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Why Windows 7 Tablets Won't Kill iPad Wed 04 Aug 10

Apple's tablet is for consumers. Microsoft should aim for business users.

Despite previously killing a tablet PC initiative, Microsoft is reportedly feverishly working with its partners on Windows 7-powered tablets. Some think this is an attempt to catch up to Apple by creating an iPad killer.

While I think there may be a place for a Windows-powered tablet, I definitely don't think Microsoft can produce an iPad killer. It's just not going to happen, nor should it.

With control of both the hardware platform and the operating system Apple has been able to customize (and optimize) the iPad as a mobile device to browse the Internet, play music and videos, act as an e-reader and such.

Windows 7 cannot compete head-to-head in the tablet space Apple has chosen. Here's why: Windows 7 is designed for someone sitting at a desk with a mouse and keyboard. Yes, Windows 7 can work with a touch screen, but it appears that Microsoft tried to figure out how to make something designed for one type of use (keyboard and mouse) to work in another format (touchscreen).

This works, but not particularly well. A recent ars technica article does an excellent job of describing the issues of trying to use Windows in that kind of mode. Conversely, with the iPad design, Apple let go of the keyboard/mouse paradigm and developed an excellent light-weight touchscreen tablet. Because of this difference in approach, if Microsoft attempts to take on the iPad directly it will continue to fail.

I believe that Microsoft can succeed in the tablet arena not by competing directly with the iPad but instead playing to its own strengths. Apple's sweet spot is generally (but not exclusively) the consumer arena. Microsoft in contrast is more firmly entrenched in the business world.

In terms of connecting to corporate networks, interfacing with ERP systems and running business applications Microsoft has a longstanding advantage. There is no one tablet design that is best for all situations. People want to use them for many different things and in many different ways. The business world has a need and desire for mobile computing, just as the consumer world does, and the iPad is addressing this market.

Windows-based tablets have been around for a long time, but have never gained a lot of acceptance. But Microsoft, with its ability to interface and integrate with corporate systems, can develop a Windows-based tablet platform niche.

Improving the touchscreen capabilities in combination with the existing capabilities a Windows platform can give them the flexibility to power many different types of tablets for myriad uses.

Tablets with built-in keyboards or barcode/RFID readers and more robust touchscreen capabilities present a great opportunity for empowering your mobile workforce. Imagine field service techs being able to take their office with them to the field without having to carry multiple devices or accessories with them. A windows operating system on a variety of devices would give you the opportunity to do this and allow you to match the device to the particular need.

To be sure, the tablets used for this may not be as sexy as the iPad. With their need for computing power, storage and networking, they would never be as slim or as easy or as fun to use as the iPad. But if they can succeed in addressing the corporate needs, they can be a success where the iPad is not well suited.

Apple has succeeded by not trying to be all things for all people. The same could be true for Microsoft.

This article is also posted on Forbes.com.  Feel free to join in the discussion either on this site or at Forbes.com

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