OK, so does Apple judging by the fact that the number of conventional PC product announcements this week outnumbered their computing paradigm-shifted tablet products. But at least Apple started with some separation between the product lines by rolling out iOS on the iPhone as a completely separate concept from its desktop OS. Apple is actually promoting the fact that these lines may blur over time, but that appears to be part of a solid strategy after hooking so many people with iOS. That has brought tons of people to Apple, but I think they see more if the experiences are more transferable between hardware types.

Now this week, we get the new tablets from Microsoft – the Surface. Much has been made about Microsoft jumping into computer hardware and competing with its traditional partners. By all accounts, they are more than competing as the Surface hardware appears to be excellent in the eyes of reviewers.

According to an interview with Ina Freid of AllThingD, Intel’s CEO Paul Otellini had this to say:

“It’s a watershed event,” Otellini told AllThingsD in a telephone interview Wednesday. “The fact it spans from traditional PCs and tablets and then in all the hybrid devices in between is really very powerful. It allows the hardware side to really exercise creativity in a way that we haven’t been able to do for quite some time.”

It’s just one more comment to stack up that makes me think Microsoft and its whole partner ecosystem may have learned little from previous forays into the tablet. The first time around, it was called a tablet PC. With 100 million units sold and a completely different marketplace in the two years since the iPad launched, a new strategy might be in order.

But then again, the hedge may work. Or maybe it is seen as the only option at this point with iPad dominating the market and a long line of Android players sucking up the remaining tablet space. Microsoft hopes to change all that tomorrow with the launch of the ARM-based Surface running the RT variant of the new Windows operating system.

BuzzFeed said the Microsoft tablet can’t fail. This is more business commentary for the success of the company than a comment on the assuredness of Microsoft’s product strategy. With a product line that will span everyone’s requirements, something is bound to find traction – especially when Microsoft is still entrenched in many institutions where freedom, individuality and creativity aren’t particularly valued. (I’ve worked there, but I’m not mentioning any names.)

The ironic thing about Microsoft’s original failures in the touch computing space is that they employ its inventors and early innovators, chief among them Bill Buxton. These people understood much more than the technology – hardware and software – but appreciated the concepts, use cases, interface psychology and human-machine interaction as well as anyone at Apple – past or present. As anyone who watched those early Surface videos or saw demos from a distance at events, you’ll know that touch screens have been brewing at Microsoft for a very time.

Bill Buxton’s homepage displays a quote that sums it up. He talks about touch as well as speech, but the points can be applied to both technologies as they have rolled out. Sadly, he may be talking about Microsoft itself. Only time will tell.

"The Case Against Lemmings and Sheep: Everything is best for something and worst for something else.  The problem is, when someone hits a home-run with one technology in one area, people try to ride on the coat-tails of that success, and indiscriminately deploy the same technology in the too-often misguided blind hope that the   new deployment will achieve the same success.   We have seen this with touch interfaces, non-contact gestures, and will see it with speech.  The large number of failures that result are as inevitable as they are avoidable.  Without an equally solid understanding of both the strengths and weaknesses of the technology  - when, where, why, how, for what, and for whom it is and isn’t suitable - one is gambling rather than practicing design (much less acting in the best interests of users, shareholders, or employees)."

 

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