One More Tablet Gone; Can Microsoft Avoid the Same Fate?

GearDiary One More Tablet Gone; Can Microsoft Avoid the Same Fate?
image courtesy of BerryReporter 

Clinton recently wrote an opinion piece entitled, “As RIM Writes Off The Playbook, The Pressure is on Microsoft to Make a Complete Windows 8 Tablet“, in which he says:

This morning the Wall Street Journal reported that RIM is taking a $485 million charge for their lackluster tablet, the Playbook.  The charge comes by way of a markdown in the value of the massive inventor that RIM still has of the devices.  It is a brutal and costly reminder that if you kinda-sorta-maybe-woulda-shoulda your tablet strategy, the price can be steep.  Very steep.

and

The challenge facing Microsoft is that they are behind when it comes to a tablet strategy.  Regardless of what Steve Ballmer said in the Microsoft shareholders meeting last week, Microsoft to this point has a limited at best and horrible at worst answer to the tablet market.  The challenge also comes from the unbelievable pressure that the iPad has put on this entire segment of the industry.  As I said in my opinion piece about Office for iPad, there is no tablet market today.  There is just an iPad market.  The risk, as RIM did with the Playbook to a large extent, is to try to go head-to-head with the iPad.  It has been proven a couple of times – WebOS and the Playbook – that such a strategy ends in tears.  No, what Microsoft must do is differentiate their Windows 8 and tablet strategy from that of Apple.  This, I believe, is one of the reasons that Amazon has had such quick success with the Fire.  Sure it runs Android but you would never know it and Amazon has positioned it as a consumption device not necessarily a “tablet”. Regardless of what you think of the Fire itself (which I think is really good by-the-way), Amazon likely will see success simply because they are going to market with a different message.  Microsoft will need to have their own message that is different as well.  They need to market and capitalize on the power of the Metro UI but also bring the message that they have with Windows Phone which is making the experience more personal.

Clinton is absolutely right that Amazon made the correct move of coming to the market with a different message than the one the iPad offers, but there is also one way in which the Amazon Kindle (specifically the Fire) and the iPad have always been very similar: both companies offer – and for the most part control – the content with which they hope to fill your device.

Amazon’s Kindle line began with a focus on books, and for their Fire they have expanded it to movies, music and apps; Apple’s iPad was released with a huge library of  music and movies ready to go. They had a smaller library of apps than might have been optimal, but (and this is a huge but), they had the foresight to set up a backwards compatibility so that the iPhone’s massive library of apps would work – even if awkwardly displayed at 2X – on the iPad; then Apple took their app store a step further and expanded it to include books.

Controlling the user experience through the available content has been a winning strategy for both Apple and Amazon, and it is something that we have managed to discuss nearly to death here on Gear Diary. But the gist is that both Amazon and Apple sell you a device that is perfectly set up to accept their content, and they are personalized by each individual user to the extent that they can add content to their device through either Amazon’s or Apple’s app stores. [Without getting into jailbreaking on either device; I am talking about straight out of the box – what is available to the average user.]

So to drive home the point, how do the BlackBerry Playbook, the HP Touchpad (WebOS) and every Android tablet that’s ever been released differ from what Amazon and Apple had from the beginning?

BlackBerry made the boneheaded move of releasing a highly capable piece of hardware that didn’t bother to support BlackBerry’s core user group. Think about it — what put BB on the map if not their beautiful push mail delivery system. When the Playbook was released … it didn’t even have a mail app. That had to have been a major turnoff for core BB users, and the folks who might not have cared — those who rely upon Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail for their email, they apparently didn’t see anything compelling enough about the (originally) $499 (for the 16GB model) device that would compel them to purchase it over an iPad or Android tablet. Blackberry certainly didn’t have the apps to make an argument that theirs was the better buy, so the one thing they had going for them that might have compelled their few loyal users to buy the Playbook … they didn’t even bother to include it.

But wait, there was more. As Dan mentioned in his piece “The “Other” Reason the BlackBerry PlayBook Got No Play“:

For the longest time I thought the lack of apps was the reason the PlayBook was pretty much a complete fail. An experience yesterday, however, pointed to another, perhaps more compelling, reason why the PlayBook didn’t have a prayer even when it was released. …

Simple, the company released a tablet that was a “companion device” to its smartphone even as people were fleeing their smartphone while Apple released a tablet that stood on its own.

