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

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Users may want Windows tablets in theory, but they'll buy them only if they work well, in the way an iPad does today. If Microsoft can deliver a really good tablet experience in a year or so, it might have a shot at getting back some of the iPad customers, as well as those who hold out. But Microsoft's track record on tablets and smartphones is so bad that I wouldn't take bets on the company delivering on this promise.

The Apple queasiness is a more substantive concern
The several quotes in news reports from iPad buyers about feeling weird for having bought an Apple device give me pause about Apple's long-term position. It suggests an emotional discomfort that could persist even if people love their iPads, as most do. If that discomfort doesn't dissipate, it leaves Apple vulnerable to Android and other competitors once their value proposition improves.

Although Apple is one of the originators of the modern PC -- after all, its industry-defining Apple II computers predate those that ran the "standard" DOS of the 1980s, and Mac OS presages Windows by several years -- it still has a cultish reputation. Certainly, Apple's intensely enthusiastic user community helps create and perpetuate that "holy roller" reputation, and a parade of Apple executives -- John Sculley, Guy Kawasaki, and of course Steve Jobs -- over the years have both tapped into and orchestrated those emotions in times good and bad.

Like a minority religion or political faction, Apple is both famililar and exotic. For the "just folks" crowd, it can be difficult to join that club.

Then again, if Apple didn't have that emotional component, it likely wouldn't exist today. It took that degrree of emotional commitment for its users to stick with it as boring but safe (remember "no one gets fired for buying IBM"?) computing spread through the business world, then the personal world. But that emotional nature can also be exclusionary -- few people like being proselytized or feeling they have to make an emotional commitment to a product beyond their personal happiness in using it. If it feels like you have to join a cult to get the goods, you'll think twice -- and more easily flee when similar items become available elsewhere.

On the other hand, the iPad has been only growing in adoption, like the iPhone and iPod before it. Most users of iPods don't think of themselves as having joined a cult, yet they remain loyal to the MP3 player device after all these years. By the time the Android and other tablet makers fix their value propositions -- or if the time comes when Microsoft has a compelling tablet offering -- maybe iPad users will have reached a similar state of noncultish devotion. If not, Apple could be vulnerable and the tablet market will remain very much unsettled.

This article, "Windows tablets: Be careful what you wish for," was originally published at Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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