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Microsoft and its OEMs stick to an outdated tablet strategy

Gregg Keizer | June 4, 2013
'They don't quite get it,' says analyst

Acer's Iconia W3 is one fruit of that promotion, Milanesi agreed.

Milanesi also cited another Taiwanese OEM, Asus, which on Monday unveiled the Transformer Book Trio, a Hydra-hybrid tablet, smartphone and notebook that runs both Windows 8 and Google's Android.

Her problem with both devices was that they illustrated a stuck-in-the-past mentality. "Vendors are as confused as they were at CES [in January] about form factors and the operating system, and how the two relate," Milanesi said.

Consumers won't be attracted to an 8-in. tablet simply because it includes Office or that it runs Windows 8 rather than Windows RT, she maintained, nor will enterprises, even though they've shown interest in that format for touch-able applications, like email and filling out forms.

"OEMs continue to think about form factor and pricing rather than usage models," Milanesi contended. "They seem totally confused about who the audience is."

Microsoft's failure to set direction, or better put, its decision to promote Windows 8 and Office, even on too-small tablets, shows it's still relying on old habits. It's leaving the OEMs to do what they want, or even worse encouraging them, even if that means devices that don't match form with function — such as the Iconia — or results in a hodgepodge like the Transformer.

It's as if the massive shift of the last few years had never happened, as if throwing everything against a virtual wall to see what sticks is still a viable strategy.

"Samsung can do that, because that's what they do," said Milanesi, but she couldn't name another vendor with the luxury. Microsoft and its traditional partners certainly don't, she argued, not when PC sales are flagging and Windows is a very distant third as a tablet OS, when Apple has clearly drawn the lines between personal computer and tablet, and Google's Android has a stranglehold on low prices.

Two devices do not make an ecosystem, Milanesi acknowledged. But the muddled strategy they exemplified left her cold.

She understood why Acer went with Windows 8: Microsoft made an offer it couldn't refuse. But that didn't make it right. "It's an old-fashioned way of thinking," Milanesi said. "Where do you put RT then? Will it be left to the phone manufacturers, because they know ARM? Then what you'll have is PCs coming from one end and larger phones from the other."

 

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