For most people, Microsoft is just one giant, successful
company. Microsoft is so big that most people forget that it has a number
of flat out failures that we simply don’t know about. But some we do.
Some we really pull for and no matter how hard we try, it just wasn’t
meant to be (I still love you Zune.) One such failure was the tablet PC.
Microsoft was way ahead of its time with tablet computing and although
now the iPad has become synonymous with tablet computing, it was Microsoft that
helped pave the way. Microsoft’s latest foray into the tablet world is
called Surface and it’s a far cry from the tablets of old.
To give a little history, PC’s had keyboards, which were
borrowed from typewriters. Apparently, someone got the bright idea that
pen-based computing would be fun, because the pen is a comfortable writing
tool. (Never mind that you can type a hell of a lot faster than you can
write, but that’s beside the point.) By 1991, Microsoft had released
“Windows for Pen Computing”, which was an add-on to Windows 3.1. From
what I’ve read, it let the operating system accept input from an active stylus.
But they didn’t respond to finger touches, they were designed to be a
“notepad” and use a “pen”. Even Gates would say that these early tablets
weren’t up to snuff, but he was confident in “Windows for XP Tablet Edition”.
Now, you had folks like Samsung, Toshiba, and Acer jumping on board.
Here’s where the problem lies. These tablets, by
comparison to an iPad, were really just PC’s. They cost almost $1500,
were heavy and had a disappointing battery life. And it was still
pen-based. Which would have been fine, but it was really supported.
At heart, Microsoft was a keyboard and mouse company (duh) and that was
evident in it’s tablet computing. So much was it so, that these “tablets”
shipped with a keyboard as a backup. It turned out to be a niche product
and not one that would be adopted by the masses. Remember Smart Displays?
Basically, they were big tablets designed for use with a PC for home use.
It had wi-fi, and was supposed to be a cheaper alternative to an actual
“tablet”, but they still cost a G, and the PC couldn’t be used while a Smart
Display was in use. You guessed it right if you said Microsoft scrapped
the project the same year.
Microsoft did finally jump on the finger-is-good bandwagon
and came out with “Project Origami’, but these machines were still expensive
and suffered from poor battery life. They scrapped that project too.
Finally in 2008, Microsoft had a really cool concept called
“Surface”. This was a big box with a horizontal screen on top (think a
giant sit down Pac-Man machine). It wasn’t designed for consumer use,
just commercial applications. It didn’t ask any of the computer
manufacturers to join in on this venture, instead it built and sold these
machines themselves. These units have true multi-touch screens and are
generally bad-ass. So how to bring that to the consumer?
Cue 2012. I think that Microsoft Surface could take
the tablet from being a companion to a desktop to being a primary mobile device
for people. Think about it, you don’t really use your iPad to send a
bunch of emails do you? Do you use the iPad to type a lot and edit
documents? Do you wish that you had a much faster way to surf YouTube
that using an on-screen keyboard in which you mess up and have to go back a
bunch? This is where Microsoft can kick major ass. I’m loving this
new idea and it seems as if they’ve finally learned what this tablet game is all
about, without every truly losing sight of their original vision. They’ve
learned that instead of constantly trying to scale down a PC, they should be
scaling up a phone. With the new Windows phones coming out soon,
Microsoft could see its market share vastly improve, and show Apple that
they’re not the only ones that can come up with amaze-balls ideas.
Microsoft is a PC friendly company and that’s something that tablets CAN
become. Thankfully, Microsoft never forgot that.
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