Editorial

Will Microsoft learn its lessons from its failed Tablet PC?

Remember Comdex? Yes, 10 years ago the computer trade show was the place to be for companies to introduce new PC hardware. Comdex is now just a memory, a victim in some ways of the Internet boom and bust that happened in the early part of the last decade.  At the 2001 edition of the trade show, held 10 years ago this very week, Microsoft co-founder and chairman Bill Gates made a keynote address that, among other things, introduced the public to what the company called the Tablet PC.

In Microsoft's official press release that centered on Gates' speech, it stated flat out, "Gates predicted that the Tablet would become the most popular form of PC within five years." Gates showed off working prototypes of the Tablet PC design, running the just launched Windows XP operating system. The prototypes came from PC makers like Acer, Fujitsu, Toshiba and even Compaq (later to be acquired by HP).

Microsoft's Tablet PC version of Windows XP was also introduced at the same time. In Microsoft's own FAQ about the variant of the Windows XP operating system, it admitted that the Tablet Edition had a number of additional features including an on screen keyboard, support for speech recognition, screen rotation from landscape to portrait and more.

Consumers were first able to purchase PCs with Microsoft's tablet design in 2002. But the truth is that the design never caught on with consumers. PCs with the Tablet design tended to cost more than comparable notebooks with the normal physical keyboard and non-touch screen monitor. Another issue is that Microsoft thought that people would use an electronic pen or stylus to access the Tablet PCs user interface. They didn't seem to think at the time that the human finger was the best way to handle a touch screen UI.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, was the fact that despite the many additional features put into Windows XP Tablet Edition, the truth was that Microsoft tried to turn a PC operating system, made to work with a keyboard and mouse, into something that it wasn't designed to do. It didn't want to make the effort to create something that was made for the Tablet PC from the ground up.

Cut to a few years later and the now legendary shut down of Microsoft's Courier project. Were there problems with the design of this twin screen tablet device? Sure. Perhaps the biggest one was that the team thought of the Courier as a companion to a notebook, rather than a replacement for it. It also apparently didn't have basic PC applications such as an email client. The end result was that Gates wasn't impressed.

The shut down of the Courier project happened in 2010, around the same time that Apple launched the iPad. Remember the jokes in the press about how the iPad was just a really big iPhone? But Apple CEO Steve Jobs knew that the hardware and software that were developed for the iPhone could be used to create a touch screen tablet PC that could truly serve as a replacement to a notebook for most people. It didn't hurt that the iPad had a price that was around the same as most Windows-based PC notebook. The end result? Apple created a new consumer electronic product line with the iPad. It's sold millions of units and generated lots of copycat products from others.

Now Microsoft is saying that its upcoming Windows 8 operating system will be a full-fledged touch screen experience for tablet PCs but will also work with the typical keyboard and mouse controls for desktop and notebook PCs.

Sound familiar?

We know that Microsoft wants in on the growing tablet market. It certainly doesn't want to be left out of Apple's party (and to a smaller extend from Google's Android as well). Our main concern is that Microsoft is trying once again to have it all. It's making its new Windows 8 operating system as one that will work for nearly everything.

If that kind of a system really worked, then Apple would replace its Mac OS operating system with one that was similar to the iOS system. But they didn't. Apple knows that PCs and touch screen devices are different. Trying to meld the two together just doesn't work.

The odd thing is that Microsoft already has a touch screen OS that on the surface would work perfectly with a tablet device: Windows Phone 7. Microsoft has been promoting the heck out of the OS in the past several weeks thanks in part to the "Mango" update that added a number of cool new features to the OS.

But Microsoft seems to think that Windows Phone 7 should only be used on phone, not on a tablet product. According to Microsoft's thinking, the tablet should only have a PC interface. Yet it would not be a massive stretch to alter Windows Phone 7 to work on a large tablet device. In fact it may be a better fit than Windows 8 would be.

