Why a Windows tablet is still a bad idea

Microsoft rushing out a misguided attempt at a tablet built on a desktop OS is not the holiday present users are looking for

Steve Ballmer is known for making big promises -- some bigger than the reality Microsoft can actually deliver. With the 2010 holiday shopping season rapidly approaching, Ballmer insists that we will see Windows tablets by Christmas. If Ballmer really wants to play Santa Claus, though, he would instead abandon the idea entirely and work with vendors to pursue tablets based on the Windows Phone 7 platform.

To be honest, Ballmer's claim seems suspect. With rumors and speculation focused more on which vendors are abandoning the Windows 7 tablet concept than pursuing it, and no credible reports of impending Windows tablets, it is implausible that one could secretly be rushed to market in the next two months.

Giving Ballmer the benefit of the doubt, though, it is simply a bad idea. The Windows tablet concept is a bad idea for two reasons. First, it demonstrates a lack of understanding of what tablets are about, and second, rushing to market with a half-baked product will create a horrible first impression and possibly doom Microsoft's tablet prospects entirely.

I love my iPad, but it is a different experience entirely. Despite reports that the iPad might be impacting netbook or notebook sales, the tablet is a mobile device that is more -- and in some ways less -- than simply repackaging a desktop operating system in a flat-panel touchscreen form factor. There is a lot of overlap between what a tablet and a netbook can do, but a Kindle can play MP3s too, and that doesn't make it a rival for MP3 players.

Users don't want a tablet to be a full desktop operating system, or run all of the software, and use all of the peripherals commonly associated with PCs. They have PCs for that. The tablet is a mobile computing device with the emphasis on "mobile" rather than "computing". The tablet needs to be lightweight, have exceptional battery life, and provide intuitive--preferably one-handed--access to all of the tasks and tools users need.

There are some areas where a tablet-style PC has valid uses. Those are the niche markets that have already embraced the Windows tablet concept which predates the iPad by years. The bottom line, though, is that tablets like the iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab, and BlackBerry PlayBook have a completely different purpose.

A tablet built on the Windows Phone 7 platform could be a phenomenal success. Using a mobile OS rather than a desktop OS would enable Microsoft and its hardware partners to produce a mobile experience comparable, or even superior, to these rival tablets. But, if Microsoft rushes a flaky Windows 7 tablet out by Christmas just to prove it can, the outcome probably won't be pretty and it could take Microsoft years to rebound from that fiasco to be taken seriously in the tablet market again.

Microsoft should take a hint from LG. Better to delay in order to deliver a solid first impression, than scrambling to meet the holiday shopping deadline with a product doomed to fail.

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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