed off back in 2002.

But rather than being the first to market, Microsoft is now well behind Apple and Google. While the game of gaining market share has stayed the same, there are now considerably more players in the field than in 2002.

But what does Microsoft have now that it didn’t know in 2002? It knows that the UI must be different than the traditional desktop. The new UI clearly shows off the touch friendliness of the product and like Apple, they are building an ecosystem around their products.

Windows 8 will be shown off in more detail next week and Microsoft is expected to give out Windows 8 tablets to the developers that are attending. With Microsoft’s next vision of the tablet about to be in consumers hands, Microsoft is about to re-enter the tablet market, for a second time.

Sure, many will argue that they never left, but the iPad has decimated any sales of existing Microsoft tablets, and even Ballmer has admitted that the “Apple Has Sold More iPads Than I'd Like”, but you can’t change the past.

As Microsoft looks to sell Windows 8, they will be entering a crowded market, but don’t worry Microsoft fans, they know what to do. Remember when Microsoft created the original Xbox, they were late to the market too, but look at the Xbox 360, it now leads the market…they can win the market, but they must be firing on all cylinders to do it.

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52 Comments

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MistaT40 said,
Gates also introduced it at the wrong time - sometimes it's all about right time too.

It was ahead of its time.

The biggest problem with the Tablet PC initiative was summed up in the name itself: PCs really SHOULDN'T be tablets.

Windows was a poor fit for this, and arguably continues to be. It's big and it's built to support way too much legacy crap. It isn't just interface; the device needs to be secure and it needs a lightweight but fast OS.

My biggest hope for Windows in the long term (since it doesn't look like it's happening soon) is that they get it down to a minimal, modular core, and implement legacy support through runtimes (maybe even find a way to implement VirtualXP as a runtime). Maybe THEN it will work decently as a tablet OS.

UndergroundWire said,
I kinda think that the future of technology (next 5 years) will be:

#1 Smartphones OS: Android
#1 Tablets OS: iOS
#1 Desktop/Laptop OS: Windows

I don't think Apple would be able to answer to the variety of tablets that will come, or the W8. This market caught others by surprise, but they are getting in positions now.

Even if we just look at the enterprise, all the other players are dead! Blackberry, iPad etc.
Why would enterprise choose anything else, when they are getting a full-fledge Windows, with 'touch first' interface. All their old programs would run over it.

FMH said,
I don't think Apple would be able to answer to the variety of tablets that will come, or the W8. This market caught others by surprise, but they are getting in positions now.

Even if we just look at the enterprise, all the other players are dead! Blackberry, iPad etc.
Why would enterprise choose anything else, when they are getting a full-fledge Windows, with 'touch first' interface. All their old programs would run over it.

Time will tell I guess. The reason being is I kinda like have these different products. I don't want one ecosystem. I love Windows but I just don't think it will be good on a tablet (keep in mind I have yet to see what Windows 8 is capable of). I love iOS on a tablet (for the exception of no flash and email issues)but it's not good enough for a smartphone. I love Android on Smartphones but it's not good enough on a Tablet.

With that said, it all depends how people are in the end. Do they want a unified product across the board or do they want something different?

FMH said,
What email issues are you having with iOS devices? I didn't notice any.

ATTACHMENTS. That is a major flaw in the OS. Try attaching a damn thing when you are composing an email. It's incredibly frustrating. I have convinced more people not to buy an iPad over a lap top by this argument alone.Right now, no tablet has it right in terms of a post PC device. Tablets only compliment a computer and are not intended as a replacement.

The problem with adding attachments after the fact on the iOS is that apps do not have access to each others' files. Thus, the Photo app or whatever can send something to the Email app, but the Email app can't pull content from the Photo app. It's a security thing which as a side effect causes some of the interactions to change. Maybe this will all change soon now that things have gotten iCloudy.

Edited by UndergroundWire, Sep 10 2011, 6:53am :

UndergroundWire said,

Umm ATTACHMENTS. . That is a major flaw in the OS. I mean seriously. Try attaching a damn thing when you are composing an email. It's incredibly frustrating.

Got it.

Microsoft was the company behind many of these innovations yet Apple gets the credit for their "vision". Confusing? I thought so,

If someone makes a tablet with Windows 8 that has the touch UI version and the desktop Windows in the same device. And they can make it thin enough (not iPad thin) and make it weight less than 3lbs. Has USB 2.0/3.0, eSATA/HDMI/Mini Display and a card reader for expanded memory bec Windows can use the car to speed itself up, any other tablet is practicvally going to get killed.

