Microsoft shouldn’t be shaking in its boots after this week’s unveiling of the Apple iPad, but the tablet computer could give the software giant fits in the future with its potential to define important device form factors as well as shape user attitudes toward alternative operating systems and cloud-based application adoption.
"’The iPad is interesting to Microsoft on couple of fronts,"’ says Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, an independent research firm. "’There is real concern as to where Microsoft is at in the phone space, and Apple just expanded the phone space into the netbook space.
Get High-Quality Soft Phone Voice Calls During Data Transfers Using Mobile WAN Optimization : Download nowNetbooks have been a problem for Microsoft because people want to drive down the cost, which drives down the cost of the OS as well."
Microsoft’s history with the tablet PC
Cherry wonders how PC manufacturers might react. "Will they go to Microsoft and say ‘Give us a version of Windows or Windows CE to compete with this.’ Or the manufacturers might say ‘Gee, the Google OS is coming just in time’."’
Mike Silver, an analyst with Gartner, says the impact could unfold in a couple of ways.
"’As alternative devices become more important it makes Windows relatively less important,"’ he says. "’As more people get use to more devices with different operating systems and more of those are sold, Microsoft has less of the overall share of devices."’
Silver says iPad also opens up an opportunity for non-Windows devices, such as those based on Google’s Chrome OS, to grab hold on some device platforms and eventually supplant Windows on the PC.
Those devices could be of the netbook or tablet PC genre or even smartphones, markets where Microsoft has been less than dominant.
And some say Microsoft isn’t prepared to hit the iPad curve Apple just threw.
"’Instead of taking a full computer OS and moving it down scale, Apple has taken a smartphone OS and moved it up. This is exactly the threat that Microsoft has the least defense against," says Matt Rosoff, an analyst with Direction on Microsoft.
"This device, if it can do 90% of what people need in a portable form factor, then that takes some of the netbook market away [from Microsoft]. At this point, Microsoft does not have a response. They don’t have a smartphone OS they can move upscale,"’ says Rosoff.
Microsoft’s next mobile operating system – Windows Mobile 7 – will get its first major exposure next month at the Mobile World Congress and perhaps a beta release by April, but given the company’s mobile track record it’s not likely to be a watershed event.
"Microsoft’s execution in the mobile space has not given me a lot of confidence," says Rosoff.
But he says Microsoft can make some moves against iPad.
"’I think what Microsoft does is take Windows 7 and keep talking to PC makers and try to get them to do some innovative touch screen netbooks or PCs. Yes, they will cost more, but the pitch might be that this is a full version of Windows, it has Flash support, it does multitasking, you could put a USB input on it," said Rosoff.
iPad tablet computer could impact Microsoft?s mobile, tablet and software strategies, industry watchers say