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Will Microsoft Copy the Tablet Strategies of Apple and Google?

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) is planning to get rid of one of its operating systems. At the UBS Global Tech conference last week, Microsoft executive Julie Larson-Green said that Microsoft wasn't "going to have three [operating systems]" going forward.

Right now, Microsoft has Windows Phone, Windows 8, and Windows RT. Given that Microsoft's hardware partners have all rejected Windows RT, the ARM-optimized version of Windows seems like the obvious of the three to go.

To replace Windows RT, Microsoft might change one of its core beliefs -- a strategy that has so far differed greatly from the one embraced by Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) and Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) .

Two operating-system philosophies
Microsoft has always differed with its competitors, Google and Apple, when it comes to drawing a line between traditional PC form factors and mobile devices. All three companies offer at least two operating systems, but apply their operating systems very differently.

Apple and Google use their mobile operating systems, iOS and Android, on both smartphones and tablets. Their traditional PC operating systems, Google's Chrome OS and Apple's OS X, remain on traditional PC form factors.

Microsoft, on the other hand, offers its pure mobile operating system, Windows Phone, strictly on smartphones, while pushing Windows 8 on everything else -- desktops, laptops, tablets, and convertibles. Windows RT is, in a sense, also a pure mobile operating system, being offered strictly on tablets; but it looks identical to Windows 8, and largely functions the same, relying heavily on keyboard and mouse input.

Microsoft's outgoing CEO, Steve Ballmer, explained how Microsoft thought about the two computing environments back at the D8 conference in 2010:

I think there will exist a general purpose device that does everything you want... Will there also be a device that you keep in your pocket? Because I think there's a fundamental difference between small enough to fit in a pocket, not small enough to be in your pocket. There will be some distinct difference in usage patterns between those two devices.

Microsoft wanted to offer one computing environment for smartphones (Windows Phone), and one for everything else (Windows 8).

Windows Phone 8 gets bigger
But Nokia's new phablet, the Lumia 1520, stretches the limits when it comes to fitting in a pocket. The Windows Phone-powered device sports a 6-inch screen, making it larger than the Galaxy Note 3; Samsung's flagship phablet running Google's Android is a bit smaller, with just a 5.7-inch screen. Sure, the Lumia 1520 might fit in some pockets, but certainly not all.

Could Windows Phone get even bigger? The jump from a 6-inch phablet to a 7- or 8-inch tablet is not much of a stretch. Ovum's analyst for devices and platforms, Tony Cripps, believes that it makes sense for Microsoft to scale up Windows Phone further, offering Windows Phone-powered tablets (via V3).

Windows Phone tablets could help Microsoft close the gap
Windows RT tablets have basically been a failure -- some of Microsoft's hardware partners, like Hewlett-Packard, have avoided offering them entirely. Others, like Dell, experimented with Windows RT tablets, but quickly discontinued them.

The aversion is understandable -- consumers have avoided Windows RT. Microsoft was forced to take a $900 million writedown back in July after its own Windows RT tablet, the Surface, sold more poorly than anticipated.

The lack of mobile apps may have been the key reason for Windows RT's failure. Apple's iPad has hundreds of thousands of apps written for it specifically. Tablets running Google's Android have far fewer, but Google's operating system compensates for its weakness by scaling up existing Android apps written for smartphones.

Windows RT has had to rely on the Windows 8 app store, which continues to be plagued by a key lack of mobile apps, including HBO Go, Pinterest, and LinkedIn, not to mention the absence of popular games including Plants vs. Zombies 2. Windows Phone, in addition to being much more touch optimized than Windows RT, also suffers from a lack of apps, but appears to be gaining some momentum among developers with the recent additions of Instagram and Vine.

Offering Windows Phone-powered tablets would be, in a sense, conceding defeat, by acknowledging that Microsoft had it wrong when it came to drawing the line between mobile and traditional PC form factors. But if Microsoft heads in that direction, it could offer a tablet experience more competitive with Apple's and Google's offerings.

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Read/Post Comments (15) | Recommend This Article (2)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 4:31 PM, Azzras wrote:

    They are NOT planning on getting rid of an OS. They are merging WP and W RT. Sheesh. You'd think Fools would be able to figure some things out.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 5:40 PM, badgerzilla wrote:

    Merging implies that they have the same ancestry and they do not. They are written in different languages and have different interrupt mechanisms. Differing distros on Linux can merge, like Android and Chrome OS because they came from the same code base. If you believe that they will be adding feature from RT into WP8 that's different than merging. There exist auto-merging tools like three-way-merging which can take two different code bases and merge them automatically but it requires that they have the same ancestry.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 5:52 PM, KenLuskin wrote:

    Another article that said nothing new.

