Forrester Now Says It's Too Late for a Windows Tablet

So much for all that user interest in a Windows tablet. Now Forrester says it's drying up.

Just last month a survey from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that 42 percent of U.S. consumers and 44 percent of Chinese users said they wanted a Windows tablet, far beyond that of any other tablet out there, including iPad.I've seen criticism of the research in other places, ranging from challenging the methodology to just plain not believing the findings. Now it seems Forrester can add some veracity to that doubt. from Forrester now declares Windows 8 "is going to be very late to the party" and by then, other competitors will have shaped the market. Research Director J.P. Gownder cited the efforts of the Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook as "reshaping" consumer expectations and driving down price points. His reasoning flies in the face of Microsoft history. Gownder says product strategists often look to be "fast followers" in the market. In other words, have your own version of a product out fast. He cites the example of the browser war of the 1990s. Microsoft's "fast-following Internet Explorer drove incumbent Netscape out of the market altogether."First off, Microsoft had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the Internet. The company initially dismissed it. IE 1.0 came out in August 1995. By this point, Netscape had been in business for two years and Navigator had been in public beta most of that time. Finally, Netscape tried to sell its browser, while Microsoft shoehorned IE into its operating system as a free component.Ok, so Microsoft was dragged in front of the DoJ for it and eventually got spanked for such activity. By then, Netscape was long out of business and the industry had moved on. The fact is Internet Explorer is a pretty bad example to cite because Microsoft came late, came reluctantly and played pretty dirty.A better example is Excel. Originally known as Multiplan, it flopped compared to Lotus 1-2-3. Microsoft renamed it Excel and came out with a Windows version quickly, while Lotus was slow to develop its own Windows version of 1-2-3. So Excel gained momentum at Lotus's expense.And then there's the Xbox. When it shipped in 2001, no one thought it had a chance against entrenched monsters like Sony and Nintendo. Who's laughing now?Microsoft has always been late to market, but they learn fast, hang in there, adjust course, improve with each iteration, and yes, leverage their dominance in other areas to help out new and weak products. They don't always succeed – Zune, anyone? – but more often than not they don't suffer from being late to a market. Windows Server came about three decades after Unix and look at its share of the server market.Which brings me back to the tablet argument. Gownder writes "For tablets, though, Windows really isn’t a fast follower. Rather it’s (at best) a fifth-mover after iPad, Android tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, HP’s now-defunct webOS tablet, and the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. While Windows’ product strategists can learn from these products, other players have come a long way in executing and refining their products — Apple, Samsung, and others have already launched second-generation products and will likely be into their third generation by the time Windows 8 launches."All valid points. But I also remember sitting in a conference hall of stoked developers at the BUILD conference, most of them cheering loudly as Steve Sinofsky showed off the new tablet OS, and developers will help you win every time. That's how Apple went from zero to millions with the iPhone and that's why the PlayBook, while a nice tablet, is dying an increasingly rapid death. The one area Microsoft can't do much is on price. That will fall to OEMs. At best, Microsoft might subsidize them just to build the market and hopefully make money on the app store. We'll see how that goes.Forrester has done its own research, which matched BCG, but found that consumers’ interest in Windows tablets is plummeting. "In Q1 2011, Windows was by far the top choice of consumers — while no touch-first Windows tablets existed, 46% of U.S. consumers yearned for one. By Q3 2011, that picture had changed dramatically: Windows was no longer No. 1 in choice preference, and interest among consumers dropped to 25%. Microsoft has missed the peak of consumer desire for a product they haven't yet released," Gownder wroteIf Microsoft goes chasing consumer demand, it's already lost. Hopefully they realized what Steve Jobs knew: "You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new."I'll repeat my main criticism with Windows 8: it feels like a tablet OS that will also run on PCs and doesn't address some issues I want, like bare C: installs for SSDs. But if Microsoft falls victim to weather vane market research, it's really doomed.

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