But at the moment, Microsoft seems to be going down the same road as it did with the Windows XP Tablet Edition. It wants to have its OS cake and eating it, too.

While the failure of Microsoft's Tablet PC isn't totally Windows XP's fault, Microsoft's lack of vision for the product was certainly a huge factor. We hope that the company has learned some lessons from the past 10 years; not just from its own mistakes but from Apple's successes. While Windows 8 will almost certainly be a success for the desktop and notebook crowd, the tablet PC business could turn out to be harder to crack. Microsoft did make a good move in deciding to allow ARM designed processors to work with Windows 8. But will it be enough? In the coming months we should learn if Windows 8 for tablets will be a success or just another lost opportunity for Microsoft to expand the OS beyond its typical borders.

Image via Wikipedia

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duddit2 said,

thats what theyve done, you get to choose between metro or 'classic' (as in win 7 interface), so whats the issue?

The issue is that 1. There aren't enough improvements and compelling enough improvements on the desktop side. 2. Win32 API and earlier stuff is declared "legacy". Legacy means old and obsolete and it's future is uncertain. Microsoft's efforts and focus is on Metro and "bold re-imagining" of Windows. 3. Default interface on desktops and laptop is still going to be Metro. This may hurt the desktop app market.

duddit2 said,

thats what theyve done, you get to choose between metro or 'classic' (as in win 7 interface), so whats the issue?

The issue is the new metro interface is the primary interface, even on desktops and touchscreen-less laptops. Windows starts up to the Metro UI and the classic start menu is gone. I really want the Metro UI for my convertible tablet, but I don't want to use it on my desktop with a 30" screen. It just wastes space.

mrp04 said,

The issue is the new metro interface is the primary interface, even on desktops and touchscreen-less laptops. Windows starts up to the Metro UI and the classic start menu is gone. I really want the Metro UI for my convertible tablet, but I don't want to use it on my desktop with a 30" screen. It just wastes space.

Is this based on how the DP is setup or have I missed something (seriously have I missed something, no sarcasm intended). It was my understanding that the DP was setup to stop the 'normal' desktop to be used, forcing the 'developers' to get used to the new metro UI but not planning to retain this forced metro approach when released. I imagine they will be adjusting a lot of things based on feedback, and what I expect is at the least some kind of 'how do you want to use your PC' type wizard within the setup UI (language, name, time zone, UI preference etc). I just think far too much is being classed as final, because of a developer preview version that was obviously designed to generate user feedback.

duddit2 said,

Is this based on how the DP is setup or have I missed something (seriously have I missed something, no sarcasm intended). It was my understanding that the DP was setup to stop the 'normal' desktop to be used, forcing the 'developers' to get used to the new metro UI but not planning to retain this forced metro approach when released. I imagine they will be adjusting a lot of things based on feedback, and what I expect is at the least some kind of 'how do you want to use your PC' type wizard within the setup UI (language, name, time zone, UI preference etc). I just think far too much is being classed as final, because of a developer preview version that was obviously designed to generate user feedback.

Want to see a very good example of what's wrong at Microsoft? http://social.msdn.microsoft.c...80f3-4d8a-a01c-1fab0662303c

duddit2 said,

thats what theyve done, you get to choose between metro or 'classic' (as in win 7 interface), so whats the issue?

It is not so simple; W8, as it is right now, changes many paradigms people are used and like.

I am confident and hoping that MS will modify the OS a lot, as I said right now it is just a "Developer preview", so I will wait for the RTM product to decide what to do.

xpclient said,
.....This may hurt the desktop app market.

Aha!
Now we can start to differentiate here and try to, as a community come to a concensus and understanding here.

This will not hurt the desktop app market.
This will depricate the desktop application market.

In the Microsoft world, App refers to Metro-style applications, where as Application is for legacy win32 code.
Apps run on the Windows runtime, and built with Metro look/feel and constraints.

Applications can run on win32, .net, java, whatever.

ahhell said,
This type of flamebait "editorial" is getting tiresome.