Has anyone heard about the progress Aodbe has made with a working Flash Player for Mango. Microsoft said at the very beginning of Windows Phone, that the first iteration would not be compatible with Flash, but later it would and they are working with Adobe to make it happen.

I remember reading in the early 2000s, an interview in which Gates said tablets were the future. It's kind of ironic, that MS back then seemed ahead of its time and yet they're considered late to the tablet market. I think it's due to their dependence on actual product manufacturers. I remember seeing the MS Courier tablet prototype from MS Research Labs before the first ipad had been announced, but the project was cancelled and thus the visionaries at MS were shut down again.

helios01 said,
I remember reading in the early 2000s, an interview in which Gates said tablets were the future. It's kind of ironic, that MS back then seemed ahead of its time and yet they're considered late to the tablet market. I think it's due to their dependence on actual product manufacturers. I remember seeing the MS Courier tablet prototype from MS Research Labs before the first ipad had been announced, but the project was cancelled and thus the visionaries at MS were shut down again.

I think it was Mary Jo Foley on TWiT's Windows Weekly a few weeks ago that confirmed that the Courier was actually very close to becoming a real product before it was shut down. Sadly, if it had made it to market on time rather than being killed, I honestly think it could easily have usurped a good portion of the ~20% of the tablet market that belongs to Android now.

""What does Microsoft have now, that it didn't have before?""

Innovation from competitors. They had no competition back then. Even I don't know eveything , and many times I need to bounce things off of other people to rejuvinate ideas. A little painful that Apple was the one to popularize it, but anyone see a similarity between how Apple blew their 80% hardware marketshare back in 1982 and how they might blow it now? I do.

And I am silently smiling because Apple was always all about "marketshare doesn't matter, we just want the best products." Well that ideology almost cost them the company. All of the sudden marketshare AND cash in the bank seem to be smiling points for all the MAC happy folks. I wonder how big the smiles will be when Win8 crushes both Android AND Apple in the tablet market. Wishful thinking? Thats what I like about MS. Wishful and thinking have NOTHING to do with it. Watching, learning from mistakes, and never giving up, have EVERYTHING to do with it. Yeah, that's MY team. Proud of them. Go MS, I can feel the tide turning.

Shadrack said,
Are they going to fight or something?

Yes, Sumo wrestling.


Regardless, of the fact that he is a staunch Ballmer supporter.

Shadrack said,
Are they going to fight or something?

No I mean as the CEO. Bill Gates was a much better CEO than Ballmer.

I think Microsoft can totally kick ass in the tablet market. I love my iPad but am super anxious to see what Microsoft is going to bring. The problem I have with my iPad is that it is basically a really fun media consumption device and a toy. But MS has Office. That alone makes me highly interested in what they can bring to the tablet arena, and it is a clear cut edge for businesses interested in seeing what utility tablets have in store for them.

But what does Microsoft have now that it didn't know in 2002?

They have competition. And competition drives innovation.

You can blame many things such as high prices, it being ahead of its time or a stubborn consumer base, but one thing is for sure, Gates knew that tablet computing was huge, unfortunately Microsoft has yet to capitalize on it.

This was basically what it came down to. Prices were high. I really really wanted one of these tablets back in 2002-2005. But the price was just too high, the tablets on the market were heavy, and the hardware specs were a joke when compared to laptops on the market.

I'm excited to see all this competition in the tablet market. Can't wait for my company to start adopting this technology as I see a lot of benefits here where we work a lot on our feet.

I still have and use the tablet pictured there with Bill. It's the fujitsu stylistic.
Also have a Win 7 convertible.

Wating with bated breath for Windows 8 ARM tablet now!

I'm glad Apple showed MS how to make a tablet that would capture consumer appeal. Now we can get ones that actually function as PCs in addition to all the tablet candy.

Good times ahead!

dotf said,
I'm glad Apple showed MS how to make a tablet that would capture consumer appeal.

I disagree. I think that Apple's success with their product stems from initial handicup.
If many people around you have something, you'd want it too.
If no people around you have something, you'd hesitate to get one.
Apple uses normally buy any new Apple products without hesitation, thus giving the important mindshare handicup.

