Analysis: Is It Already Too Late for a Windows Tablet?

Forrester Research report finds waning consumer interest in a Windows-based tablet.

Consumer interest in Windows-based tablets has declined over the past six months, according to a report released at the end of November 2011 by Forrester Research Inc.

The report, based on a survey fielded in September 2011 of 2,300 consumers who claim they're not opposed to buying a tablet, shows a precipitous decline among those interested in tablets based on Windows.

The Forrester findings conflict with a report released the previous month by Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which found 42 percent of existing tablet users wanted a Windows-based tablet while 53 percent of non-tablet users wanted one with Windows. However, the BCG survey was fielded earlier last year, in late spring.

Back in the first quarter of 2011, when Forrester asked what OS users wanted on their tablet, 46 percent of those surveyed said they were interested in a Windows tablet. However, that figure dropped to only 25 percent in the third quarter. By comparison, those interested in Apple iPads rose from 16 percent to 28 percent. Interest also rose in Google Android-based tablets, from 9 percent to 18 percent.

Moreover, when asked by Forrester which brands they were considering, a sample of 1,800 respondents showed that 61 percent were interested in an iPad while only 10 percent wanted a Windows 8-based tablet, presuming it was available.

A Microsoft spokeswoman said the company isn't commenting on the Forrester report.

Fueling the decline in interest in Windows 8-based tablets -- Microsoft's answer to the iPad and other popular tablets -- is the possibility that Microsoft's new OS won't be available for perhaps up to a year or more. Some speculative reports are anticipating that Windows 8 devices based on the low-power ARM architecture may not enter the competitive stakes until mid-2013. Versions of Windows 8 are also under development for the Intel and AMD x86 architectures. Microsoft hasn't stated a target delivery date for Windows 8.

"They [Microsoft] have missed the peak demand period in the minds of consumer buyers for a product that they simply haven't released yet," said Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder in an interview. The report described Microsoft as a "fifth mover" rather than a "fast follower" in the tablet market behind such devices as the iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab (based on Android), Research In Motion PlayBook and the now-defunct webOS-based TouchPad from Hewlett-Packard Co.

Does that mean Windows 8 is DOA when it arrives? Not necessarily, Gownder said. "A lot of it depends on the decisions that they make from here on out," he said. "I think Windows 8 still has a reasonable shot to be successful, but we have to see how they determine things like pricing. If Microsoft comes out and prices it the same as the iPad and it doesn't do anything that the iPad can already do, that's going to be problematic."

Adding to that challenge, he noted, are the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, released in November, and the Barnes & Noble Nook tablet, also released in November. The two products are priced at $199 and $249, respectively. While not as robust as other tablets, these bare-bones devices have Web browsers and allow access to a broad array of content.

In a year from now, improvements in these devices and iPads, along with downward pricing pressure, mean Microsoft will be challenged to find a way to bring entry-level devices into the market starting at less than $300, Gownder predicted. "I think the bar is high for them to figure out how to do this," he said.

With the so-called consumerization of IT, many users are simply bringing their devices of choice to their offices and using them instead of PCs for many tasks such as Web browsing, taking notes and viewing documents. With tools such as Citrix Receiver available for devices such as the iPad, many users have access to enterprise apps, as well, the report noted. As a result, consumer appeal has more implications on what enterprises adopt than ever before.

Microsoft's key challenge will be to make Windows 8 an attractive platform for productivity and gaming -- something Apple has already succeeded in doing with the iPad, which now has 40 million users, Gownder said.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.