Why Microsoft’s tablet will Fail and Microsoft along with it

  • Posted: 14 July 2011 05:21 PM

    Of Course a Tablet Is a PC - The iPad Is a PC Too, You Know

    posted by Thom Holwerd on Wed 13th Jul 2011

    Doesn’t the iPad demonstrate that you need a specific, designed-for-tablets interface in order to sell tablets? I mean, the iPad sells really well, so everybody should just copy Apple’s strategy, right? Well, there are ... things wrong with this line of thinking.

    ...just because the iPad is successful doesn’t mean it’s the only possible approach to developing a successful tablet. It’s a logical fallacy to assume that just because a traditional umbrella works well against the rain, there won’t be another approach that might work equally well - or better.

    It is true that the iPad has found one successful way to approach tablets. And it is true that another successful way to approach tablets may be possible.

    But what is not true is that there MUST be another way to successfully approach tablets. And what is not true is that Microsoft’s announced way is going to be the way to successfully approach tablets. And how do we know that? Because Microsoft has already tried this approach. In fact, they?ve been trying it over a decade. Apparently, Microsoft?s motto is: ?If at first you don?t succeed, fail, fail again.?

    Microsoft is trying to solve a problem the iPad suffers from. The iPad, for all its flashiness, is quite limited in its uses.

    A couple of issues here. First, I’m not at all sure that the iPad is quite limited in its uses. On the contrary, I’d say that the iPad is more useful at doing what it does best than any other computing option available. But let’s put that point aside for now and focus on the more serious flaw in the argument.

    Is Microsoft trying to solve a problem is that inherent in the iPad? Or is Microsoft trying to solve a problem that is inherent in the tablet form factor? The former may well be correctable. The latter may well be immutable.

    This, I would argue, has been Microsoft’s tablet problem all along. They simply refuse to concede that the tablet cannot be made into the PC.

    If you want a glimpse into how Microsoft wants to fix this inherent limitation of the iPad, you need not look any further than the Windows 8 demonstration by Sinofsky and Larson-Green. Larson-Green demonstrated the regular Office 2010 running alongside the new Metro-inspired interface, which baffled Walt Mossberg. Why didn’t the Office team create a Metro user interface for Office? Larson-Green’s answer was telling.

    “Well. [The Office team] may do something… In the future,” she responded, “But, um, we don’t think people should have to give up everything they know and love to get to a more mobile form factor. So people can plug in a mouse and keyboard, and use it just like they would otherwise.”

    OK, let’s stop right there and take a close look at this argument, because it is the essence of why Microsoft’s tablet either will succeed or will fail come its introduction in 2012.

    But first, let’s sweep aside the dross:

    So people can plug in a mouse and keyboard, and use it just like they would otherwise.

    Whaaaaaaaaaaat? Plug in a mouse? Have you ever even SEEN what a tablet looks like?

    And a keyboard? What percentage of tablet users actually use a keyboard? One percent? One percent of one percent? With the introduction of the iPad 2, Apple discontinued their keyboard docking station and…no one even noticed. If you think that people want to add a mouse and a keyboard to their tablets, then you must think that people want to hitch Winnebagos to their two-seater sports cars too. It can be done. But it?s just not done.

    Back to reality. Or at least Microsoft’s version of reality.

    ...we don’t think people should have to give up everything they know and love to get to a more mobile form factor.

    My first quibble is with the word “love”. I doubt that few outside of Redmond “love” the Windows operating system. But let’s let that pass for now.

    If Microsoft thinks that people should not have to give up everything they know to get to a more mobile form factor, then why did Microsoft create Windows Phone 7? Windows Phone 7 is an explicit admission that Windows doesn’t work on phones - that something else is required.

    And worse, Microsoft?s underlying premise may be faulty too. Microsoft assumes that people want to do most everything with the aid of the desktop metaphor. I would argue that this is a fundamentally flawed assumption. A mouse-driven, pixel specific interface is better for some things and a touch driven interface is better for other things. But one profound truth, that Apple has grasped and Microsoft has not, is that MOST things are better done using a touch interface than a mouse interface.