What does Microsoft have now, that it didn't have before?

Better hardware. computers now are faster, smaller and more energy efficient. Thats why windows on a tablet is more viable now.

Nero3000 said,
What does Microsoft have now, that it didn't have before?

Better hardware. computers now are faster, smaller and more energy efficient. Thats why windows on a tablet is more viable now.

Do you realy enjoy using Windows 7 on a Netbook? I know Win8 will be better, but ARM CPU are clocked much slower than Intel/AMD CPU...

TruckWEB said,

Do you realy enjoy using Windows 7 on a Netbook? I know Win8 will be better, but ARM CPU are clocked much slower than Intel/AMD CPU...

Clock speed isn't everything. If you have a dual or quad core ARM chip then you can have much greater performance and battery life with a much slower clock speed.

TruckWEB said,

Do you realy enjoy using Windows 7 on a Netbook?


Actually: yes! I'm also using VS and other IDEs on my netbook…

TruckWEB said,

Do you realy enjoy using Windows 7 on a Netbook? I know Win8 will be better, but ARM CPU are clocked much slower than Intel/AMD CPU...

Would you believe I have a first generation Acer Netbook, that I have a small Wacom tablet I carry with it, and when bored open up Natural Painter, Photoshop, Illustrator and CorelDraw to mess around with my personal hobby of art and graphic design.

Sure it isn't a Intel i7 desktop, but it works, isn't even laggy, and would be impossible on an iPad (watching an iPad open a large spreadsheet is scary enough.)

As for the ARM CPU thing, there are a lot of things people aren't considering, and also just haven't been released yet.

Microsoft has already shown an ARM based Tablet (slower than an iPad2) running Windows 8 and also running x86 versions of Excel and Word and Firefox running on an ARM Tablet, and they were fluid and looked faster than my netbook.

The new shell is fine and all, but are we going to be able to do everything in that Metro shell? How about file management? Will we need to fall back on classic Explorer desktop in order to do any kind of management (File, configuration, .....) ??

If so, I guess the battle is far from over.

TruckWEB said,
The new shell is fine and all, but are we going to be able to do everything in that Metro shell? How about file management? Will we need to fall back on classic Explorer desktop in order to do any kind of management (File, configuration, .....) ??

If so, I guess the battle is far from over.

On windows 8, you can go back to the "classic" interface.

etempest said,

On windows 8, you can go back to the "classic" interface.

But I don't want to revert to classic interface. On a tablet, I should never have to see Explorer to do my work. What I said is IF Microsoft force tablet user to fall back on classic Explorer to do management, well.... They won't have a winner in their hands.

etempest said,

On windows 8, you can go back to the "classic" interface.

I think he's asking if it is possible to do these things without going to the classic UI. The answer is no, because the new UI is not really FS oriented for your files, more, it seems that it will be metadata based

Sraf said,

I think he's asking if it is possible to do these things without going to the classic UI. The answer is no, because the new UI is not really FS oriented for your files, more, it seems that it will be metadata based

Actually the answer is yes, the developer vlogs show them accessing the filesystem both through the classic desktop and the new interface.

TruckWEB said,
The new shell is fine and all, but are we going to be able to do everything in that Metro shell? How about file management? Will we need to fall back on classic Explorer desktop in order to do any kind of management (File, configuration, .....) ??

If so, I guess the battle is far from over.

My guess is that apps will be designed in such a way so that you'll be relying on the file management we're used to less and less as time goes on.

Routerbad said,

Actually the answer is yes, the developer vlogs show them accessing the filesystem both through the classic desktop and the new interface.

I demand links!

TruckWEB said,

But I don't want to revert to classic interface. On a tablet, I should never have to see Explorer to do my work. What I said is IF Microsoft force tablet user to fall back on classic Explorer to do management, well.... They won't have a winner in their hands.

Well your answer is in 'almost' in your question...

What are the tiles for? Apps.

So even if Microsoft doesn't provide a file manager App that works in the new UI, I'm sure someone will. Think iPhone, Android, WP7... The iPhone/iOS doesn't do much itself, but for everything it don't do, "There's an App for that."

AmazingRando said,
I still miss their "Smart Display" concept. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_Display

It would be awesome to just undock your monitor and drag around your whole computer to the toilet or wherever in the house.

