Microsoft simply refuses to get both feet on board with thematically moving beyond the “PC” era, exhibited by COO Kevin Turner’s comments at his company’s Worldwide Partner Conference. Since the iPad’s introduction, Apple has claimed we’re in a “post-PC” era. Turn says it’s a “PC+” era. More importantly:
[Apple has] talked about it being the post-PC era, they talk about the tablet and PC being different, the reality in our world is that we think that’s completely incorrect. We actually believe Windows 8 is the new era for the PC plus. We believe with a single push of a button you can move seamlessly in and out of both worlds. We believe you can have touch, a pen, a mouse, and a keyboard.
Maybe he’s right, but there are two facts that don’t play at all in Microsoft’s favor. First, as we all know, Microsoft took and missed its first shot at tablet PCs a decade ago, then limped along with what it had. No one seemed to want to buy $2,000+ Windows tablets that were expensive, heavy, and built for pens instead of fingers, and Microsoft and its partners never spent any meaningful time to think about what wasn’t working or make a substantial effort to move the needle forward.
Now, Microsoft has refreshingly—though one could argue only forcibly, and only after the iPad helped destroy the Mac-to-PC sales ratio—done something interesting with Windows 8. It’s finally rebuilt its touch interface after taking the same route Apple did—experimenting in mobile (first the Zune, then Windows Phone), then expanding with notebooks. While I genuinely think it looks interesting, it also hasn’t shipped, so we’ll have to wait and see how Windows 8 is received in tablet form.
The second fact working against Turner is that even Microsoft doesn’t fully seem to buy into its own ‘no compromise, tablet + pen + touch + keyboard’ matra—a mantra, I should point out, that describes precisely the devices people haven’t wanted to buy for over a decade. While one version of Windows 8 tablets will do double-duty as both a traditional and PC+ device, another will be tablet-only, designed to run on bare-bones, low-power hardware, just like the pen-less, keyboard-less iPad.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what either of these companies, or anyone else, for that matter, calls what is turning out to be a period of pretty great innovation in personal computer design. It only matters that our tool builders listen and respond to what people actually want. Apple is clearly doing that with the iPhone, iPad, and App Store. Let’s see if Microsoft can do the same.