Peter Bright has a very good article in Ars Technica on why Steve Ballmer and Microsoft still don’t understand why the iPad has been so successful. After all, Microsoft’s partners have been trying to sell Tablet PCs running Microsoft operating systems for years, but the number of sales have been like a drop in the ocean compared to the dominance of traditional PCs. On the other hand, sales of the iPad in its first three months of availability have already outstripped total sales of Tablet PCs for the whole of last year.
Bright’s argument – and I think he has got it spot-on – is that the Windows operating system with its multiple miniature icons used for control is just not suitable for the human finger. I have a Tablet PC myself – the now obsolete HP TX2000. It came installed with Windows Vista, but I have replaced that with Windows 7. And although some of the touch aspects of Windows 7 are good – the handwriting recognition is almost frighteningly good – for the most part I find myself using the keyboard and trackpad in place of the touchscreen. When I do use the touchscreen, it is usually with the stylus – I very rarely just use my finger, for the very reasons that Bright points out.
It’s odd that Ballmer appears to be insisting that Tablet and Slates are just another PC form factor – they are not, and they need something other than simply loading them up with bog-standard Windows 7. A way forward may be to adopt the approach of the forthcoming Windows Phone user interface, which is designed from the ground up to be driven by the human finger. After all, the iPad owes more to its roots in the iPhone than it does to the traditional Mac. If Ballmer can’t see that as an analogy for the next generation of Tablets and Slates, then it seems likely that sales will continue to languish.