Why the iPad is popular and Windows 'tablets' are not

When a tablet tries to be a laptop, people buy a laptop instead -- or a real tablet

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Windows 8 was supposed to be what changed the requirement for a Windows tablet to really be a laptop in disguise. But Windows 8 is loathed nearly universally, and the tablet doesn't have the native Metro apps people actually need. Sure, it can run Windows 7 apps such as Office and Photoshop, but then it needs to be a laptop, which of course leads people to get a laptop.

By contrast, the iPad and its Android clones don't try to be laptops. Apple made darned sure the iPad couldn't be a laptop, in fact. You can't use a mouse with it, and you don't get a file system. Sure, you can use a physical keyboard, but that's useful only when you're in stenography mode, such as when taking meeting minutes. iOS and its apps force you to engage with the screen constantly, so using the keyboard becomes an interruption of the natural user interface. There also are no legacy OS X apps available for the iPad, so there's no temptation to treat the iPad as a Mac.

All this was intentional so that the iPad couldn't be perverted into -- or confused with -- a MacBook. That also means Apple has a greater chance to sell you both an iPad and a Mac, whereas Microsoft and its hardware partners keep trying to tell you that their tablets can function as both, when it's clear they can't.

Apple's strategy meant the iPad and its developers had to find their own value proposition and stand on their own feet. That ensured the iPad remained its own entity.

You don't have to want to use an iPad to understand that key reality: An iPad only wants to be an iPad, but a Windows tablet really wants to be a laptop.

Microsoft -- at least part of it -- understands this reality. Its Office for iPad is what Windows tablets should be running, but Microsoft so far is unwilling to threaten its lucrative Windows Office business to do that. (Office for iPad requires an Office 365 subscription, making it a supplement to the "real" Office, not a cannibalizing replacement.)

And remember the Surface RT, the thin tablet that didn't run Windows 7 apps? That was Microsoft's real iPad clone, but the lack of adoption of its Metro app environment by developers and Microsoft's lack of basic security capabilities meant the device was useless in business, its core target. It pretended to be like an iPad, but it did less and was less secure. Of course no one bought it.

Microsoft seems to have abandoned Windows RT. It won't say that, but then again it doesn't say anything at all anymore about RT. In fact, the failure of RT seems only to have pushed Microsoft further into the strategy of creating tablets that really want to be laptops. Microsoft even promotes the pricey Surface Pro 3 that way, hoping that by labeling it as an "enterprise" product enough change-averse IT people will force it on users. Ha!

Instead of making Windows RT work and seeding the market with compelling native apps, as Apple had to do with iOS in the early days, Microsoft is pushing Windows tablets even further into laptop territory. That's why the Surface Pro 3 will be as irrelevant as every other previous Windows tablet -- and why, when people think of tablets, they'll be thinking of the iPad.

This article, "Why the iPad is popular and Windows 'tablets' are not," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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