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Why Windows 8 tablets will be a very big deal

by Ben Bajarin

December 1 2011

Ben Bajarin is the Director of Consumer Technology Practice at Creative Strategies, Inc., a strategy consulting firm in Silicon Valley.


"With WebOS dead in the water, HP has no choice but to re-commit to Windows."

The road to success for Windows 8 tablets goes through HP, Dell, and Lenovo. Of the three, only HP is fully committed to Windows.

After an initial flurry of optimism, the prospects for Windows 8 tablets have been taking a real beating lately. Some analysts are convinced these devices will be too late to the party, and that there will be little to celebrate.

I disagree.

Although Windows 8 tablets are still about a year away, it is clear to me that they will get their shot in the market—and not just in a small way.

Part of my job at Creative Strategies entails talking to many of the world's largest PC makers. Not surprisingly, I’m hearing that they all plan to support Windows 8—and specifically Windows 8 tablets—in a major way. This means we will see quite a broad offering of Windows 8 tablets being aggressively positioned to both consumers and to businesses.

In my column a few weeks ago I looked at how the iPad is gaining traction in small business. Clearly tablets are here to stay, but where is the iPad’s competition? Android tablets have yet to show a mass market success; perhaps the competition will have to come from Windows 8 tablets?

But for Windows 8 tablets to even have a shot at market share, HP, Dell and Lenovo need to back it in a major way.

HP officially made the decision to keep its PC business. This was a smart decision. Although HP and Microsoft have always remained strong partners, specifically in the area of personal computers, HP’s decision to purchase Palm and bring WebOS in-house made it clear that the PC manufacturer intended to control its own OS destiny.

But with WebOS dead in the water, HP has no choice but to re-commit to Windows, including Windows 8 tablets going forward. This is key. All on its own, HP's renewed support will generate considerable momentum for the platform.

This comes at a time when Microsoft is making the rounds, trying to rally partners to fully commit to Windows 8. I have heard some doubt and concern expressed by PC and tablet manufacturers about fully backing the new Windows OS. But even with that in mind, I have no doubt that all current PC manufacturers will back Windows 8 and charge forward with Microsoft.

The best possible partnership

HP is the best possible partner Microsoft can have in regards to Windows 8 tablets. Why? Because Android is out of the question for the world’s largest PC manufacturer.

A while ago, HP experimented with Android and partnering with Google, and decided it was not for them. I don’t see that changing any time soon. Now consider this: all of Microsoft’s other Windows partners—Acer, Samsung, Lenovo, Dell, and more—also make Android tablets.

This is not to say these vendors won’t also make Windows 8 tablets. But HP is Microsoft’s only partner for whom Android is out of the picture. Because of this, HP will most likely pour all of its considerable resources into supporting Win8 tablets.

This level of commitment will encourage other vendors to follow suit. Furthermore, HP’s full-fledged support could also help spur more third-party software development for Windows 8 which will also help.

A no-brainer for the enterprise

HP knows the value of selling a complete mobile solution—desktops, laptops, smartphones and tablets—to its enterprise customers, which is a large part of the company’s business. Windows 8 will clearly play a key role in strengthening that part of their business strategy.

At the same time, the iPad is continuing to gain traction in the enterprise, and this segment will be an important battleground going forward.

The enterprise is also a key strength of Dell and Lenovo. Both of those companies need to advance the Windows 8 tablet platform in their own ecosystem for it to have a chance. The big challenge for them is that they also support Android on tablets.

My call? Looking at it realistically, these guys will have to make a choice. My guess is they will move to Windows 8 tablets, especially for business-caliber devices.

Is Nokia the wildcard?

There is perhaps another wild card in the Windows 8 tablet deck, and that is Nokia. In my mind, the Finnish giant is relevant again, and has some interesting fundamentals that can make it a viable player in the smart devices category. The company will want to sell Windows Phones to business customers all over the world. It is a logical next step to include Windows 8 tablets in their sales pitch. 

Should Nokia gain traction with its smartphones and brand here in the U.S., it will be an important player in the tablet category as well. And if this is the case, Nokia would join HP as the only other “smart devices” manufacturer that is 100% committed to Microsoft.

This market is far from being conquered. According to our numbers, the tablet category is growing at a pace of over 200% for 2011 and we expect near 200% growth again for 2012.

We also believe the size of the tablet market will be larger than the PC market someday, but it will take time to get there. From what I have seen so far, I am more optimistic about Windows 8 tablets than Android tablets, especially in the enterprise.

The problem is that we are still a year away from seeing Windows 8 hit the market. For Windows 8 tablets to succeed, vendors will have to go big or go home.

Ben Bajarin is the Director of Consumer Technology Practice at Creative Strategies, Inc., a strategy consulting firm in Silicon Valley.

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