Today, Digitimes leaked out the news that Microsoft is eyeing a tablet for launch in 2012. The tablet is expected to run Windows 8, and will likely be the first in a new line of Windows-branded tablets. Commercial release before Q3 2012 is unlikely, but we can expect to see this tablet pop up in CES early next year.
Sadly, that will be too late.
I, Cringely put up a blog post today warning that the real purpose of iCloud is to kill Windows. The language is slightly hyperbolic, but the point is sound. Comprehensive cloud computing solutions are a death knell for the 'old guard'. Google will be right behind Apple in offering an iCloud 'like' package, and together they'll suck up every PC owner who wants to use a mobile device.
In other words, every PC owner.
Apple won't need to make a single additional Mac VS. PC ad. The debate between those two platforms is officially over. The Macintosh was "demoted" by Steve Jobs himself. Each piece of hardware is only a screen that allows you to access your stored cloud data. That's the end goal at least: for now Google and Apple will settle for your music, apps, movies and documents.
Microsoft was three years late in adapting to the iPhone. They're on track to be about three years late with a response to the iPad. So a reasonable cloud-computing alternative should roll out of Redmond's idea factory by 2014 at the latest.
The iPad has already lead to cuts in PC growth forecasts. Another 60 million tablets are expected to ship in 2014. Microsoft will be competing in a crowded market with polished Android tablets, the iPad, and maybe even a strong line of webOS TouchPads or BlackBerry PlayBooks.
There are a number of reasons why a professional user might be interested in a Windows 8 tablet. If it's efficient and fast and has a long battery life, without sacrificing access to apps like PhotoShop and Premiere, Windows 8 might attract a lot of specialized users. But I can't think of a single thing Microsoft could do right now to make their tablet preferable to the average consumer with $499 burning a hole through his wallet.
Apps? Apple and Google are so far ahead it's ludicrous. Microsoft could (and probably will) launch with a very respectable app collection. Maybe a huge one. But it won't be enough to stand against the inertia the App Store has built up.
At this point, Microsoft is betting that old users will love Windows 8 enough to stick around and try out their other related services. It's a 'reactive' move, like everything else Microsoft has done in mobility lately. They wait far too long to roll out polished, inoffensive products that deliver but don't delight. Their declining profits are evidence that this strategy works less and less as each year passes.
It's too late to call a giant like Microsoft 'out'. But they'd better have something really cool hidden up their collective sleeve. And they'd better let it slip soon.