updated 04:15 pm EDT, Wed March 30, 2011
Microsoft CRO Mundie doubts tablets will last
Microsoft's research and strategy chief Craig Mundie at a Committee for Economic Development of Australia event cast doubt on the long-term viability of tablets. He wasn't sure the iPad or its kind would "remain with us or not" and instead repeated Microsoft's existing strategy of Windows notebooks and Windows Phone handsets. A notebook would be a "portable desk," he said, while the smartphone would be "your most personal computer."
He admitted at the same time that Microsoft hadn't properly distinguished between the categories it was targeting. He saw tablets occupying an intermediary area and that it wasn't clear if this was a third way or simply a temporary distinction.
"I think there's an important distinction -- and frankly one we didn't jump on at Microsoft fast enough -- between mobile and portable," the Sydney Morning Herald heard. "These are going to bump into one another a little bit and so today you can see tablets and pads and other things that are starting to live in the space in between. Personally I don't know whether that space will be a persistent one or not."
He did believe the future could blur the distinctions in technology. Microsoft Research had technology that would pipe rays of light from a phone to a user's retina, overcoming the usual screen limits of a handheld. Desktops in the future might also be replaced by whole-room environments; he implied that touch surfaces and voice commands in the room would replace an obvious, dedicated machine. Kinect was an example of where it might go, he said.
The statements on tablets reinforce the uncertainty that has dictated Microsoft's strategy in the area and saw the iPad outsell every Windows Tablet PC ever made within nine months. Microsoft was first to tablet computers when Tablet PC arrived in 2002, but the technology never caught on beyond niche markets such as pen-dependent artists, doctors and warehouse workers. Bill Gates' personal obsession with pen computing and the company's insistence on using a largely unoptimized Windows interface led to relatively limited appeal and frequent price premiums over regular notebooks that gave customers little incentive to buy in.
Microsoft is hoping to turn around its philosophy with Windows 8, which will have more finger-ready interface elements and support ARM processors that last much longer on battery than Intel chips. Without a release expected until late 2012, however, company executives like Mundie have an incentive to downplay tablets without their own option in stores.