Microsoft’s recent announcement regarding their intention to compete with iPads and other Android based devices signals a fast acceptance of tablets becoming popular with individual and business users alike. Microsoft is not new to this market having made their first tablet/slate PC related announcements almost ten years ago when Bill Gates was still at the helm. However, over that time period, Microsoft was not able to convince PC OEMs to develop these new form factors (Fujitsu and Toshiba being the exception). Major US OEMs like HP only made a half hearted attempt to develop these new devices. The reason – Microsoft tried to push the same Windows OS on to different form factors thereby offering no additional incentive to buyers to adopt tablets. Most technology pundits have focused on the fact that Microsoft is late to market with these devices and that their stranglehold on the computing market is at risk because they risk losing consumers and ISVs to alternative operating systems such as iOS and Android. This is true and well discussed so I won’t rehash that topic in this post.
What Microsoft failed to recognize was that the tablet user experience is fundamentally different than a traditional PC. It’s not just about consuming media on a different device but rather how a user interacts with different types of software. When user interaction shifts to a different paradigm – in this case Touch /Multi-touch, the entire user experience changes. That demands a complete re-thinking of user interface design so as to make the interaction efficient and productive. I believe this to be THE key impact of tablets on personal computing. The reason iPads and Androids are succeeding is because the applications running on these devices have been written from the ground up to take this issue into consideration. I believe the growth of touch devices will challenge the long held beliefs of usability but more importantly will force ISVs to think radically about informationinput paradigms that have existed for centuries. Consider a simple task of entering data into a spreadsheet cell. Currently, the norm is to pop up a full keyboard for entering data which takes away screen real estate; this is not optimal particularly on a small device. Similarly, commonly used applications that involve form filling also fail to adequately address input and interaction issues today. For ISVs, their next generation of products will have to find a competitive edge in ease of use which I believe will take on more importance among individuals when buying products and software solutions.