    I don’t want to use a mouse in order to check my to do list, review the weather, read my mail, scroll through the internet, view my photos, play Angry Birds or a hundred other things. I PREFER the touch interface.

    “Aha!” you might be saying to yourself. “I’ve got you now. Why not have the best of both worlds? A touch interface AND a mouse driven interface?”

    Patience grasshopper. I’m just getting to that.

    (Continued on the next post?)

         
  • Posted: 14 July 2011 05:23 PM #1

    (Continued from previous post?)

    Why can’t I take my iPad 2, plug it into a dock with keyboard, mouse, and display, and then have it switch to a Mac OS X desktop? Why doesn’t iWork on the iPad come with a full-featured desktop interface? There is nothing preventing Apple from doing this - the iPad 2 is more than powerful enough, there are no software barriers, and it would make a tablet infinitely more useful. No more laptop to lug around!

    It would seem that this is exactly what Microsoft means when it says ‘tablets are PCs’. Why limit a tablet to just consuming some simple media? Why not use the technologies we have today to make the device infinitely more useful by giving it the ability to act just like a regular, full-featured computer at the push of a button

    Good question. Here’s why not.

    What Microsoft is trying to do is have it all. They want to offer you the best of both worlds - the touch OS and the desktop OS. Only problem is, there?s a price to pay for offering you everything. In fact, there are three prices to pay.

    1) By definition, a device cannot be optimized for both a desktop OS and a touch OS. Android, QNX and webOS have all failed to create a tablet that can match the iPad?s look and feel. What chance does Microsoft have to match the iPad when they are not even trying to optimize their tablet for the touch interface?

    2) Offering us the option of having both the desktop user interface and the touch user infuse seems like a no-brainer. But it?s actually brainless. More is always better, right? Wrong. More is only better when less will not do.

    Microsoft thinks that by offering us two simultaneously running operating systems that are offering us more. And they are. But the ?more? they are offering us is more confusion, more strife, more complexity - and less user satisfaction.

    Ask yourself this simple question. How many successful dual OS machines are there on the market today? Almost none. Now, technically, the Mac itself is a dual OS machine. But how many people actually use both OS?? Most use the Windows OS as a transitioning tool or as a crutch, but soon they find themselves using OS X exclusively.

    The Microsoft tablet will be used by, appreciated by, revered by the uber-Geeks who require its additional features, adore its additional choices, worship its additional options and tolerate its additional complexity. The rest of us will give it miss.

    3) This is the real world and in the real world there are tradeoffs. Microsoft promises us two user interfaces for the price of one - but will there not be a price to pay? If the hardware is not specifically configured to the software, will there not be speed issues? Will there not be battery issues? Will there not be conflict issues? Will there not be, well, issues?

    CONCLUSION:

    I sympathize with what Microsoft is trying to do. They are trying to extend the desktop metaphor down to the tablet rather than extend the touch metaphor up from the phone. And they are doing this because all of their presence and all of their profits come from the desktop. However, their efforts are doomed to failure because they are repeating the same mistake over and over again.

    The tablet is not a PC. The tablet requires its own touch interface. The touch interface requires its own, touch specific, operating system. The operating system requires its own, unique applications.

    Microsoft is not giving us the best of both worlds. They are compromising both worlds. That might have cut it two years ago, before the iPad. But the iPad is here, and its very real, and it?s the biggest baddest gunslinger in town. Microsoft is not only bringing a knife to a gunfight. But the knife they?re bringing is a Swiss Army Knife. They are corkscrewed.

    And here?s the thing. When the tablet fails, everyone - and I mean EVERYONE - will finally realize that both Windows and Office are end of life products. And when that realization finally hits home, it will not be the end of Microsoft - but it will be the end of Ballmer and it will be the end of Microsoft as we know it.

         
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    Posted: 14 July 2011 07:25 PM #2

    Beautiful.

    Has to go on the shelf as “Best of FalkKirk” and “Best of AFB”.

