Windows tablets: Be careful what you wish for

People are buying iPads despite unease about Apple -- and a Forrester study says they would much rather have a Windows tablet

Forrester Research this week released a damning study of various vendors' tablet plans, which concluded that Apple will rule this field much as it does the MP3 player (iPod) market. The reason: Android tablets, along with the coming HP WebOS and RIM BlackBerry tablets, are overpriced, sold in cell phone stores that customers dislike visiting, and -- perhaps most critical -- not compelling products in their own right. Although some iPad competitors win on spec wars, none prevails where it counts: user experience and utility.

Those conclusions should be obvious to everyone (though apparently not to those tablet makers and their carrier partners), but the Forrester study had another insight I found both interesting and ironic: Most would-be tablet buyers really want a Windows tablet. In addition, several news reports this week sounded a curious theme, claiming that many iPad buyers were queasy about buying Apple products.

[ Also on Tablet deathmatch: Apple iPad 2 vs. Motorola Xoom. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights via Galen's Twitter feed and the Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]

The Windows tablet desire is a theoretical, safe one
Given that every attempt by Microsoft and PC makers to sell Windows-based tablets has failed -- with Windows XP, Vista, and 7 -- why do people want Windows tablets? And if they do, such demand will put Microsoft in a good position when (if) it delivers a tablet-savvy Windows 8 in 2012 as it is hinting, right?

The real answer to the first question is simple: Users know Windows on their PCs, and the idea of something familiar in the tablet space has real -- albeit theoretical -- appeal. Redmond's repeated failures in this field shows that customers may want Windows tablets but not the kinds that Microsoft has repeatedly delivered. They've all failed on several counts: high weight, low battery life, and awkward UI.

When HP made a lot of noise last year about its Windows 7 slate, the HP 500, many bloggers and analysts swooned. But HP made only 5,000 or so of them, quietly and quickly taking the product off the market within days of shipping the first units. The HP 500 was about as light as an iPad, so that issue had been solved. I can't speak to the battery life or its UI, as HP refused to let InfoWorld test one (not a good sign). But I have worked with Windows 7's touch interface on other HP products. In short, it's unusable. It's no surprise HP pulled the plug on its Windows slate shortly after it launched. Now, of course, HP has decided to go its own way with the forthcoming WebOS-based TouchPad.

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