How Microsoft Lost the Tablet War

Microsoft Tablet War

When we think of tablet computing as it was before Apple brought us the iPad, most of us probably remember the thick and clunky laptops with removable lcd displays, or ones that could be unhinged and shifted or folder over to present a touch surface that could be used with a stylus.  They were huge and heavy, essentially full sized laptops that simply allowed you to write on the screen if you needed to.  These first generation Microsoft Tablet PCs were powered by a slightly modified version of its Windows XP operating system called Windows XP Tablet Edition, which enabled touch screen features and the use of a special pen for handwriting.  Bill Gates predicted as early as 2000 that tablets were the way of the future of personal computing, and Microsoft, which had failed to catch on to so many other waves (social networking, Internet services, and even the browser market) seemed poised to blaze a trail into the next era.  Why, then, did ten years pass with no further development?  Why did Microsoft allow Apple reign victorious in 2010 with the truly innovative iPad tablet ?

By all rights, Microsoft should have gotten the glory for bringing tablet computers into the hands of millions of people worldwide.  It had a head start spanning an entire decade to bring the technology to life.  Instead, Microsoft revealed its hand too early in the game.  The overall idea of a tablet PC failed because of poorly executed hardware and software designs.  They appealed only to a limited audience, were impractical, and had almost nothing beyond novelty to offer the average consumer.  There was no “experience,” and no branded concept of a “digital life.”

Microsoft Tablet War

It was Apple that finally introduced the all encompassing experience:  sleek product design, iTunes and cloud based hubs for music and video management, the inclusion of a proprietary e-book platform, and an operating system already mature from years of fine tuning and widespread use on iPhones.  By the time iPad arrived, its early adopters were already well familiar with its interface.  The learning curve was small.  The device was magnificent in almost every way.  But few people remember these words from Steve Jobs in 2003, in response to a question from Walt Mossberg as to whether Apple should be making a tablet:

There are no plans to make a tablet. It turns out people want keyboards. We look at the tablet and we think it is going to fail. Tablets appeal to rich guys with plenty of other PCs and devices already.”

Jobs was either playing his cards close to his vest, or really believed what he was saying at the time.  Either way, it is evident that the concept caught his attention and kept it, and now, Apple rules the world.

Melonie McLaurin is a technology blogger who specializes in coverage of Apple, Microsoft, and Google.  She currently writes for DirecTV.

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