    You can also send along with your resume to Apple Sales & Marketing… Or to Windows Sales & Marketing once Ballmer steps down.

         
  • Posted: 14 July 2011 07:37 PM #3

    FalKirk, great analysis.  Thanks.

    I believe it will take years before Microsoft really feels the pain, but they will.

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    The measure of the worth of a product is how much people are willing to pay for it, not how many people will buy it if the price is low enough.

         
  • Posted: 14 July 2011 08:27 PM #4

    Just great, another chapter of “what makes Apple…Apple”.

    Another issue here is the weight of the extra software development and all it’s associated costs and product cycle time overhead incurred both initially and go forward. Really, it could be framed as a question of “focus” (and that is another chapter in itself)

    Lastly, “Windows Phone 7 is an explicit admission that Windows doesn?t work on phones…”, actually it doesn’t work on computers either!

         
  • Posted: 14 July 2011 09:13 PM #5

    westech - 14 July 2011 10:37 PM

    FalKirk, great analysis.  Thanks.

    I believe it will take years before Microsoft really feels the pain, but they will.

    Trust me, MSFT is feeling the pain today.  They get trend reports that are much better than the ones we see.  They just aren’t publicly admitting the pain.

    Ballmer is the second best thing that ever happened to Apple.  I used to wish that he remained head of MSFT forever, but now, I think he has done enough to insure MSFT’s demise, and Apple’s ascension.  He can go now, but the Board doesn’t have the guts to make that call.

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  • Posted: 16 July 2011 09:11 AM #6

    The real flaw in Microsoft’s tablet strategy is the mouse/keyboard options. The tablet requires new input devices. It’s true that fingers are not mouse replacements for detailed graphic input: a pen/pencil/(stylus) input is much better at many things (pen and paper have demonstrated the superiority of this approach for maybe two thousand years, even clay tablets and stylus before that). So a “pro” option that allows for sketching and handwritten notes would be great, but costly (greater number of sensors per inch, and maybe dual mode sensing). And voice/speech-recognition/voice-to-text capabilities would be a nice keyboard replacement for text input. Currently these are expensive and immature input technologies, but I think that in a few years, finger, voice and (optional) stylus input will make a tablet form-factor an full PC replacement for all but very niche applications that require more than a 9” visual interface (say Hollywood film creation: editing and CGI).

         
  • Posted: 16 July 2011 10:25 AM #7

    I think it’s worse for MS than you’ve said, Falkirk. I suspect it’s NEVER possible to evolve a mature anything into something new. The old is too strong; it spits out the new. I’ve seen senior execs with tremendous track records placed in a new organisation, and they simply can’t execute - the organisation is too strong. USB was on almost every PC, but nobody used it until Apple took everything else off iMac and there was no choice. And even though IOS is OS X, as a product it had to be grown separately, from scratch, on iPhone, iPod and iPad, until it was big and strong on its own account. The reason why IOS is still simple minded, is that new things have to be simple for people to take on board, and for the engineers to evolve into something complex without going astray. Only now, after four years, can Apple risk beginning to merge IOS features back into OS X.

    I’m actually quite favourable to Windows Phone 7; it differs from both IOS and Windows, and it could grow over several years into a real IOS competitor. I suspect MS will end up putting it on a tablet.

    The foundation of Microsoft’s past business is the relationship with their OEM partners. If HP and Dell forsake MS, MS is in for years of pain. The original Xbox was essentially a Windows PC, being sold at less than half the price. It was desperately dangerous territory; OEMs knew that MS could at any moment switch to selling WIndows PC’s direct virtually overnight, simply by unlocking Windows on Xbox, putting them out of business in short order.  MS switched to PowerPC for Xbox360 primarily to reassure windows OEMs IMO, but it fatally loosened the bond between Intel and MS, letting Apple switch from PowerPC to Intel, the first step in unshackling the whole PC hardware building supply chain from Microsoft’s exclusive control.

