No Windows Tablets Until Late 2012? That Could be Disastrous. Or a Pretty Good Idea.

By  |  Friday, March 4, 2011 at 10:01 am

When is Microsoft going to have a version of Windows that can power tablets that have a chance at competing with the iPad? Bloomberg’s Ian King and Dina Bass are reporting that the world’s largest software company won’t release anything until 2012’s back-to-school season. They don’t use the words “Windows 8” in the story, but if they’re right about the timing, it sounds like Microsoft has decided that the best way to respond to the iPad is with a version of full-blown Windows that’s been thoroughly reworked for tablets (rather than the plain ol’ Windows 7 which failed to storm the tablet market back in early 2010).

Then again, it may have other, speedier plans. ZDnet’s Mary Jo Foley wrote about Windows Embedded Compact 7, a version of the operating system based on the same guts as Windows Phone 7. It’s already out, and meant for a variety of devices, including…tablets! But maybe simple ones focused on the consumption of content rather than creation. (With Apple’s demos of versions of iMovie and GarageBand for the iPad, I hope there’s nobody left who insists that the iPad is purely, um, consumptive.)

If Bloomberg’s right and the first serious iPad challengers that run Windows won’t show up until the fall of 2012, Apple will have something like an 1830-month head start on Microsoft. First-generation Windows 8 tablets will compete against third-generation iPads and other devices from RIM, HP, and others which have been through at least a couple of revisions. It’s going to be really, really late to a party that’s in progress right now.

It sounds like a recipe for futility. But I’m not sure whether it’s any more dicey a proposition than the one other Apple rivals are pursuing, which is to get into the race sooner rather than later. It’s now eleven months since the iPad shipped, and the products arriving to compete with it still feel a bit like they’re still pulling on their running shorts as they enter the race. (Motorola’s Xoom, while not without its virtues, shipped without three of the key features which are supposed to make it an iPad-beater: 4G wireless, Flash, and a MicroSD slot. It also came with a copy of Android 3.0 Honeycomb that’s crashed on me more in a couple of weeks than my iPad has in the last eleven months.)

The first round of iPad challengers are dealing with a major gotcha: Apple, too, is running as fast as it can. Now that the company has revealed the iPad 2, we know what it’s been focusing on: making the tablet thinner, lighter, and slicker, so it feels less like a computer and more like the “magical” device it’s been talking about all along. End result: RIM’s PlayBook and HP’s TouchPad, which looked a little less polished than the iPad from an industrial-design standpoint, have fallen further behind before they’ve even shipped.

Microsoft could hastily knock out something that looks like it was hastily knocked out. Or it could bide its time, building a version of Windows for tablets that’s ambitious and impressive from the get go. At this point, the latter strategy seems at least as reasonable as the first one.

After all, the history of technology products is rife with major successes that weren’t the first contenders in their category–or even the second, third, fourth, or fifth arrival. Microsoft’s DOS showed up years after the first personal computers shipped. Google was a latecomer to the search-engine wars. The iPhone entered what seemed to be a mature smartphone market; the iPad jumpstarted the tablet market that had fumbled along for a couple of decades without any success stories. In each case, lollygagging seemed to help rather than hurt.

Mind you, we know very little about Windows 8 other than that it’ll run on the ARM-architecture chips that are well suited to tablets as well as x86 processors. It could still be a big snooze. But in a world of 1.0 tablets, there’s a chance, at least, that abstaining from competition until you have something closer to a 3.0 is a rational move.


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13 Comments For This Post

  1. Paul Turnbull Says:


    If W8 tablets ship in late 2012 it would mean Apple has 30+ month lead on Microsoft not 18 months.

    It is 11 months since iPad shipped not a year and 11 months.

  2. Harry McCracken Says:

    Thank you. As you might have guessed, I’m not as misinformed as my math made me sound–I’m a bit under the weather today, and it shows…


  3. Paul Turnbull Says:

    No worries that's what we're here for. 🙂

  4. @ymala1 Says:

    Feel better soon! 🙂

  5. johnwbaxter Says:

    I wonder how many of your younger readers are aware of the wonderfully vague old medical diagnoses of "consumption" and "consumptive". We have much better diagnoses now (where better means having nice code numbers that lead to insurance company payouts).

    And in the 4th graf, not "a year and 11 months". Must have happened during an edit. A couple of weeks from now, that would have worked for WiFi-only and 3G models.

  6. nick dafo Says:

    microsoft whaaaaaat? i seriously hope they fail, they have been feeding people with crashes, patch tuesdays and even more long enough.even closed apple is better than microsoft. of course google is the best one to win this but if you think about it, until a market ends nothing is won and the world is spinning well!

  7. Ed Oswald Says:

    I just don't know what to think of this. Personally, my gut says this is bad. It seems to me as if Microsoft has lost all competitive drive as of late — there's no aggressiveness, or anything. John Dvorak's piece may have said it best —….

    Microsoft is "dead money" right now. Something has to change, don't you think?

  8. david Says:

    Microsoft isn't dead money. They just launched a competitive new platform, WP7. Although it may not be tearing up the industry, Windows 1.0 took almost 10 years and new iterations before it dominated. If Microsoft is in for the long haul, which it is, it will own the smartphone industry. Windows 8, like Windows 7, will sell very fast and create more revenue for MS. Not to mention Xbox and Kinect. No aggressiveness or competitive drive, Microsoft has just revolutionized two industries in one month. With Xbox Kinect and Windows Phone, Microsoft is anything but non-competitive. MarketWatch is wrong, Ed.

  9. Tom b Says:

    Given that MSFT has never had much expertise in software/OS's, a delay might help them some. At least they would have a chance to do their tablet "less wrong".


    I think that Apple has the hardware side of the equation very well under control with the iPad 2. I'm really amazed at how polished the second iteration is from a pure hardware perspective. The cover is also very cool – it's an everyday object imbued with that special Apple design magic.

    But what will make the tablet great is the software, and here too, Apple is showing it is out in front of the competition. The iMovie and Garage Band apps are perfect and at $4.99 a piece a real bargain.

    I may be premature, but I think that there is zero chance that Apple will fail in this new category. This isn't the 1980's, and other late products like the Zune and WP7 are all duds. I see no indication that a late Microsoft Tablet won't suffer the same fate. Time to sell MSFT.

  11. david Says:

    I couldn't disagree more. It's always easiest to say that the first thing on the market (iPad) is the best and that subsequent competing products are knock-offs. WP7 is actually really successful from a customer standpoint. Fastest growing app store, 90+% customer satisfaction. Sometimes it's about quality. Apple is not in front of the competition in software, Android had features that iOS doesn't (Flash, true multitasking) before the iPad was even rumored to be in development. iMovie and Garage Band are no different than Windows Movie Maker and Audacity. Apple WILL fail in this category, it's a fact. Although they may be ahead now, like they were in the PC industry, Steve Jobs' closemindedness and distrust (ie. Flash, app store) will lead the software and hardware into self parody and the customers will go with Windows 8, which will no doubt be better than iOS in every way.

  12. david Says:

    Windows 7 on a tablet is even better than iOS. Although no other tablet has managed to knock iOS to the ground yet that is because Microsoft lacks basic competition in the consumers eyes. Most people think Win7 is not touch friendly and hence go with iOS. They don't even consider Android because of its fragmentation. So when Windows 8 comes out, it's going to do what Windows 1.0 did 25 or so years ago. It's going to wipe the floor with iOS and make it a fond memory, just like the Apple Newton.

  13. david Says:

    I have this faint feeling in my bones that elements of Courier, maybe even Courier as a program itself, will pop up in Windows 8. Just keep faith!