What makes a good tablet device? It’s a pretty commonly asked question at the moment. We just hope it’s one being asked around the halls of the Microsoft campus. Because right now, from what we’ve seen so far, we’re not sure the company has been asking the right questions.
The tablet device market is really starting to get a move on with new products being anounced every week, the latest being a new seven-inch version of the Viewsonic ViewPad due to arrive early next year.
But in some ways, the hardware is irrelevent – provided you make the choice between resistive and capacitive touchscreen technology, the hardware inside these devices is invariably selected from a narrow pool of options.
What makes a tablet is its operating system. Talk to any satisfied Apple iPad user and they’ll tell you the make and model of the operating system long before they’ll tell you anything about the chip inside it.
But while Apple continues to handle both hardware and software sides of tablet design, Microsoft (at least from the outside observer) only has the operating system and frankly, from what we’ve seen so far, it needs a serious rethink.
The Hanvon B10 was one of the first Windows tablet/slate devices to arrive in Australia and as a hardware device, it’s not too bad – a bit heavy in comparision to an iPad but its 320GB hard drive and Intel Celeron-based processor get the job done. What we struggled with most though was the Windows 7 Home Premium operating system.
Unless you’re prepared to plug in a mouse and use this as a quasi-notebook, then Windows 7 Home Premium is quite simply a duck out of water. When you’re talking about a device with 1024×600-pixel resolution – essentially a 10.2-inch netbook without a keyboard – and you’re trying to control Microsoft’s tiny icons and menu options with your finger, forget it.
Yes, the Hanvon B10 has thumbstick that acts as a mouse – but that highlights how old and stale Microsoft’s thinking is if it thinks Windows 7 Home Premium is enough to run on a tablet device. Compare Android and iOS and there are no cursors – the interface is designed for touch. The release of Windows Phone 7 shows that Microsoft really does know this.
Windows Phone 7 has been one of the real surprises for 2010. But it’s now time the software giant released Windows Tablet 7 and gave us a decent alternative to iOS and Android.
We won’t be first to say that Microsoft is running out of time. The desktop PC has begun to lose out in consumer’s minds to these smaller, more portable devices. With Google and Apple in one corner and with HP readying its own WebOS alternative devices in the other, Microsoft doesn’t have too much time to get back into the race. And the company already knows with Windows Phone 7 that coming back into the market from a long way behind is something that requires time and deep pockets.
Tablet devices are here to stay, that’s a given. But as this is still a growing market, it’s still there for the taking by the company that gets the hardware and software right. Apple’s iPad looks like a first-generation device – the lack of peripheral ports has been well documented. Android is just hitting its straps and only just hitting mainstream. Microsoft still has time to get into this market – but it hasn’t got long.
In fact, Microsoft really needs to have a decent tablet OS up and running by the middle of 2011 or risk losing any momentum gained from Windows Phone 7.
That said, even having a dominant market position is no future guarantee. The fact that the iPad has seen growing penetration into the e-book market at the expense of Amazon’s all-conquering Kindle comes somewhat as a surprise but shows that if the device, it’s features and interface are right, it will grab market share from anywhere.