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By Greg Mills
Famous for pre-launching visionary vaporware products, still way back in the pipeline, that either don't actually launch or have serious flaws that slowly become apparent, Microsoft did it again.
Hopeful that the Windows fan boys would stir up iPad killer anticipation and raise Microsoft's fortunes, CEO Steve Ballmer showed off yet another prototype tablet. Despite declaring Apple's iPad's market a "rounding error sized challenge to Windows," Microsoft now sees that Apple is indeed taking significant business sales away from them and their partners.
The first thing you notice is that the latest iPad killer is 9 x16 in shape, due to the HDTV format screen. RIM picked that format for their failed PlayBook tablets, as well. Not only is the screen real-estate truncated for uses other than watching video, for reasons only Microsoft can fathom, they plan to release two versions of the Surface tablet that are platform incompatible, right off the bat. You read that right.
In addition to the new tablet's built-in platform fragmentation due to two using different chip sets, the move to touch screen has really been diluted by Microsoft with a detachable keypad (likely to cost a good bit more than a bare tablet alone) that is sure to be required for numerous applications users are likely to want. The keyboard is thin and attached mechanically to an edge of the new tablet rather than designed to work with Bluetooth, it appears. Microsoft picked gosh awful colors for their "Smartcover with a keypad" that is very reminiscent of Apple's magnetic iPad cover.
Consumers, prepare to be very confused. Buyers of the new tablets ought to have a good sense of humor and expect a flurry of patches and recalls common to half-baked Microsoft products.
When the keyboard is attached to the new tablet what you get looks for all the world like one of those cheap netbooks that are gathering dust at your local electronics store. I have a Kensington Bluetooth keyboard for iPad that I picked up for $50 on Ebay, but don't really use it much. Microsoft, in a sort of neurotic frenzy, is desperate to compete with Apple's iPad but can't seem to grasp the basic concepts that make the tablet magical.
How likely is Apple to launch an iPad that will run the Mac OS but won't run the iOS? Imagine a higher priced version of iPad that runs a lame touch version of the Mac OS instead of the iOS. For many of the features that would push a consumer into buying an Intel chip set iPad, a keyboard would really be necessary. A major tweaking of every Mac OS app that would run on the bastard iPad tablet would also be required to make the concept work. Duh, why not just get a MacBook Air instead of an expensive iPad with Intel chips if you really want a physical keypad and to run Mac OS apps?
The intoxicating habit of using an iPad has gotten me to reach out and touch the screen of my MacBook Pro on a number of occasions. That Apple might actually launch a notebook with a touch screen in addition to the built in keyboard is possible, but really not compelling, since they have done such a good job with iOS touch screen technology. Touch screen technology that is seriously patented,I might add. The natural and easy way to do touch screen intuitively is already owned by Apple. Microsoft is entering an intellectual property quicksand bog at this point. Apple is so far ahead in touch screen technology, Microsoft will never catch up.
Back to the fragmentation issue. The reason for the two versions of the Microsoft tablet is that one is to run a pared down mobile touch version of the latest Windows release on an ARM chipset. The other tablet is running a Intel chipset found in conventional tablets. Microsoft can't ignore a legacy based on what has worked for them in the past. Rather than give up on ever making the Windows PC OS run well on a tablet, they continue to try, so legacy PC programs will still run on the new tablets (how well they will actually run is to be determined).
The other Mobile Windows OS, which was designed to run on a tablet will suffer from the classic "empty app store" problem. Compatibility of Windows phone apps and the new Microsoft ARM tablet remain to be disclosed. Prepare for serious fragmentation, by design. Microsoft will be Microsoft, after all.
Microsoft ought to be comfortable just milking the Windows PC OS cow until she dies of old age. Every time they try to follow Apple's lead they get burned.
There are three categories of people and companies in the world. There are those that are able to innovate and invent new and mind-blowing technology. Think Steve Jobs and Apple. There are those that understand ground-breaking innovation when they see it and know when they can't match it. Think HP and the Palm OS. Then there are the companies that not only fail to actually invent futuristic technology, but can't really understand it when they hold it in their hands. Think Microsoft.
Microsoft History 101: The Apple iPod ate Zune alive, Zune is dead. The Apple iPhone has destroyed Microsoft's Kin phone, (which was discontinued and its OS orphaned after about a month on the market) and even the new Nokia smart phones running Microsoft's newest Windows Mobile platform are failing badly, to the extent Nokia might just go under. Nokia might have at least survived had they gone with the Android platform.
Apple's iPad is certainly going to eat Microsoft's new tablets for lunch as well. Even if the Microsoft tablet is okay from a hardware standpoint, the platform fragmentation and lack of a substantial mobile app inventory and likely problems getting anything Microsoft to run well on a touch screen make me discount Microsoft's table prospects. Hey, even RIM's PlayBook was technically pretty good but failed miserably for compelling reasons Microsoft will soon rediscover. Apple isn't taking a break from innovating, thus Microsoft will never catch up in the tablet market.
Software compatibility of iPod touch, iPhones and iPads makes an app written for one iOS device pretty compatible with any other iOS device. While there are two versions of a lot of apps, the fragmentation of Android apps and likely fragmented Microsoft apps has been avoided by Apple. That means a lot to developers.
Apple has always been a very hard act to follow. I will certainly not put my new iPad up for sale, just yet.
That is Greg's Bite.