Today's FT reports Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's take on this question:

"To a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail," he said. “We have our hammer [with Windows],” while Apple had its own hammer with the iPhone operating system that it was expanding to support the iPad.

This is a supremely shrewd observation, but it misses one important fact: Microsoft has a rival to iPhone OS in the mobile device market too, and one which would be ideally suited to tablets. The right tools are Microsoft's true mobile-optimised platforms on which Microsoft's handhelds, phones, and Windows Phone 7 are built. See more information, including photos, of the proof of concept Microsoft tablet running Windows Embedded Compact here in Engadget's Computex coverage.

This is significant. Because Microsoft has failed many times in the past using full versions of Windows in tablet designs such as Ultra Mobile PCs, Windows for Pen Computing, Windows XP tablet edition and the rest. These past failures were due to a lack of convenience. Microsoft must avoid repeating history now. So, Steve Ballmer is wrong: Windows 7 is not the right hammer for tablets to compete with the iPad. Why?

Mobile devices have to be super convenient. We have a key category called "availability" in Forrester's Convenience Quotient methodology for smartphones which applies equally to tablets and other mobile devices. It's on these "availability" criteria that desktop computing systems have repeatedly failed when re-purposed for mobile device use, and similarly where smartphone-based systems — like the iPad and the Dell Streak — are finally succeeding:

  • All day battery life. Mobile devices should last a full day of actual use between recharges. The more compelling the product, and so the more consumers use it, the more difficult this is to achieve.
  • Easy portability. Even the lightest PCs are too heavy for 24×7 usage. The new breed of smartphone-powered tablets are much closer (but not yet perfect).
  • Immediacy. Instant on and off is a hygiene factor for smartphones, and should be for tablets, but for PCs it remains a roadmap item.
  • Consistent responsiveness. Subjective speed is what matters: how fast a device enables a user to achieve an end, to open an email, to launch an app. The fastest hardware isn't what matters. Today's tablets have slower megahertz hardware than current laptop PCs, but the iPad still manages to open my email messages faster than any computer I own!


So Steve Ballmer is right in one regard:

What hammers someone has in their possession determines their point of view and their outlook on something new. But in tablets, Microsoft has more hammers than just the PC and Windows 7. Microsoft has Windows Phone 7 and Windows Embedded Compact, and they should use those hammers to compete in the tablet market as they are designed to meet the same "convenience" criteria on which basis the iPad is proving successful.