This Week in Tablets: Microsoft is (finally) learning to play nice with Windows 8

May 5, 2012

There’s just no graceful way to get around it: At this point in time, neither consumers nor the press are that into RIM. Watching the action out of this week’s BlackBerry World in Orlando, Florida, I couldn’t help but think the whole event felt like a divorced couple trying to rekindle the magic.

RIM tried very hard to reconnect with its fan base. The company pulled out every trick in the book—a new version 10 OS, the potential for 4G PlayBooks, innovative camera functions, and more—in order to proof that its devices still merit our love.

Unfortunately, the resulting coverage was the journalistic equivalent of a polite smile, a distanced embrace, and a “We’ll always be friends.” Ultimately, it’s hard to inject passion into a relationship that just petered out, however.

This said, RIM’s innovative new BB10 camera, for which RIM smartly decided to license Scalado’s impressive imaging technology, merits attention and praise. A camera that can capture more than a single moment at a time? The ability to edit out background elements in a photo? These are good things, even if they do already exist on the Android platform.

I can even see this kind of camera working effectively in a 7-inch tablet form-factor. RIM, it appears is beginning to understand the importance of playing nice with other companies. Unfortunately, it may be too late for BlackBerry.

Windows 8 girds for battle

Microsoft is marching to the beat of a slightly different drummer as it approaches what is certainly the most important Windows release to date.

From the very public beta releases to the cash-dangling courtship of developers to the slew of partner announcements, there’s a lot more pre-energy building up around the Windows 8 launch.

It is not clear whether Microsoft has learned from RIM’s failure, its own shortcomings around the Windows Phone launch, or its successes with the Xbox brand. What is clear, however, is that Microsoft understands that the bits and pieces of a tablet ecosystem make all the difference in the world, and that the more bits and pieces a platform operator can assemble, the better.

Also made clear is that the days of Microsoft attempting to buy out or destroy potential rivals in competitive categories are over.

Last week’s announcements of key partnerships with Barnes & Noble and Dolby Labs made a whole lot of strategic sense.

The former consisted of a $300 million investment, and answers a desperate need on the content side of Windows. The latter offers app developers and media companies the ability to take advantage of a high level and caliber of audio output. For the gaming and movie crowd, this counts for a lot.

At the very least, even if Microsoft loses, or doesn’t win big, its partners are grinning big. Both B&N and Dolby experienced nice short-term bounces on the stock market.

What else needs to come into focus? We still need word on the music front. Will Microsoft’s first-party Zune service—which is responsible for the Metro interface—stick around, even if it’s renamed?

Also: Will Microsoft create exclusive distribution partnerships on the 4G wireless front with telecom companies like AT&T, T-Mobile, and more?

And finally, what’s going to happen with Microsoft Office on tablet devices?

Microsoft appears to be on a roll. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear about some of these final puzzle pieces over the next 3-4 weeks.

Will HTML5 be a Trojan Horse for Windows?

In the near term, the iPad and iOS will continue to remain dominant. There’s no changing that. But it’s possible that several market pressures will begin to erode Apple’s dominance on the software/app side starting in 2013.

First, it’s not hard to envision a continuous migration towards HTML5 by developers, who are 1) weary of building multiple versions of the same software, and 2) beginning to see HTML5’s capabilities come into better focus.

This migration feels inevitable, and will probably hurt Android before it hurts Apple. For many developers, the critical mass around the App Store makes it a worthwhile investment, even if winning in the App Stores feels as likely as winning the lottery.

But, it may be that we’re already seeing the first rumblings of this sea change. The Financial Times recently announced that it was ditching the iOS App Store entirely in favor of HTML5 versions of its content, partially because its web-app audience has grown astronomically.

This week’s winner: Barnes & Noble

See above. A $300 million investment counts for a lot for Barnes & Noble’s Nook division. The relevancy and the broader audience the Microsoft partnership brings counts for even more.

This week’s loser: print publishing

Print publishers are flocking to Apple’s Newsstand, and by all accounts, it’s generating success for several big and small publishing houses.

However, if recent reports are to be believed, these tablet versions of print editions are woefully under-serving advertisers on the audience data and analytics front. Earlier this week, the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ Print Media Committee sent a letter to the Magazine Publishers Association detailing their frustrations over the lack of data associated with tablet editions of magazines.

This means one of two things. First, either these digital editions are performing so poorly that the magazine publishers are sitting on the analytics. Or the magazine publishers are behind the times once again. Either way, it hurts traditional publishers.

Newer tablet-first media outlets like Flipboard are offering up would-be advertisers data and targeting abilities in spades. Guess where advertisers and agencies will spend their dollars?

In an ominous follow-up to this news, The Economist CEO Andrew Rashbass stated that Flipboard is a prime competitor to tablet magazine/newspaper editions, and that printed news will be dead in 25 years.

On the horizon

Two events next week may deliver interesting insight into the future of tablet devices as well as the way enterprise customers will use them.

Starting on Monday, May 7, CTIA Wireless 2012 will be held in New Orleans. Typically, this show/event focuses more on smartphones than tablet devices, but there is a Future of Tablets track at the show. On the product side, I’m keeping my eyes open for more Windows 8 info as well as some kind of tablet announcements from HTC. Ever since it announced the HTC Flyer in conjunction with Sprint, the company has been quiet.

On a slightly smaller scale, Citrix will be holding its Citrix Synergy 2012 event in San Francisco from May 9 to May 11. Aimed at the C-suite as well as IT managers, the event should offer up some interesting opportunities to glimpse the future of Citrix’ cloud-based services and virtualized desktop solutions—most of which benefit tablet users in corporate environments.

My expectation is that Citrix Systems CEO Mark B. Templeton will use his keynote to reveal a new cross-platform product. Here’s hoping. 


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