Monday, May 03, 2010

Opinion: RIP Slate, Courier - and what might be missing in the Microsoft tablet strategy

Last week, there was quite a blow to the entire Windows 7 tablet business. HP dropped the Slate (less than a month after its internal PR push) and then Microsoft formally confirmed and killed the Courier project, a potentially game-changing Windows-based tablet, or was it?

The first thing that came to mind, unfortunately, was that while Windows 7 supports gesture-based input, it is more useful in a desktop environment (like the HP TouchSmart). I'm using Windows 7 and from a laptop and desktop, it completely rocks. I was in a business presentation two weeks ago and one of the Microsoft reps pulled out their tablet and used it quick effectively. But the Microsoft tablets (from Toshiba among others) have always been focused on the business end and putting your desktop applications into a pen-based environment.

Today's tablets (or the basic hype around them), on the other hand, are more focused on consumer or "lifestyle" use. I've tried Chromium on a laptop and was left less than impressed. I'm still waiting to see a real "Android" tablet. But Android is based on a phone OS, much like the iPad.

Based on the new reality of how tablets are being positioned, maybe Windows 7 on a tablet simply doesn't offer a truly new experience that tablet users are expecting. So why not build it on Windows Phone 7?

That could be the right approach, right? But the Courier project was apparently based on that operating system. So why was it killed?

Too small? At a reported 5x7 side, it could have been perceived as too much of a toy compared to the larger tablets but, I'm not sold on this. A tablet that could fold up? At 5x7, that makes it instantly carry-friendly but as a business device, maybe that's where it was failing.

Whereas Apple has only ever tried to serve one master, itself (or the one known as Steve), Microsoft is always trying to serve two: business and consumer. Certain things are easily positioned: xBox is definitely not going to be a business-friendly device and SharePoint/Office 2010 are not going to be truly consumer-based products.

But a tablet? That has to be both. From what I've seen on Windows Phone 7, it's definitely on that track, but killing what could be the first non-phone based use for it, might hurt it more than help.

Apple has always taken a "we've just changed the world" approach with their products, not without reason. But their community (and the press by in large) accepts the first product as almost perfection, and then gets all excited by the next iteration of the product, which finally delivers on some of the promise.

Microsoft's strength is in its re-iterative improvement. Guy Kawasaki once said, with Microsoft, quality is job 1.1 (he may have pulled that from another source, but it's definitely published in a number of his books). Funny - isn't that the argument agile uses to improve development processes? There is nothing wrong with a re-iterative approach.

Apple seems to be accepting that it constantly needs to re-iterate its software now that millions of people are using it. Heck, through the iPhone app store, I have some apps that have received over 5 updates since I first installed them. Microsoft has done that for years. Now that consumers are finally getting used to it, they seem to be pulling back from it.

I hope they killed the Courier project so they could re-use (or license) parts of it to have a killer tablet. There is a lot of research that goes on at MS that doesn't always make it into the public eye, then there is the research and technology that creates great applications. I hope this is one of the former; not the latter. Who knows? Maybe HTC is looking at building a Windows Phone 7 tablet.

Yes - I'm aware of the WePad (which will run Android) but it's not available until July..looks cool but we have to wait and see.
Does anyone use the Touchbook? Granted, there's no multi-touch and it's a hybrid laptop. There's one review here.

2 comments:

Game Geek said...

Did Microsoft ever confirm that the Courier was a real product in development? Seems to me, they always said it was a research project.

As for an Android tablet, I wouldn't be surprised to see one. We know about the Android phone, but did you know the Barnes & Noble Nook is Android-based? It's not a tablet, but shows that a full tablet could be done.

Andrew MacNeill said...

I certainly expect us to see a true Android Tablet. I knew that the Nook was Android-based - forgot to mention it; but it is a one-trick pony. Let's see a "real" tablet.

Re Courier, no - they never said it was a real product - just a research product - but the timing of the announcements was just well, weird. We haven't seen any of the real Windows 7 tablets yet and the ones everyone wants to see aren't going to be there anymore.

Good points tho.