With the massive influx of Android-based tablets and seemingly unstoppable assault of Apple iPads, it should come as no surprise to even the least tech-savvy among you that Microsoft plans to make a serious push into the tablet space when it launches Windows 8.
Over the last year or so, we’ve already posted a number of stories that portend to such an effort. At the Consumer Electronics Show this past January, Microsoft announced that the next version of Windows would support next-gen System on a Chip (SoC) architectures from Intel, AMD, and ARM. Microsoft even went so far as to show a demo of PowerPoint and Internet Explorer 10 running on an ARM-based platform. For those unfamiliar, it’s ARM-based SoCs that are at the heart of the vast majority of tablets currently on the market, including the iPad.
Last month, Microsoft posted a video showcasing some new UI elements in Windows 8 that were also clearly geared for tablets.
In the past few days, news has broken regarding a handful of Microsoft patent filings describing a number of touch and stylus gesture inputs. A summary of one of the application reads, “Techniques involving gestures and other functionality are described. In one or more implementations, the techniques describe gestures that are usable to provide inputs to a computing device. A variety of different gestures are contemplated, including bimodal gestures (e.g., using more than one type of input) and single modal gestures. Additionally, the gesture techniques may be configured to leverage these different input types to increase the amount of gestures that are made available to initiate operations of a computing device.”
In a post on the Bnet website, more details of the actual gestures are available. The type of gestures includes Stamp Gestures, Brush, Carbon-Copy, and Fill Gestures, Edge Gestures, and Cross-Reference Gestures, which could be used to link objects. The WinRumors website also describes the actual gestures in detail, complete with illustrations.
Whether or not the gestures references in the patents applications actually show up in a future product or if Microsoft’s tablet efforts ever pay any dividends remains to be seen, but it’s clear that Microsoft is investing significant resources to better compete in the tablet space. And when Microsoft is focused on entering a market, and all of the necessary resources and technology are in place, it’s a tough company to fend off. Apple and Google are certainly in dominant positions today, but so were Nintendo and Sony when the Microsoft decided to release the first Xbox. The console market was also far more mature at the time than the tablet market is today.
The stars appear to be somewhat aligning for Microsoft, but there is another key element necessary for ultimate success—developer support. Windows Mobile currently trails iOS and Andriod by a wide margin in terms of available apps. Microsoft needs to work hard to drum up developer support and close the app-gap significantly before even the first Windows 8-based tablet ships (if that is in fact what the tablet version of the OS will be called). Without the apps, Microsoft will remain one heck of an underdog in the tablet space, no matter how polished and feature rich its tablet OS is.