Smart Display, AKA Mira, were really ahead of the time: a great concept but the hardware costs at the time were prohibitive.
Besides IMO iPads and clones are more similar to a Smart Display than to a Tablet.

FMH said,

“This is Big, Don't Doubt me”

I like Bill Gates confidence.

He was absolutely right: I bought a "Convertible: tablet as soon as they hit the market as a replacement of my laptop and, although wit some hiccup like underpowered devices and high prices, I never looked back or missed a "classic" laptop.
These comparison between iPads and Tablet make me laugh: a Tablet allow a user to HANDWRITE on the device, the iPad and clones do not!
Handwriting is the easiest way to enter dat in your device for everybody,we learn it in elementary school so it is feasable for people who are not very fast with keyboard too.
While I do not have any problem to admit the the iPhone revolutionized the way to interact with a phone, and I welcome the ability to use Touch instead of a mouse or the pad in a laptop I would never trade handwriting capabilities with touch ones.

Fritzly said,

He was absolutely right: I bought a "Convertible: tablet as soon as they hit the market as a replacement of my laptop and, although wit some hiccup like underpowered devices and high prices, I never looked back or missed a "classic" laptop.
These comparison between iPads and Tablet make me laugh: a Tablet allow a user to HANDWRITE on the device, the iPad and clones do not!
Handwriting is the easiest way to enter dat in your device for everybody,we learn it in elementary school so it is feasable for people who are not very fast with keyboard too.
While I do not have any problem to admit the the iPhone revolutionized the way to interact with a phone, and I welcome the ability to use Touch instead of a mouse or the pad in a laptop I would never trade handwriting capabilities with touch ones.

I agree.
And their are some good Android tablets with stylus support too, but would be useless, since W8 is coming soon.

FMH said,

“This is Big, Don't Doubt me”

I like Bill Gates confidence.

I miss Bill Gates as CEO of Microsoft :'(. He was a true visionary.

Shadrack said,

I miss Bill Gates as CEO of Microsoft :'(. He was a true visionary.

You are so very right! It was almost like he had that car from 'Back To The Future'.

FMH said,
I agree.
And their are some good Android tablets with stylus support too, but would be useless, since W8 is coming soon.

Just to be clear...

There is a big difference between 'stylus support' and full on handwriting recognition.

OS X technically has handwriting recognition, but it uses an image based process, so you have to write very neatly, and is virtually worthless.

Windows handwriting technology is based on the concept of 'ink' and all the information stored in the 'ink'. Windows uses things like: direction, speed, pressure, tilt/angle, and the 'vector' created strokes to figure out what the user intended to write, even if their handwriting is not human readable. (Which is impressive in hospitals where it can read a Doctor's handwriting, even though no one else can.)

Hit up YouTube and search for handwriting Windows (Especially the ones comparing it to OS X and other technologies. Even the Vista era videos are impressive how well it works, even for users that just have a Wacom tablet, and not a true tablet/touch screen.)

Android supporting a stylus does not mean it can handle handwriting at all, let alone well.

Microsoft's handwriting technology is simply the best in the world, and their R&D stuff that isn't even used is even more impressive with multiple users writing at the same time on the screen.

thenetavenger said,

---

Microsoft's handwriting technology is simply the best in the world, and their R&D stuff that isn't even used is even more impressive with multiple users writing at the same time on the screen.

Ahan, even my Windows Mobile 5 device had it. I was very shocked when I first used it. (I thought it would change EVERYTHING! )

Was very impressed even then.

FMH said,
Ahan, even my Windows Mobile 5 device had it. I was very shocked when I first used it. (I thought it would change EVERYTHING! )

Was very impressed even then.

So true; at the time i used it a lot o take notes on the fly. What is amazing about the Tablet handwriting is the ability to change your handwriting to block letters; once you complete the training steps is very accurate which is impressing considering that I did not attend schools in the US and therefore my calligraphy is very different; also I write both in English and Italian adding a further level of difficulty.

As Microsoft looks to sell Windows 8, they will be entering a crowded market, but don't worry Microsoft fans, they know what to do. Remember when Microsoft created the original Xbox, they were late to the market too, but look at the Xbox 360, it now leads the market…they can win the market, but they must be firing on all cylinders to do it.
Not the best comparison. The tablet/smartphone space is far more competitive than the console market. Sony/Nintendo's current offerings are weak competitors.