Agreed, I just had to invoke a discussion with my 8 year old son in an attempt to find some rational thoughts on the subject - this really is a joke of an article, full of mindless bu***hit...

You could say Microsoft didn't take the time to develop a Tablet operating system from the ground up. You could also say the same of Apple, who just put their phone OS on the tablet. There a few weak key points in this article

According to Microsoft's thinking, the tablet should only have a PC interface

What nonsense! How could you write that with a straight face? Didn't you just say they were trying to do "everything" then here you say "only have a PC interface"?

it would not be a massive stretch to alter Windows Phone 7 to work on a large tablet device

That's exactly what they did! Are you blind? The entire WinRT, the Metro-styled applications, the tile and notifications platform... this is Windows Phone. What some people are complaining about is that Microsoft stuck a bunch of phone into their PC. All commenters say that WIndows 8 looks great for tablets, and it's the sidelining of the desktop that they're whining about.

While Windows 8 will almost certainly be a success for the desktop and notebook crowd, the tablet PC business could turn out to be harder to crack

Completely backwards. Look, Apple is slowly transforming pieces of OSX into iOS (store, launcher, etc). Microsoftis taking all the benefits from Wndows Phone and want to shift PCs to that, right away. More vision there than you'll ever fathom

Edited by burnblue, Nov 13 2011, 2:10pm :

If MS is trying to make Windows-8 work well for both laptops/notebooks/desktops AND for the touchy-feely tablets; both will fail. The form factor and usage are almost mutually exclusive, so how can one Operating System work very well for both?

TsarNikky said,
If MS is trying to make Windows-8 work well for both laptops/notebooks/desktops AND for the touchy-feely tablets; both will fail. The form factor and usage are almost mutually exclusive, so how can one Operating System work very well for both?

Because most laptops sold will look like the ASUS Transformer Prime. Tablet on top that can be docked with a keyboard and turned into a regular laptop. Or docked with a large screen and turned into a desktop. And the benefit is that all of your data is always with you.

That concept is so powerful, that it literally makes the iPad look like a child's toy.

dagamer34 said,
Because most laptops sold will look like the ASUS Transformer Prime. Tablet on top that can be docked with a keyboard and turned into a regular laptop. Or docked with a large screen and turned into a desktop. And the benefit is that all of your data is always with you.

That concept is so powerful, that it literally makes the iPad look like a child's toy.

You can do that already with the iPad but the experience is castrated in terms of the applications you can run etc. the whole proposition is pointless. What ASUS and others propose is far beyond merely a docking station - the question isn't whether Windows 8 is suitable but whether vendors price the hardware at an appropriate level so that it can gain mass market appeal.

TsarNikky said,
..., so how can one Operating System work very well for both?

Because all computers are effectively the same. they have integrated circuits built on millions (in some cases billions) of transistors that all have requirements for establishing how electrons flow through the circuit to create the experiences you enjoy.

The comparisons between what happened then and now are too close to ignore in this whole Mac VS PC debate Android aside for the moment. Microsoft grabbed the GUI from Apple and made it all the rage for computers to be owned by the common man. All because Apple did not execute with price etc. etc. etc.

NOW, Apple grabs the tablet from MS and makes IT all the rage for tablets to be owned by the common man.

THEN Google comes along lifting IP from the both of them in the process to make their inroads in to the consumer world. MS sues, Apple vows to fight until death, and this fall Best Buy is PACKED with consumers that are still a LOT more confused about all the things that us GEEKS seem to have a pretty good handle on. From the looks of Best Buy yesterday, and all those Android tablets and phones scattered all over the floor I would say that Microsoft has dug themselves a pretty big fat giant hole at least for this XMAS season. And Apple seems to be ignoring what Google has accomplished as well.

This season MS better be concentrating on the XBOX, and next season there BETTER be a bunch of Win8, AFFORDABLE tablets on that floor, or their BETTER be a MIcrosoft Store in my town.

