Psst, Microsoft! Here's how you unseat the iPad

The iPad will be a distant memory and Windows 8 tablets will reign supreme if Microsoft follows Cringely's cunning plan

Think the iPad is all that? Just you wait for Windows 8. In a few short months, people won't even remember who made the iPad, let alone what one looks like.

Don't believe me? According to Taiwan-based news site DigiTimes, Microsoft and Intel are hatching secret plans to slash the iPad's market share from its current level of 70-plus percent to under 50 percent by the middle of next year.

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Per DigiTimes' usual crew of unnamed Taiwanese original device manufacturers:

Based on current progress of development, there will be 32 Windows 8 tablet PCs launched by Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Lenovo, Acer, Asustek Computer, and Toshiba by the end of 2012, the sources indicated. In particular, Lenovo and Acer plan to launch Windows 8 tablet PCs priced at $300 to $1,000, with entry-level models to be sold at below $300 for competition with Android tablet PCs and models offered by China-based white-box vendors, and models at over $300 to challenge iPad, including the new iPad and a next-generation iPad, the sources claimed.

Nearly three dozen Windows 8 tablets on the market by year end? That's certain to vault Microsoft to the top of the tablet food chain, just as it did for the 397 Android tablets that were on the market last year. Oh wait, sorry. That was a weird dream I had after eating too much pork lo mein.

What I meant to say is, $1,000 for a Windows tablet? Are they out of their friggin' minds?

DigiTimes' track record for accurate predictions is -- well, spotty is the nicest thing you can say about it. I wouldn't put too much stock in Microsoft's alleged plans for world tablet domination or, at this point, survival.

However, I do possess the secret for Microsoft's success. I know what it will take for Microsoft to leapfrog Apple in the tablet marketplace, and I'm willing to give up this sage bit of marketing wisdom absolutely free of charge. Ready? Here it is: Forget $999 tablets. Bollocks any notion of $299 slates.

Instead, drop the price on Windows tablets to exactly zero dollars. Just give them away. Set up folding card tables outside Microsoft Stores and hand them out to anyone who passes by. If they're willing to trade in their old iPad, give them two.

I'm totally serious. Remember the HP TouchPad? Those WebOS-based slates totally tanked in the market until Hewlett-Packard started shoveling the remaining inventory out the door at $99 apiece. Suddenly, they were the most popular thing since individually wrapped slices of American cheese. At that price, people were willing to take a chance on a platform that was most likely an orphan, even if only to squirrel them away for eBay auctions 20 years from now.

My plan is similar, only it's $99 cheaper. Given the lukewarm reviews Windows 8 has received so far, it's Microsoft's last, best hope.

Let's be frank. Microsoft is not going to beat Apple on cool. It's not going to beat Apple on features. It's not going to be first to the market with anything Apple hasn't already thought of, unless it's something Apple has thought of and discarded. It's only going to beat Apple on price, as it did with Windows desktops and laptops. And given Apple's enormous lead in mind share, market share, and any other kind of share you can imagine, Microsoft needs to do something dramatic in that department.

Will $0 tablets cut into their profit margin? Initially. Will its Taiwanese device-making partners balk? Possibly. But the real market isn't hardware -- it's apps. It's services and subscriptions. That long tail will dwarf anything people spend on the devices themselves.

There you have it: Microsoft's plan to get back into the tablet game before the game is over, simple, fast, effective, and, like I said, entirely free. Although if Microsoft adopts this strategy and it proves a roaring success, I wouldn't say no if Redmond offered to send me a nice six-figure check, just as a courtesy. My ideas may be free, but they don't come cheap.

How much are Windows 8 tablets worth to you? Name your price below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "Psst, Microsoft! Here's how you unseat the iPad," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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