When Windows 8 tablets are ready to come out next year, will they be hot items? A new report indicates that consumer interest in Windows tablets is dropping fast.
The report from Forrester Research found that only 25 percent of consumers in the third quarter are interested in a Windows tablet. That's a sharp plunge from the 46 percent that the industry research firm found in the first quarter of this year.
'Days Are Over'
On the company blog, report co-author J.P. Gownder wrote Wednesday that Microsoft "has missed the peak of consumer desire for a product they haven't yet released." He noted that, unless a product is the first in a new category, a commonly accepted strategy is to be a "fast follower" in that market -- providing a differentiated product experience that amplifies the first mover and provides the next step.
Gownder gives the example of Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser as a fast follower to the ground-breaking Netscape browser. Another, more recent and relevant example he gives is the content- and services-oriented tablets being released by Amazon and Barnes & Noble, fast following Apple's category-defining iPad. With those products, he said, both companies are "redefining what a tablet is."
Laura DiDio, an analyst with Information Technology Intelligence Corp., said that "no one could have anticipated that this category would coalesce so quickly around the iPad, leaving only the tiniest crack of opportunity for competitors."
The "days are over," she said, when Microsoft could dominate a category "simply by announcing that a product was coming." DiDio noted that Microsoft's initial tablet plans "were thrown into disarray" when a Windows-based tablet from HP, shown by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show, was abandoned by HP before its full release.
'Very Late To the Party'
Microsoft has been previewing Windows 8, and positioning it as a next-generation, touch-oriented operating system that is designed for both PCs and tablets. But, Gownder observed, "on tablets, Windows 8 is going to be very late to the party." The question is whether Microsoft will bring a competitive differentiator.
Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis for Consumer Technology at the NPD Group, said Microsoft's differentiator, unlike the strategies of Apple and the Android makers, is that it sees the tablet "as another PC form factor."
While Apple and the Android-ites have built tablets up from smartphones, he pointed out, Microsoft is "coming from the top down," from PCs to tablets.
Rubin said that Microsoft's approach is likely to be that tablets are just one form of PC computing, so that users can, say, buy a laptop with a detachable screen that becomes a tablet when that form factor is needed, or can readily add a Bluetooth keyboard to a tablet when they need more laptop-like functionality.