Where is Microsoft in the Tablet Race?

by Jeff Wiener on November 3, 2011

With Apple’s iPad still dominating the market, HP having already scuttled its disappointing Touchpad, and Google’s Android partners sending countless under-equipped adversaries into the ring only to see them quickly KO’d, Microsoft continues to be the one noticeable absence from the tablet fight.

This observation comes as more of a surprise to those who remember the brief appearance of Microsoft’s original tablet design, the Courier, early in 2010, a device that for a time was lauded as the innovative future of the tablet market.

At the time the Courier was being designed as a creative computer platform, one that would allow users to sketch and draw but also research and learn, but then along came the iPad with its staggering one million devices sold in the first month, and quickly and quietly Microsoft killed off the Courier project, never to be heard from again. But a year and half later and Microsoft is still a veritable ghost town when it comes to tablet development rumours, which begs the questions, what happened to the Courier, and where is Microsoft in the tablet race?

As it turns out, the tale of the Courier and Microsoft’s internal competition is a compelling one, evidenced by the fact that Microsoft’s initial tablet offering was not scared away by the iPad—as writers here then speculated—but was instead killed off by the development of Microsoft’s own Windows 8.

The story, according to popular tech website CNET, begins in late 2009, shortly after the launch of Windows 7, at a time when plans were already being developed by the next iteration of the popular operating system. While the iPad wouldn’t be launched for several months, the tech market was awash with tablet development and Microsoft executives saw great growth potential in the burgeoning tablet market.

It was at this time that two separate visions began to take shape for the future of Microsoft’s tablet development, one which featured the innovative Courier that would run a modified version of Windows, and one that saw Windows 8 as the OS of choice for Microsoft’s first tablet offerings.

Much like the company’s original foray into tablet computing over a decade ago, a project that was scuttled because Bill Gates and other Microsoft executives feared there would be no consumer interest, the Courier project was ultimately terminated because it didn’t offer users the typical Windows experience. This lack of foresight into what consumers would come to want in their tablet experience, seeking out innovative and creative devices like the iPad, likely has many Microsoft executives wondering what could have been.

As expected, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer opted for the development of a Windows 8 tablet, which at the time of the release of the original iPad was still over two years away. So why haven’t we seen a Microsoft tablet yet? Well, the answer is simple; Microsoft simply lacks the ability to function outside of the purview of its ubiquitous OS, meaning that once Windows 8 is ready we’ll likely see some sort of tablet from the Redmond Company.

But like the company’s late entrance into the mobile market, one has to wonder if there will be any market share left for Microsoft once it finally decides to get its act together.

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