    What you did NOT discuss is the REASON that MSFT created RT in the first place.

    MSFT wants access to the cheap but powerful ARM chips that allow tablets to be priced at $200.

    If MSFT does NOT open up Windows to support ARM 64 chips, then Google's Chrome and Apple's OS will eventually eat Windows lunch.

    Regardless of what MSFT does corporations will ditch PCs in the future in favor of CLOUD support, combined with a connected screen on everyone's desk.

    The real question is what type of MOBILE device will corporations and people use.

    If corps and people replace their PC laptops with Chrome books and Apple books to connect to the cloud, then MSFT's non Office cloud will wither and die.

    Intel's OVER priced chips are killing the price competitiveness of PCs.

    Apple is using OVER priced Intel chips, and they are suffering also in their PC form factor products.

    BOTH Apple and MSFT need to ditch Intel so they can effectively compete with Google.

    Luckily for Apple, Intel was not interested in supplying chips for the iPhone.

    NOW, Apple's own powerful mobile ARM chips cost it substantially less than if they were forced to buy from Intel.

    Now that Apple has created a 64 bit ARM chip for their iPhone, they can transfer that ability over to their PC form factor products.

    So, the REAL insight into MSFT creating RT was to get more experience in creating an ARM version of Windows.

    But, What MSFT really needs for a full fledged Windows OS is 64 bit ARM, not the current 32 bit version.

    In 2015 all the major ARM chip companies will have 64 bit ARM chips available.

    When MSFT creates a full fledged 64 bit ARM version of Windows, then there will be no need for RT.

    X86 will then become an architecture that is mainly used for AMD's gaming oriented plugged in APUs.

    AMD will be sampling an ARM 64 bit server chip in Q1 2014.

    No doubt versions of AMDs' 64 bit ARM chip will be used in future MSFT PCs.

    As X86 becomes mainly an architecture for AMD's game oriented APUs, Intel will sustain use losses.

    Eventually, Intel will be forced to become another contract FAB, as they have already hinted as much.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 7:23 PM, Neil4liberty wrote:

    Dudes , it's pretty simple. If you have not yet used a device with the Intel Atom 3740D , such as the Dell Venue 8 Pro ( which is awesome btw) you should try one. Runs Windows 8.1 beautifully with 2 gigs of ram. I am a huge AMD booster and only buy AMD cpus for my desktop computers. But, I have to say the Atom3740d is pretty competitive for mobile. What I see happening is Intel spanking ARM maker's butts from now on. What is the advantage of the 3740? Well , aside from being competitive on price and superior in performance to arm chips , it also has the VERY IMPORTANT distinction of being able to run full Windows 8 and AND/OR Android (or any other flavor of Linux , yes , Android is just a flavor of Linux hijacked by Google, you might want to run on your device. ) So , what does all that have to do with Microsoft you might ask ? Well , my little Dell Venue 8 Pro goes for at least 8 hours a charge running full Windows ! I think x86 processors , such as the Atom 3740D and some awesome ones in the pipeline from AMD are the way to go for sooo many good reasons. And , (are you listening Microsoft ? lol ) not just on desktops and tablets. On phones and phablets too. Then , you only need one operating system . AND ALL your devices are interoperable, use the same apps and legacy programs, can concurrently run Linux/Android (or even run them in a virtual machine on said device lol AWESOMENESS! lol You could even run OS X in a virtual machine , Dos , BEos, whatever. Don't get me wrong . Windows Phone is really nice. I own one. Love it. But you know what ? Why not have a full fledged version of Windows 8.1 in my pocket that has a micro hdmi plug so I can hook it up to a tv , bust out my Bluetooth keyboard and mouse , and compute away. Whoever does this will win. End of story.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 7:26 PM, symbolset wrote:

    By announcing this Julie Larson Green has created an uncertainty. One of the devices with their logo you might put under your tree may be orphaned shortly. But she is not telling you which. So you don't know. As you stand there considering which, your natural choice should be "no. It could be this one or that one, but with my luck whichever one I pick is guaranteed to be it." This is called an "Osborne Maneuver" and is typically used as a verb: "She has Osborned all of her products right before Christmas." In the domain of business strategy the Osborne Maneuver is not usually considered a successful approach.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 8:06 PM, anrbfan wrote:

    Hardly! Apple gives people what they want, and profits thereby. MS offers people crap they don't want, and so loses. Expect another major write-off for MS.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 8:29 PM, kevins71 wrote:

    Question really is, when has Microsoft or Google NOT copied Apple?

