Forget Google, Tablet War Is Now Apple vs. Microsoft

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It's not often that Apple singles out a competitor during one of its launch events. But there was Phil Schiller, the company's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, whaling away on the Google Nexus 7's pitiful stretched-out phone apps during the iPad mini unveiling. Does Apple really feel threatened by this or any Android tablet? It shouldn't — not when its most dangerous tablet foe is now Microsoft.

The company that did nothing but watch Apple sell more than 100 million iPads over the last two-and- a-half years is putting its full weight behind Windows 8 — and its own Surface tablets — to finally take Apple head-on. Yes, Android now has 41 percent of the tablet market (according to Strategy Analytics), and apparently a new Nexus 10 tablet is on the way, but longer term it's all about Apple and Microsoft.

In the immortal words of Steve Ballmer: developers, developers, developers. Microsoft's CEO recently estimated that the company could sell as many as 400 million Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 devices combined in 2013. And with more than 675 million Windows 7 licenses sold, Windows 8 represents a huge upgrading opportunity for Microsoft and its partners.

[MORE10 Ways Windows 8 Beats the iPad]

In other words, anyone who makes an app will soon prioritize Windows 8 over Android on tablets, if they haven't already. Although Microsoft blurs the line between tablet and PC--in a good way--it's clear than the company sees a clear difference between phones and slates. That's simply not the case for Google, which has hurt its cause by lumping everything together.

Of course, Windows 8 (and its close cousin, Windows RT) won't achieve anywhere near the above scale if it doesn't offer a user experience that rivals or beats the iPad. In many ways, this software does, thanks to a dynamic and personal interface and a core of slickly designed apps that should inspire developers to think outside the iPad.

Here are just a few things the new Windows does that the iPad doesn't. You can run two apps side by side using the clever Snap feature. You can pin everything from your favorite people and Internet radio stations to the highly customizable Start Screen. And you can run the full Microsoft Office out of the box. The Live Tiles, which provide at-a-glance info, make this platform feel more modern and cutting-edge than iOS.

However, both the iPad and iPad mini have a not-so-secret weapon. Apple recently surpassed 275,000 iPad apps. That's an order of magnitude higher than the 4,000 or so apps in the Windows Store. Apple also has a huge lead in the education market, where it now offers 80 percent of the high school curriculum though iBooks, as well as the business world, where 94 percent of Fortune 500 companies are testing or deploying the iPad.

Here's another number that will propel Apple in the next phase of the tablet wars: 7.9. That's the size of the iPad mini, an affordable but very well-built $329 tablet. This is no iPad Lite; it's a full-fledged tablet with the same resolution as the original iPad, which means you'll be able to run all of those apps. Those in the market for a larger slate can spring for the $499 fourth-generation iPad, which combines Apple's sweet Retina Display with a swifter new A6X chip.

[MORE: Windows 8 Laptop Reviews]

Apple isn't the only company capable of creating sexy hardware, though. The Surface was a labor of love for Microsoft, the company's first computing device in its nearly 40-year history. Engineers obsessed over everything from the way the included kickstand sounds when opening and closing to making the magnet for the Touch Cover strong enough that you could suspend the tablet from it. However, the inability of this and every Windows RT device to run desktop programs puts that much more pressure on Microsoft to get Windows Store devs to deliver.

In the short term, the expanded iPad family will continue to dominate the tablet world. Its momentum is simply too great. But the Surface proves that Microsoft is serious about taking control of its destiny, partners' ruffled feathers be damned. The mere existence of this device has already spurred Windows 8 and Windows RT device makers to step up their game — or at least to lower their prices. That's a surefire sign that a true tablet war is upon us.

Editor-in-chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP's online and print editorial content and has been covering mobile and wireless technology for over a decade. Each week Mark's SpoonFed column provides his insights and analysis of the biggest mobile trends and news. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief on
Add a comment
  • Joseph Says:

    I say forget all three. :-) Take an unlocked or unlockable ARM device like the Asus Transformer Infinity and install real Linux on it. Unlike iOS, Android, or Windows 8 RT, now you have a power-friendly ARM device that can run all of your desktop software! You're also not locked into the Apple Store or Microsoft Store where the two companies dictate what types of software may be sold (no emulators, no Java apps, no software that duplicates - read competes with - the native apps, etc.), how they perform (MS even dictates how long Metro apps should take to start up), and which licenses you can use (MS and probably Apple too forbid GPLv3-licensed software, for instance). With Gnome 3, Unity and KDE you have a selection of touch-friendly UIs and with KDE you can actually switch between touch-oriented and standard UIs. There's no Microsoft forcing you to use a touch UI in the hopes that you'll be lazy and buy their tablets and phones because you're already familiar with the interface!

    If you really want to have your cake and eat it too you could even dual-boot between Android and Linux.

  • Tom D. Says:

    Android tablet apps have too much wasted space since most of them are still optimized for phone screens. It was quite embarrassing when the same Android and iPad apps were juxtaposed in the iPad mini launch event.

  • Jlan Says:

    Forget about google? I suspect it is an articel from Micro$oft PR

  • guillolb Says:

    Apple in a different league? If you are talking about blind disciples that can't think for themselves and buy (and woo) everything Apple releases, then yes, Apple is in a different league.
    From a technical stand point, every brand and OS has its pros and cons, which makes it great for technology to advance. And I'm sorry to tell you, but even Apple watches the competition and copies things from them to improve their product. Every one does it, that's why they are In the same league.

  • Annymous Says:

    I for one do not like the 16:9 widescreen format for reading and surfing the internet. It much better to have a 4:3 for that! If you are doing movies then the 16:9 is better but why do that when you have a HDTV that is much bigger and is design for that function?

    So I have stick with Apple 4:3 since no company has this 4:3 screen format other then Vizio 8" and it is even more unpowered then Apple's iPad mini. Vizio has the same resolution but has only a single core processor.

    I holding off buying until Apple at least has a retina screen on the iPad mini. Hopefully, Google will have a Nexus 7 retina quality screen in the near future so that will force Apple to move up its super slow step by step advancement of technology into a hot product to milk all it can get from the Apple isheep!

  • Fricfrac Says:

    Apple is in a different league.
    This is a fight for also-ran status. Microsoft has to destroy Android first.

  • Jack Black Says:

    You are truly a pathetic apple iSheep, if you think there's a war going between apple and anyone android is just about to take over the tablet arena, and with the Nexus 10 the iPad 4 will be dead as Nexus 7 already killed the iFail Mini by both specs and price, people prefer android for its functions freedom and price, windows can surely win the first one but it will never win the freedom nor the price so it will have some short fight am sure it wont be DOA

  • jkrakka Says:

    I'll stick with Android, even though the Surface is very tempting. I just like the simplicity that my tablet offers.

  • Superb2 Says:

    haha Google and samsung released a new tab called Nexus 10 which have a screen better than retina and 1.7GHz Processor i think if that tab got dock it will boom both apple and microsoft

  • rich Says:

    Go ahead and try to deny it, but Google will be the dominate tablet OS in the long run. You can say what you want in blogs, news articles, opinions, but sales and deployed tablets is what counts.

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