    What Apple has done was very, very hard, starting ten years ago from the very aggressive 2001 Rip, Mix, Burn campaign (introducing iTunes), taking baby steps that no-one thought were important in the big scheme of things until there was a huge installed base for a new platform, all done without anyone giving up their Wintel PC. I don’t think MS, or anyone else, can repeat that in under ten years. ANd they don’t have the commitment.

    MS is sending mixed signals out: 75 new stores, and Nokia as a virtual subsidiary tells OEMS that MS is a competitor, not a partner. To me it’s so obvious that WP7 is what should go on a new MS tablet that I suspect them of doing just that, but telling the world they won’t, just to keep their Windows OEMs onside for an extra year.

         
  • Posted: 16 July 2011 10:46 AM #8

    In the Microsoft world you sit at a desk and do ‘real’ work.

    In the iPad world you sit on the sofa and have fun and, if necessary, do some work.  You can’t do this with a mouse and a keyboard.

    Given a choice, which would you rather do?

    Microsoft doesn’t get it.

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    Posted: 16 July 2011 11:27 AM #9

    Just wanted to point out that I use the iPad dock keyboard often if I am the dinner table and want to write enlighting comments on AFB quickly.

         
  • Posted: 16 July 2011 12:52 PM #10

    David Stevenson - 16 July 2011 12:11 PM

    The real flaw in Microsoft’s tablet strategy is the mouse/keyboard options.

    The real flaw is that you have to have very different operating systems to accept input from a finger and input from a mouse/sylus. One takes input in large chunks of space. The other is pixel specific. This affects everything. For example, note that the iPad has almost no menus, no scroll bars, etc. The interfaces are, and must be, totally different.

    Putting both operating systems in one tablet means that the tablet cannot be optimized for either operating system and that there will an unacceptable amount of overhead to support.

    sleepygeek - 16 July 2011 01:25 PM

    I’m actually quite favourable to Windows Phone 7; it differs from both IOS and Windows, and it could grow over several years into a real IOS competitor. I suspect MS will end up putting it on a tablet.

    There’s not enough time. Microsoft is already far behind in the tablet race. How long will it take for them to abandon their current tablet efforts before starting on a Windows Phone 7 version of the tablet? And then how long would it take for them to create such a device?

    Look at the Zune and Windows Phone 7. Even a company as large and as powerful and as rich as Microsoft cannot enter a market late with a me-too product and be successful.

    sleepygeek - 16 July 2011 01:25 PM

    The foundation of Microsoft’s past business is the relationship with their OEM partners. If HP and Dell forsake MS, MS is in for years of pain.

    HP already has abandoned Microsoft. You don’t spend 1.2 billion dollars on webOS without the expectation of using it.

    sleepygeek - 16 July 2011 01:25 PM

    MS is sending mixed signals out: 75 new stores, and Nokia as a virtual subsidiary tells OEMS that MS is a competitor, not a partner. To me it’s so obvious that WP7 is what should go on a new MS tablet that I suspect them of doing just that, but telling the world they won’t, just to keep their Windows OEMs onside for an extra year.

    Microsoft has lost their vision and is floundering. They no longer have a formula that works so they are reaching out in every direction. This is part of Ballmer’s lack of vision. He drowning but he simply doesn’t know which which direction to swim. So he’s swimming in ever wider circles in the hope that a life saver will pop into view.

    And be warned. Anyone who remains close to Microsoft is in danger of being dragged under as Microsoft desperately tries to keep itself afloat.

    westech - 16 July 2011 01:46 PM

    In the Microsoft world you sit at a desk and do ‘real’ work.

    “Real” work is the work one actually does. Probably less than 1% of computer users use heavy duty spreadsheets or more than 3% of the features in Microsoft Word or work with digital photographs, videos or music. For the rest of us, scanning the internet, typing short messages, using Apps isn’t just “good enough” - it’s ideal.

    omacvi - 16 July 2011 02:27 PM

    Just wanted to point out that I use the iPad dock keyboard often if I am the dinner table and want to write enlighting comments on AFB quickly.

