Microsoft will try to enter the fast-growing tablet software game and challenge Apple's iPad with a new version of its Windows 8 operating system, designed to run handheld touch-screen computers. Industry eyes are focused upon the company's efforts.
The stakes are huge, analyst Charles King of the research firm Pund-IT told USA Today. The company must play outside its comfort zone, but if Microsoft succeeds, the potential opportunities could be significant.
If is the operative word, and Microsoft faces many skeptics and challenges. Here are five reasons Microsoft won't challenge Apple and the iPad with its new software:
1) Lack of Speed. Microsoft can't compete with the tablet market today, and the industry is growing rapidly while Microsoft sits on the sidelines, trying to convince industry observers why its new Windows 8 software will put the company into the game. But Microsoft has become a slow-moving giant in a fast-moving consumer tech world.
Windows sales are too slow and Microsoft is under pressure to get its new version of Windows software out that's capable of running smaller, thinner tablet computers with long battery life in a way that Apple's superior iPad and its iOS system does. The company is demonstrating a new version of its Windows operating system, set to replace WIndows 7, at a conference for developers in Anaheim, Calif., but the product won't be released any sooner than early 2012, it appears.
By then, while Microsoft tries to get it right, Apple and other potential competitors like Google's Android will likely be one step ahead, once again.
2) Consumers are getting set in their ways. Sure, the burgeoning tablet industry is young, but some 60 million tablets will ship in 2011, according to a forecast by IHS Inc., an industry tracker. By 2015, that number is expected to rise to 275.3 million tablets shipped, with most ultimately sold to global consumers.
But that means the market will hit a point of mass reach within just three years. Consider only that the tablet industry as mainstream just launched in 2010, effectively, when Apple released its first iPad. So yes, while the industry is young, it's maturing at a faster clip than most -- meaning that the longer Microsoft delays, the more consumers and manufacturers get set in their ways.
Windows is a PC commodity software, of sorts, without the type of cache that inspires the type of emotion that moves and inspires tablet buyers -- at this stage at least. But by the time it reaches the next stage, Microsoft will likely be too late.
3) Competing against Apple isn't so easy. Many industry observers say Microsoft's Windows 8 -- said to resemble Microsoft's software for mobile phones in that it uses digital tiles instead of icons to help users navigate between programs -- will be a direct competitor against Apple and its iPad but they seem to forget that for a variety of reasons, millions of global consumers have a love affair with the company.
Consumers had their love affairs with Microsoft in the past, but it was mostly investors who have now grayed and aged and now longer care since the stock has become a flatliner on Wall Street -- too mature to budge. But because Apple is hip, and its products all tie seamlessly together and because the company was the first to bring it all together -- Mac laptop, iPhone smartphone, and iPad tablet -- it quickly gained a sort of brand ownership with tens of millions of customers.
4) The one-time leader has become a laggard. If you can believe this, Microsoft actually first released a version of Windows for tablet computers in 2002. And no, that's not a typo. Devices using the program used a stylus, and they were slim on programs that meet current form in use -- but the company had the right idea, early.
Tablets didn't really catch on until 2010, once Apple released its global-leading iPad -- offering the company's easy-to-use OS touchscreen and 10 hours of battery life. It also didn't hurt that Apple's iPad tied in easily with its other products and programs, including Apple's App Store and iTunes.
But through Microsoft came out of the gate early (too early, perhaps), companies including Samsung and and Motorola Mobility began selling tablets running on Google's Android operating system.
5) Will anybody care? Microsoft's Windows 8 will run on traditional desktops and laptops built around Intel and AMD processing chips and it will also run on ARM chips that run the current generation of touch tablets and smartphones, according to USA Today.
But as one expert said: Nobody doubts Microsoft has the technical ability to make Windows 8 work on ARM chips, but the question is: Will anybody will like it when it's finally released?