As for the XBOX, from the look of the beta preview that I was sitting in front of last night, as an MS fan, I'm pretty stoked, to say the least. Tighten that thing up a little before letting it loose on the consumer though.

JF

While it never took off in the way it was expected the conv-tablets are very useful devices, number 1 device on my wishlist is an Lenovo X220T.....

And 'Remember the jokes in the press about how the iPad was just a really big iPhone?'
Yep I do, and Yep it is.

I dont think microsoft are the ones to blame here. This was 10 years ago. And its been less than 2 years since the ipad was introduced. I would consider the microsoft attempts as valid predecessors of the current tablets. But i blame it all on the hardware vendors. if the tablet pc hadnt failed 10 years ago, who knows, maybe the UI would have evolved to the touch screen UIs we know today. but no, because the hardware has always sucked.

now MS seems to be taking a different approach... forcing the vendors to follow some design specifications with the goal of delivering a good experience.

People seem to forget that back when Gates made his prediction there was no such thing as a mass market capacitive touch display, and really that's all that the iPad has on the tablets of a 10 years ago--a display that lets you use your fingers like a 3 year old.

bj55555 said,
People seem to forget that back when Gates made his prediction there was no such thing as a mass market capacitive touch display, and really that's all that the iPad has on the tablets of a 10 years ago--a display that lets you use your fingers like a 3 year old.

And bill also made the 640k RAM claim too.
Big deal.
At the time he made the prediction the ecosystem was very different.
Turns out that capacitive panels won over time.
I like people who learn from their mistakes.

Apparently not after MS-Dos on the Gridpad or the Windows for Pen while Apple had Newton. Microsoft has had misses with Pads -- long before this one-- People seem to forget they were first with tablets however Apple Marketed it better.

Things people forget about tablets.
Gridpad from 1989 ran Microsoft DOS-
Windows for Pen Computing in 1992 ran Windows 3.1 (Compaq Concerto) and was also in color unlike the Newton that was Black / grey and clear.
Which could be disconnected from the keyboard and also could be hand touched and had handwriting recognition.
1993 Apple released Newton. (yes some will say didn't apple have in 1979 a pad-- however it had to be connected to an Apple computer in order to function as a PC- it only saved your data as a picture image) so no computing the computer would take that image and convert it to data.

So I guess Microsoft dropped the ball again on their tablets.

I really don't see your point here. Yes iPads are selling a lot but that is only because MS has lagged behind in the tablet market. But! im sure there are tons of people out there that prefer to network all their systems through Microsoft that only bought an iPad because there is no other better choice. I am one of them I have an iPad 2 but don't think for a second that if Windows 8 was already in a tablet I wouldn't have made the switch. In fact, my iPad is nothing but a transitional device that will be replaced by a Windows 8 tablet as soon as it comes out. I know there is little that can be done in an iPad or any other small tablet in terms of productivity. But couple a tablet with a full fleshed MS Office, and a bluetooth keyboard and say bye bye to my iPad. I am not saying here that Office is all that a tablet needs to be productive but there are lots more apps in Windows that I would like my iPad to have and I don't.

Windows XP, when it came out outsold any other OS in its time and now its just old but that doesn't make it a failure. I still see tons of people working in hospitals, construction, and mail delivery using windows XP tablet edition all the time although I don't see any of them using Android or iOS tablets. Why because the actual generation of tablet device were only meant for internet consumption and for recreational purposes. This why taking notes in an iPad sucks so bad when using your finger. It wasn't built for that purpose, and that's ok but that doesn't mean a more productive choice cannot compete.

Apple is good at that producing devices for entretainment. Microsoft is good at making software that enable others make money with it. It seems like everybody has found their place in society. Isn't that why apple might be considering canceling their Apple Mac Pro line? who knows. Money talks and if I can get a tablet that can entertain me and help me make money, its a done deal.

Edited by trashoner, Nov 14 2011, 1:55am :

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