    There’s nothing wrong with a keyboard or even a stylus for a tablet. But it’s an accessory used only on the edges. The car/truck analogy works here. A keyboard is like a trailer. It’s nice to have the option, but how many people actually use that option and of those who do, how often do they use it?

    Microsoft’s problem is that they are trying to have it all. They want to build a truck, that rides like an SUV, that looks like a two-seater convertible, that has the pep of a sports car, that is as fun to ride as a motorcycle. Is there such a car on the road? No. Why? Because it’s physically impossible to build. Speed, agility, power, size, peppiness - they all require trade-offs. When you prioritize everything, you end up prioritizing nothing.

    Microsoft is doing what it’s always done with tablets - they’re trying to put a truck engine and a truck “shell” on top of a motorcycle. It just won’t work.

         
  • Posted: 16 July 2011 03:57 PM #11

    First class OP, Falkirk.

         
  • Posted: 17 August 2011 02:59 PM #12

    I just read an article that that said that the Microsoft tablet might not have “missed the boat” on tablet sales because everyone fighting for second place behind the iPad has utterly failed to grab any market or mind share. That’s not going to happen.

    I have made the argument before that the upcoming Windows 8 Tablet will fail. The argument is presumptuous, to say the least, since the tablet does not even exist yet. Still, here is one more reason why I think the as yet unborn Microsoft tablet is doomed to die aborning.

    Apps.

    First, because Microsoft decided to use the Windows operating system instead of the Windows Phone 7 Operating System to power their tablet, none of the paltry 25,000 Windows Phone 7 Apps will run on the new tablet. Big mistake.

    Second, to take advantage of the touchscreen interface, Windows 8 tablet software is going to have to be built from the ground up. And there is no known Windows 8 tablet software today although one can presume that Microsoft will have commissioned some software packages to be made available for the launch of their tablet.

    Here’s the key. None of those software packages will be directly compatible with any of the current desktop software offerings. If you are a developer, you want to make money. And to make money, you want to go where the buyers are. And the buyers are on the most popular tablet in the world. If Microsoft thinks that developers will flock to their tablet banner, they should take a look at their own moribund developer efforts in Windows Phone 7 and, more importantly, the dearth of Apps being made for Android tablets. Developers don’t want to build Apps for Microsoft products. They want to make money.

    Third, and this is the key, no one but ultra-geeks and IT managers who are living in the past will want to run Windows desktop applications on their Tablets. I think this is what Microsoft is counting on and I think this is what’s going to sink them.

    Nobody wanted to run desktop applications on their tablets in the ten years before Apple introduced the iPad. No one seems to want to run desktop applications on the iPad or its many imitators. People don’t want to use an operating system designed around a mouse or a stylus on a tablet because the tablet form factor is totally unsuitable for a mouse or a stylus.

    OK, I’m done. I’ve beat that dead horse into the ground. Everything, I’ve written about the upcoming Microsoft tablet is based on things that they’ve said or on demos that they’ve released. One of two things are going to happen. Either Microsoft is lying through their teeth and they’ve actually optimized their tablet for a touch interface or we can take Microsoft at their word in which case their tablet is going to be dead on arrival.

    Microsoft not only missed the boat on tablets but they’re not even at the right dock.

         
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    Posted: 17 August 2011 03:12 PM #13

    FalKirk - 17 August 2011 05:59 PM

    Third, and this is the key, no one but ultra-geeks and IT managers who are living in the past will want to run Windows desktop applications on their Tablets. I think this is what Microsoft is counting on and I think this is what’s going to sink them.

    Exactly! It will be a slow, majestic sinking.

         
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    Posted: 17 August 2011 03:14 PM #14

    Seems to me that the Microsoft tablet endeavors are already underwater on the Poseidon.

         
  • Posted: 17 August 2011 03:55 PM #15

    Tetrachloride - 17 August 2011 06:14 PM

    Seems to me that the Microsoft tablet endeavors are already underwater on the Poseidon.

    The Poseidon is a particularly apt analogy. Not only are they underwater but they’re upside down, too.