Windows 7 has been shipping with multi-touch support since October 2009 (just over six months ago as I write this). Windows multi-touch technology was presented to PC OEMs in November of 2008 (18 months ago). And it was first demoed publicly at All Things D in May of 2008 (just shy of two years ago).
So where are the Windows-based tablets to go toe-to-toe with iPad? Lets survey the OEMs:
- OEM #1 HP just plunked down $1.2 billion for Palm and are saying they will use it for “multiple connected devices”. Concurrent rumors of HP killing the Windows-based Slate tablet that Steve Ballmer waved around at CES may be premature, but no one has more experience with Windows touchscreen devices than HP. They don’t seem on board.
- OEM #2 Dell appears exclusively committed to Android for tablets.
- Taiwan Inc. (aka Acer and ASUS) is strangely silent, although there are many rumors they are doing ARM/Android smartbooks.
- Lenovo (who ironically I think build the world’s best keyboard) has a weird hybrid notebook with a removable tablet where the notebook runs Windows but the tablet runs Linux.
- French consumer electronics powerhouse (?) Archos actually has a Windows 7 tablet, but they bury it on their site relative to the Android-powered tablets (they do atone slightly and prominently recommend Windows 7 on the page with the Android devices!).
- Intel, who normally play a key role in helping OEMs get to market, seems to be busy downplaying tablets and spending their time with 20th century mobile (and rubber boot) powerhouse Nokia on the MeToo, er, MeeGo operating system (the Wikipedia entry is worth a read). Atom seems to be getting smoked by ARM for anything below the netbook.
Tablets are not exactly a new form factor for Microsoft, so what is the problem? No dedicated multi-touch shell? (Microsoft is shipping a Touch Pack of accessories). A lack of hardware reference designs? Battery life challenges? (is it time to dig out the HAL documentation and port big Windows to ARM?) Secret patent threats from Apple? OEMs waiting for OneNote 2010 with touch support to ship? Microsoft playing hardball on royalties (i.e. above netbook levels) while Android is free and offering search TAC kickbacks? (the OEMs not surprisingly like this model where they get paid to use an OS). Did Courier got shot because it was scaring off OEMs who assumed Microsoft was going to build its own hardware a la Xbox or Zune?
Whatever the case, having no essentially presence in the hottest category de jour despite investing in this space for years has to be a big disappointment in Redmond, especially when they could have beaten Apple to market. Android and its economic model is a real and strategic threat to the Windows franchise and the tablet door appears to be wide open. What has happened to Microsoft’s once lauded, once-feared OEM organization?