Microsoft spares tablet users from Windows Phone 7

Though Steve Ballmer hungers to overthrow the iPhone, he's exercised prudence is keeping Windows Phone 7 off tablets

Microsoft has deservedly garnered criticism for what passes as its mobile strategy, which is best likened to Muhammad Ali's famous rope-a-dope strategy, but without the fancy footwork or the effective counterpunching. That is, Microsoft's answer to the flurry of smartphone combos from the likes of Apple and Google has been to hit back, at glacial speed, with the lackluster Windows Phone 7.

Microsoft evidently realizes the weakness of its lightweight mobile platform; the company has reiterated that it's steering OEMs away from putting Windows Phone 7 on tablets, favoring Windows 7 for said machines, until it rolls out a version that's better suited for the touchy, feely form factor that is the tablet. The company has faced some criticism for this tactic, but frankly, I believe Microsoft is showing much-needed restraint. Allowing Windows Phone 7 on the tablet would be a disaster, and Microsoft must know it.

As it stands, Windows Phone 7 is a dismal smartphone platform, for reasons InfoWorld mobile guru Galen Gruman has discussed at some length. Functionally, it lacks necessities such as multitasking, HTML5 support, and copy and paste (all are promised for "later"); it's burdened with old technologies such as IE7; and navigation is awkward. Aesthetically, its UI is reminiscent of the boxy games on the Atari 2600. Putting such an unseemly platform on a larger device would serve only to bring those flaws into sharper focus, the way large-screen HD TV reveals unsightly pimples and fatty deposits that you might have never noticed when viewing "Baywatch" (or other flesh-intensive programming) on a low-def 15-inch screen.

Trying to pass off Windows Phone 7 as a tablet platform would almost certainly ruin Microsoft's chances of ever breaking into the tablet market. Android's debut on tablet-like devices may be a bit premature, given Google's own assertion that the platform is not yet tablet-ready. But it's certainly better suited for the form factor than Windows Phone 7.

Notably, Windows 7 won't make for a particularly strong contender as a tablet OS. Yes, it's a fine desktop operating system; plus, unlike with Windows Phone 7, apps are available for Windows 7. However, given its lackluster touch features and heavy-duty footprint, Windows 7 on a tablet would be process-intensive, battery-draining overkill. One might as well stick with a Windows laptop and forgo the convenience of a second highly portable device for media consumption (or, of course, opt for an iPad).

Still, if Microsoft is determined to dip its toe into the tablet waters now as it develops a version of Windows that's suitable for the form factor, going with Windows 7 makes far more sense than attempting to gussy up the lipsticked pig that is Windows Phone 7 with a formal gown and high heels. But Microsoft has chosen a third way, perhaps realizing that neither Windows Phone 7 nor Windows 7 is the right approach: It's planning to use Windows 7 Compact Edition -- a modified version of the OS used in industrial handhelds -- as the basis for "Windows 7" tablets.

This article, "Microsoft spares tablet users from Windows Phone 7," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.

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