Business Tablet Boom Could Spell Doom for Windows

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Tech analysts call devices like the iPad media tablets, because they were primarily designed for consuming content. But that’s not all they can do. Mobile professionals can edit Office documents on the go; insurance adjusters can use tablets to capture information in the field and send it back to the main office; and health care workers can access patient data while making their rounds. All of the above should scare the hell out of Microsoft, because “media tablets” are on the verge of exploding in the business market.

Last month, Apple said more than 65 percent of the Fortune 100 companies are deploying or piloting the iPad. These include such heavy hitters as Hyatt Hotels, Lowe’s, and Procter & Gamble Co. It gets worse. Yesterday, Bloomberg reported that RIM is winning over potential customers for its PlayBook tablet well ahead of its release. For example, insurer Sun Life Financial has agreed to buy up to 1,000 PlayBooks. Interested partners cite RIM’s strong security and the fact that the product integrates with BlackBerry Enterprise Servers as reasons to deploy its slate.

What about Android’s business potential? It’s huge, too. Lenovo, known for its ThinkPad business notebooks, plans to bring an Android-based tablet to market by the middle of 2011 (whenever Android 3.0 or Honeycomb is ready). When asked about Windows 7, director of new technology Howard Locker told reporters that Microsoft’s OS is “based on the same paradigm as 1985—it’s really an interface that’s optimized for mouse and keyboard” and criticized its poor battery life. That widely held perception belief is a major, major blow to Microsoft, which gave birth to the Tablet PC nearly a decade ago only to watch Apple re-invent the category. Lower-power processors, instant-on mobile operating systems, and intuitive touch interfaces now rule.

At the moment the most high-profile Windows 7 business tablet is the HP Slate 500. The pricey $800 device provides pen and touch input (which has plenty of benefits), features two cameras, and comes with both a carrying case and a dock for connecting an external monitor and other peripherals. Then again, this device features a stock version of Windows 7 and a netbook-grade Atom processor, which means an experience that’s not optimized for touch or all-day battery life.

I’d like to tell you how well the Slate 500 performs, but just as some movie studios refuse to screen films for critics, HP wouldn’t send us—or anyone else—one to review. The official reason: “It was designed for enterprise customers running custom applications.” So why is the tablet listed under Small & Medium Business products on HP’s site? If I had to guess, this might be a case of a company trying to avoid further ridicule of a product Steve Ballmer hailed as the next big thing for consumers at CES back in January. Sales supposedly are decent so far, with reports of higher-than-expected orders. Just don’t be surprised to see HP embrace its newly acquired webOS for both consumers and business users next year.

While it’s designed for consumers, Dell’s new Inspiron Duo sports a design that could win over mobile professionals. The flip-hinge design lets you convert from tablet to netbook mode quickly. It’s a clever form factor, but it remains to be seen whether Dell’s interface overlay for Windows 7 can compensate for its weaknesses.

The bottom line is that businesses are very excited about slates. That puts Microsoft in the unenviable and dangerous position of playing catch-up. Again. The late-to-the-party Windows Phone 7 has potential for the tablet space, but Microsoft is understandably busy right now getting consumers interested in buying handsets. And although Windows 8 is rumored to be built from the ground up for touch, it likely won’t arrive until 2012. Then there’s Windows 7 Compact Embedded, a dressed up variant of Windows CE that looks touch friendly but doesn’t run full desktop apps.

Add it all up and 2011 could be a very scary year for Microsoft. Tablets are becoming big business, not only for consumers but for businesses large and small. Unless Steve Ballmer & Co. can reveal a slate (or many) soon that can truly compete with the iPad, PlayBook, and Android army when it comes to both entertainment and productivity, thousands of big-spending customers may eventually leave Windows behind for good.

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
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  • Tim Says:

    @Ratty UK
    You need to learn how to read. The focus of the article is business tablets, and equated business tablets with consumer tablets that may have business uses. However, enterprise tablet uses require flexibility that the iPad nor any Apple trinkets are capable of. Furthermore, many companies use customized Windows CE to fit their business needs in mobile settings. This would include barcode scanners and tablets. In the enterprise, Apple is nonexistent- Apple even stopped selling its Xserve servers since companies were not buying them. Companies long ago have known that Apple is unwilling to work with them on their needs.

