Craig Mundie questions whether tablets have a future -- does he or Microsoft without them?
Some people are so smart, they're dumb when it comes to everyday things. They lack common sense, or fail to appreciate viewpoints other than their own. It's the only way I can explain Microsoft chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie questioning whether the media tablet has any future.
"I don't know whether the big screen tablet pad category is going to remain with us or not," Mundie said in Sydney earlier today, during a lunch event sponsored by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia. This is the same man who in summer 2009 predicted that the future of the PC is a room. During Microsoft's Financial Analyst Meeting 2009 he looked into the future and saw "a world where the room is the computer" and asserted that "there will be a successor to the desktop [PC], it'll be the room."
If you believe that, then by all means accept his prediction that tablets may have no future. We can all sit around on fat asses waving our arms to activate Kinect devices, play Xbox 360 games, stream movies from the Internet and interact with people online. Never meet real people. Never go outside the room. Wait. Isn't that the stereotypical nerd nirvana?
Maybe the PC room is Mundie's future, but not mine and likely not yours. Computer as the room was the room-filling mainframe, which the personal computer replaced. Now the PC is giving way to cloud-connected devices, many of which are portable -- like the media tablet. Perhaps Mundie is too much the digital immigrant, having grown up in a different technology era and he's locked into an archaic way of thinking. Today's digital natives revel in computing on the go -- be constantly connected everywhere. Perhaps Mundie clings too much to the Windows-based tablet PC concept that never took off. Or perhaps he's living in denial, since Microsoft has got nothing competitive to offer in the media tablet market.
In hearing Mundie speak, it's easy to understand where his reasoning is wrong. I made the same mistake in January 2010 when writing: "The world doesn't need an Apple tablet, or any other." I reasoned the same as Mundie that smartphone and laptop are enough, with functionality overlapping tablets. But I later saw the error of my reasoning, posting in June 2010: "I was wrong about Apple iPad."
Mundie said about smartphones and laptops: "These are going to bump into one another a little bit and so today you can see tablets and pads and other things that are starting to live in the space in between. Personally I don't know whether that space will be a persistent one or not."
Tablets aren't a fad. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates had the right idea about tablets being life changing when he pushed the concept a decade ago. Microsoft merely messed up the execution (too much enterprise focus, and there was the stylus) and timing was premature -- the market wasn't quite yet ready. But everything is different now. Like other mobile cloud-connected devices, tablets are the future of computing -- at least in the post-PC era. It's a growing market: Global spending on media tablets was $9.6 billion in 2010, according to Gartner, with iPad accounting for nearly 100 percent of that number. Media tablet spending is predicted to reach nearly $30 billion this year. Apple's iPad 2 is sold out in most of the 26 markets where it's distributed.
I'll share some anecdotes about tablets changing behavior. Before getting iPad 2, my 16 year-old daughter carried a 13-inch MacBook Pro to school. No longer. She uses the tablet and loves it. I was surprised, thinking the touchscreen keyboard wouldn't be good enough for doing school work. She finds it more than adequate.
On March 25, I trucked down to Apple Store Fashion Valley, located here in San Diego, to buy a second iPad 2. I arrived around 7:50 a.m. and waited behind about 50 people until 9:10 a.m. to get a 32GB white Wi-Fi-only iPad 2. The gentlemen before and after me were in chatty moods, and I asked about their computing habits. The medical professional was there buying a third iPad 2, a birthday present for his wife. He also had bought iPad 1 last year. The other guy was buying his first iPad 2. Both men shared similar experience that surprised me. They use laptops at work, but tablets at home. They've replaced their PCs with iPads. That doesn't mean they never use a PC -- they have to at least sync and update their tablets. Rather, iPad is the primary home computing device.
Maybe Mundie really believes that media tablets are a fad, like earlier Microsoft predictions about iPod and iPhone would go nowhere, too. We know how that turned out. Earlier today, also writing about Mundie's comments, The Loop's Jim Dalrymple expressed: "If you don't lead, you follow. If you don't follow, you're doomed. Hello Microsoft."
Microsoft isn't leading the tablet market -- well, it once did and gave up. Maybe that's another reason -- or the most important -- why Mundie is so hesitant about tablets' future. Microsoft has been there, done that and failed. What's that motto? If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Trying starts with believing -- in this case in the viability of the tablet category.
Do you agree with Mundie -- that tablets may not have a long-term future? Would you like to see a tablet or at least a stronger tablet OS from Microsoft? Do you own a tablet or plan on buying one soon. Please answer any of these questions in comments or by email.