Reports suggest that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will unveil details of Microsoft’s entry in the tablet PC arena during his keynote speech today at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The announcement will steal some of the thunder from the extreme hype and speculation over Apple’s “iSlate” tablet PC— which may or may not exist and may or may not be announced at an Apple event later this month.
Tablet PC’s are not new. The slate form factor portable computer has been around for almost a decade, since Microsoft initially pushed the concept with its Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. Those tablets were before their time, though, and the concept never really caught on.
Microsoft and Apple–assuming the rumors are on target and they both release tablet PC’s in the near future–are not the only players in the tablet PC market, but they will be the biggest and most visible. Speculation is already mounting that the Apple “iSlate” could spark lines similar to the launch of the iPhone, and one rumor suggests that Apple intends to sell 10 million tablet PC’s per year.
Apple has a legions of loyal followers and I assume that the “iSlate” will be a grand slam success, possibly rivaling the success of the iPhone. The “iSlate” may revolutionize tablet computing the way that the iPhone revolutionized smartphones. But, almost three years later the iPhone is still struggling for acceptance in the corporate world and is primarily a consumer-oriented device despite its popularity.
A Microsoft tablet will be a better business tool than an Apple tablet because of Microsoft’s dominant position in operating systems, business productivity applications, and Web browsers. Businesses rely predominantly on Windows, Office, and Internet Explorer, and Microsoft is in a position to deliver a seamlessly integrated experience between the applications businesses already use on a daily basis, and the additional functionality and productivity offered by a tablet PC.
While both devices, or any other entries in the tablet PC market like the Joojoo, will most likely deliver a similar suite of tools and functions, Microsoft is in a position to seamlessly sync and merge data between the tablet PC and the desktop without requiring additional applications, like enabling all users to install iTunes.
Businesses need to have control that Apple has been unwilling to relinquish. Whether it’s a desktop PC, a notebook, a mobile phone, or a tablet, IT administrators need tools like Active Directory and Group Policy that enable them to centrally manage and maintain the devices.
Businesses are also subject to regulatory mandates and compliance requirements. They need a way to monitor, log, and archive e-mails, voicemails, instant messaging threads, and other communications, and they need methods for ensuring that sensitive data is properly protected no matter what platform it’s on.
It remains to be seen which tablet PC will win the popularity contest. If the iPhone versus Windows Mobile is any indication, odds favor the “iSlate”. But, being popular doesn’t make it a good business tool, and Microsoft is in a unique position to provide businesses with a valuable productivity tool instead of a popular consumer gadget.