And so the battle for the ‘Tablet Supreme’ commences…

Summer’s almost over and Christmas is not far away now, so with that in mind I thought it would be interesting to look at the iPad – something on many people’s wish lists, and the forthcoming offer from Apple’s immediate competitors. And in doing some interesting considerations towards how these industry giants regard the consumer are raised…..

The race between Microsoft and Apple to dominate tablet computing is “on”, according to Microsoft’s Chief Executive, Steve Ballmer – who suggests the iPad is general-purpose, while Windows tablets will adapt to particular uses.

We’re in an iPad “bubble,” Ballmer told the D8 Conference in, California. Windows tablets mimicking the iPad will soon debut, however, and they’ll get “sleeker, smaller, and faster”, Ballmer promised in an onstage Q&A with Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie.

Earlier at D8, Apple’s CEO, Steve Jobs, said PCs are going to be like SUVs in the era of tablets – in that not everybody will really need one. Hammering the analogy, Ballmer retorted: “Our cars will get bigger and sleeker and faster and better… but they’re still cars.” I seem to recall General Motors taking a similar ‘build it and they will come’ approach, and look what happened to them. Is Microsoft destined to become a future General Motors?

When it comes to tablets, Microsoft tried and failed under Bill Gates’ leadership to rally manufacturers on new devices running Windows. Tablets running Windows saw limited uptake, and only in vertical sectors. The iPad is going where Windows failed: into general consumer and business users’ hands – delivering something where the user was at the heart of development.

Whilst Apple are reported to have sold 3million iPads in 50 days from launch it’s the iPhone, that’s been hurting Microsoft most of late, and helped take market share from Windows Mobile. In this respect, Ballmer called Apple a “good competitor” having come from nowhere, and attributed the phone’s success to the Safari browser. “People focus on the apps, but the browser is really the thing that has distinguished their phones from others,” Ballmer told D8 delegates.

You can be sure of the pain Microsoft is feeling in Mobile because Ballmer is now in charge of Windows Mobile, after the president of the Microsoft group running it, Robbie Bach, announced his resignation last month. “We had to do some clean-up, we did it for Windows, and we’re doing it for mobile. And excellence in execution is also part of the equation,” Ballmer said. “We have to execute.”

But in his remarks about the iPad, you cn’t help thinking that Microsoft’s chief is showing the same signs of ‘not getting it’ that he exhibited when Apple launched the iPhone in 2007, and in more-recent comments about Google . Ballmer famously laughed off the iPhone in 2007 as an expensive machine with no appeal for business customers because it lacked a keyboard, adding that Microsoft had a “great” Windows mobile strategy.

At D8, Microsoft’s chief repeated his past comments that he doesn’t understand why Google has two operating systems, Android and Chrome OS. Ballmer might be forgiven for not understanding what Chrome’s purpose is. But based on his experience with the iPhone, he’d be well served to try to think about a response to Google’s OS rather than merely assuming that everything will be OK — a strategy that failed on the iPhone.

So, Time to talk about the Google offer? This week Samsung introduce the tablet variant of its popular ‘Galaxy S’ Android smartphone – which in the US at least has started to show a notable effect on the iPhones share of new contracts. The Galaxy Tab will offer a smaller, 7inch screen, at least matched battery life and a considerably cheaper price-tag than the iPad. Certainly a case of ‘watch this space’: If Windows tablets don’t deliver competition for the iPad, you can be sure of viable Android competition this side of Christmas.

And whilst we’re talking about Google, let’s close on a spot of crystal ball gazing. You may ask why Google has two operating systems: Android and Chrome OS? Android is on a fairly aggressive roll-out strategy whilst Chrome is still pretty much in development.

And there’s a good reason for this, Mr Ballmer: Chrome is Google’s bet on the future while Android is capitalising on current technology and building consumer brand affinity. With Android you install an app, and thus you’re targeting a device. When you use Chrome, you’re looking at a cloud-based future, which we’re not quite at yet in the consumerscape. Google is clearly not prepared to wait for consumer behaviour to catch-up with its technology, and so developed Android as the stepping-stone. Smart thinking.

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