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 11:56 PM, sysnickm wrote:

    MS has already said they plan to merge Win Phone 8 and Windows RT, this is nothing new. What is new is the different groups reporting on it.

    The internet desktop is still a ways off for many corporations. In many cases they are just cost shifting efforts, and not cost savings. Once there is some cost savings, then it will be different.

    The standard intel proc will be around for some time. So long as knowledge workers need apps like photoshop which adobe won't license virtually, there will be an intel based desktop. And if I have one group of people that I manage differently than the rest of my employees, then there better be some fairly significant cost savings.

  • Report this Comment On December 01, 2013, at 12:02 AM, sysnickm wrote:

    @kevins71 They all copy each other, Apple hasn't created a completely original product in years, none of them have. The modern smart phone was the progression of the blackberry and palmOS. Apple did one thing, they marketed the device to consumers. Until that point nobody believed a soccer mom would pay $200 for a phone.

    Apple has taken their iPod, which is basically a copy of several different mp3 players, and created and managed to get the record execs to OK digital sales. Apple hasn't done any real innovation in years, their interface is just a somewhat more modern version of the blackberry, palm, and windows ce devices.

    At least Google and MS are actually trying to push the limits of what the devices can do with camera tech and NFC. Apple just keeps coming out with a device that is slightly better than the last one, but no where as capable as the competitors. You can tell by the falling market share that Apple is starting to fade again.

  • Report this Comment On December 01, 2013, at 2:37 AM, mipino2000 wrote:

    Ok, enough disagreements. My wife loves apple products while I don't like them. she loves her Ipad but we just purchased a surface for my parents which was update to win 8.1.

    1st, win 8 is a very nice system so anyone saying it suck, in my opinion is a moron. There is a learning curve but win 8 is super nice. Anyone that thinks it is a bad system really has no reason to be an IT Person. I used it for half a day and learned everything I needed. 8.1 is a nice system without any hangups and the surface has been awesome! Easy set up. Not just a tablet but enough power for my parent to use for all their computing needs. They basically need internet, minor excel and word files and listening to music. The surface is awesome and cheap!

    It was nice and easy to set up the surface. Anyone with problems, email me otherwise, all the other negative reviews, I think are idiots......win8.1 is so easy to use. Even my mom (76

    yrs old) love it..............Any one that thinks win 8 is hard to work with are is easy to work with as compared to apple or Android systems...(I have used all three systems).

  • Report this Comment On December 01, 2013, at 5:57 AM, timrichardson wrote:

    Show me the money. This pursuit of mobile OS market share is hubris. Billions of dollars with no payoff.

    Even after Microsoft fixes its technical mess (in two to three years), it have to spend billions getting to say 25% market share. And then finally do we ask how this will ever make money? Mobile OS licences are worth nothing (because better ones are free), and 30% of $5 app sales is not likely to keep shareholders amused. Perhaps on hardware margins.

  • Report this Comment On December 01, 2013, at 9:18 AM, Azzras wrote:


    They share the same kernal...not that far fetched.

  • Report this Comment On December 01, 2013, at 11:13 AM, myfewcents wrote:

    Most people do not want to mess with there devices too much. To call them "idiots" is fine; they just won't buy such a device regardless. I question the attractiveness of any device requiring some IT training for one to operate. Value, market share and so called innovation are all up for interpretation. Think Total Cost of Ownership, profitability, and rock solid reliability (not to mention resale value, versatility, and usability over time). As for Apple starting to fade, that's a laugh they're having all the way to the bank. Let's see what happens moving forward. Maybe a new CEO for MSFT will make a difference. No company will be standing still either...

  • Report this Comment On December 03, 2013, at 3:00 AM, sd9veccw wrote:

    I wonder if RT and Windows Phone will be similar? Windows phone interface on a tablet will look like crap when compared to RT.

  • Report this Comment On December 06, 2013, at 12:13 AM, techy46 wrote:

    Apple's planning in getting rid of one there OS's two but too bad it's too late. Windows 8-10 will always come in at least two flavors, ARM and X86, and we'll have to wait in see how many versions like Home vs Professional and 32b vs 64b. But everyone really needs to try an Asus T100 2-in-1 with Windows 8.1 and Office 2013. Yes. Asus also makes the Nexus 7 but the T100 is really a notebook and tablet, instant on/off, 10" screen, microSD, USB 2/3, keyboard dock, 64gb expandable to 128gb with uSD and HDMI. Yep, and it's available for $379 at Walmart.

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