  • Michael Says:

    Personally, I don't believe that the tablet boom would be a "big threat" to Windows, yeah it may be a threat to Microsoft in terms of Windows Phone 7, etc. but in terms of Windows PC it's not. First is processing power, no tablet to date can even tie up to a laptop (not netbook) in processing power. I have not seen any non-Windows 7 tablet to play Crysis/Starcraft at the meanest 720p, manipulate huge amounts of data such as photoshop or do at least this: open 2 tabs in a web browser (one in flash), while chatting with another person in Yahoo Messenger and typing relevant research data on Word and creating a powerpoint presentation, sounds weird? but that's a typical situation of a student doing a group report w/ documentation. Second is applications, apple has that famous "app for that" slogan, but in sheer number of applications, the Windows PC has way more applications than the combined number of iOS and Android Apps. Third and last, tablets are not a good replacement for desktops in business, no company would be replacing their hexacore servers at 3GHz handling everyday computing from excel to managing other computers for a 1GHz so called "wonder tablet" that cannot even change it's system font anytime soon. Will tablets boom? as a gadget or even as a business aid most likely, yes, but as a desktop/laptop replacement, no.

  • RattyUK Says:


    Yup, because we all know that UPS drivers make up a significant share of the US population. As I commented elsewhere (neglected to here unfortunately) Microsoft scored some wins in niche markets. But what is the point of a niche market?

    I think you were trying to be ironic but you didn't really think it through.

    But do the math: One mobile tablet per van delivering all those iPads. Big win for Microsoft there.

    Here's a clue. Apart from being in the hands of the delivery driver, those pads had no effect on the sale of iPads. Next time have a look at cause and effect...

    It's as effective as saying:

    Coffee was drunk by UPS drivers who delivered all those iPads.

    just as true, just as irrelevant.

  • Tim Says:

    Windows Mobile runs those tablets used by UPS drivers that delivered all those iPads

  • RattyUK Says:


    "Neither a thin client not a touch screen slate is something new to Microsoft. In fact, both have been fused into singular devices for years, for example, the WebDT family of vertical computers."
    You are missing the point. How did these fused devices sell? That is the point.

    In 2009 the whole of the tablet market shipped 1.05 million devices. The whole market category whether it used one of many Windows solutions or Linux to deliver a solution shipped 1.05 million devices.

    Up to the start of October Apple had shipped 7 million devices. Since April. Cry all you want about the authors arguments but you are wrong. This was definitely Microsoft's category to lose. They lost. By at least a factor of 10.

    Microsoft presented their solution. Nobody bought.

  • jazzdog Says:

    So aftermath, the fact that "Neither a thin client not a touch screen slate is something new to Microsoft. In fact, both have been fused into singular devices for years, for example, the WebDT family of vertical computers." means what, that Microsoft is successful in tablets? Am I stupid for saying tablets when if I was smarter I would have said "connected client usage scenarios"? Seems like Apple is doing pretty well in "connected client usage scenarios", huh? How's Microsoft doing in "connected client usage scenarios"? That's a term that might have come straight out of Ray Ozzie's farewell email, which illustrated perfectly why Microsoft has gone nowhere under his stewardship. Good luck defending MS's tablets. I see everyone is real excited with what they're coming out with.

  • Mark Spoonauer Says:

    You're right. I choose Could because I'm not writing off Microsoft just yet--though the pressure is certainly on. As for tablets, I'm fully aware of what enterprise computing is and have been covering it for a decade. But it's not Enterprise-only devices that end users want to carry. That's why the iPhone is infiltrating the enterprise and threatening RIM, and that's why Microsoft needed to start from scratch with Windows Phone 7. Now the iPad is doing the same thing. Mass market appeal equals cross-over appeal. That's the biggest issue facing Microsoft.

  • aftermath Says:

    Presumably, you castrated your headline with the cautiously speculative verb "could" because you don't actually believe this. If you did then you'd declare "will", "should", or "is". That would take bravery, and the willingness to look dumb for being wrong. This is unsurprising, and I don't think that this was merely an act of passive aggressive cowardice. Enterprise computing is a complicated beast, and you don't seem to understand it. You didn't talk much about enterprise computing here. That said, learn what a tablet is. It is NOT a form factor. It is a usage scenario. The type of computing that you are advertising here is a connected client usage scenario and not a tablet input usage scenario. Neither a thin client not a touch screen slate is something new to Microsoft. In fact, both have been fused into singular devices for years, for example, the WebDT family of vertical computers.

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