The PlayBook is a nice device but to get the most from it you need to have a BlackBerry smartphone. Sure you can use the tablet on its own but if you do this you won’t be able to tap into all of the features of the tablet. And that isn’t because of the lack of apps, no, it was DESIGNED that way. As a result, not having a BlackBerry smartphone means your PlayBook is crippled from day one.

So not only did you not get the mail feature that put BlackBerry on the map or a good solid catalog of apps, the device was not made to stand on its own.

FAIL.

The HP Touchpad’s failing s were covered in-depth by Michael when he wrote his “Five Reasons I Didn’t Buy a HP TouchPad Last Weekend” piece. Bear in mind that he was talking about why he didn’t buy it at the massive discount of $299 from its original $xx. “It is a very plasticky machine with a spongy feeling to the buttons.”; “the HP would randomly feel sluggish for no reason at all, would quickly buckle under the pressure of a few apps, and actually became totally unresponsive on more than a couple of occasions.”; “the core PIM apps feel anemic compared to other tablets”; “Similarly, the ‘full browser experience’ – which is code for running Flash – is better in theory than in resource hogging, system choking, app-crashing reality.”; “I had heard that the OS update had fixed the accuracy issues, but I still found myself with way too many mis-types.”; and “I hold out little hope that you will EVER be able to lead an app-centric existence on the TouchPad. To put it in perspective – I have ~2x the amount of apps ON MY IPAD that are iPad-specific than the ENTIRE TouchPad library!”.

FAIL.

And as for Android? As Michael has also succinctly said (and defended) in his article “Lies, Damn Lies, and Android Tablet Numbers“:

There are three basic issues I have with Android tablets:
– The hardware is all about compromises.
– The OS is either (a) oversized smartphone or (b) the worst mobile OS I’ve used since Windows Mobile 6.1.
– The sales figures are all lies. (of course, this doesn’t impact my usage, but as a statistician it drives me nuts and Samsung’s lying impacts my decision-making as much or more than Apple’s Draconian moves)

Read the rest of his article before you get your hackles up, okay? But the basic gist is this:

FAIL.

So to rein it all in and get back to the point of Clinton’s point: Microsoft wants to bring out a Windows 8 Tablet. They are obviously way behind already in the tablet market, so if and when they actually do bring out a new consumer tablet, they are going to have to come out strong if they don’t want to watch their tablet go the way of the Playbook and the Touchpad — in other words, heavily discounted and done before a year has even passed.

Clinton says:

Microsoft cannot do what RIM did which is bring a buggy, half-baked solution to market.  It has to perform and have all the features that users need/expect/want.  It can’t come out of the box needing a boatload of updates (which has to be WAY easier than the upgrade process that Windows has today) nor can it come with a limited function set of apps (think PowerPoint reader instead of PowerPoint).

And he is right. But I submit to you that there is one more thing that Microsoft must do to differentiate themselves from other companies and their failures: Pick a market that they can control — perhaps their XBox gaming platform or their core Office Apps, or some other feature that I can’t even imagine at this point — and offer them on this tablet in a way that makes the other tablets seem deficient.

Because if they don’t, this new Microsoft tablet will be yet another casualty on the tablet landscape, and the Apple (high-end) and Amazon (lower-end) tablet rein will continue.

There are new rules now: It used to be that device specs made all the difference; Apple ended that because their iPad’s specs weren’t as great as many of the Android tablets, and yet it still sold better. Then it looked like pricing might be the key; while Amazon is coming in and benefitting from their lower price, that still isn’t the entre story, because iPads are still selling strongly. Therefore, I believe that it has been proven by both Apple and Amazon that a strong content ecosystem is king, and the tablet is just the delivery system.

What do you think?

Read more of Clinton Fitch’s “As RIM Writes Off The Playbook, The Pressure is on Microsoft to Make a Complete Windows 8 Tablet


About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
I've had a fascination with all types of gadgets and gizmos since I was a child, beginning with the toy robot that my grandmother gave my brother - which I promptly "relieved him of" in 1973. I'm a self-professed gadget magpie. I can't tell you how everything works, but I'm known world-wide for using a product until I have a full understanding of what it does, what its limitations are, and if it excels in any given area — or not.