Microsoft Challenges Apple, Google on Tablets

Tablet expansion may include Windows 9 upgrade by April 2015.

Brian Hall, general manager of Microsoft Surface and Windows Hardware Sales and Marketing, introduces the new tablet computer 'Surface 2' during a press conference in Tokyo on Oct. 24, 2013.
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Microsoft will announce efforts to boost its flagship Windows software during its Build developers conference in April, but the company faces a challenge gaining a new generation of users on the growing tablet market competing with rival systems run by Google and Apple.

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The company has seen an increase in Windows-supported tablet sales since adding its Windows 8.1 upgrade in October, including the Asus T100 and the Dell Venue 8 Pro, which operate as touch tablets with a removable keyboard, says Christopher Flores, director of communications for Microsoft's Windows Division.

"As consumers use iOS and Android tablets more and more they are starting to realize the limitations of those devices," Flores says. "Windows is more capable than any other tablet system on the market."

Windows 8 was launched to be the first system to work both on a PC and a touch-screen mobile device, and the demand for more complex capabilities will grow as the tablet market grows, Flores says, touting the tablet's ability to work with printers, Skype messaging and the XBox game system. The new Windows screen for tablets irked some consumers because it was a departure from the traditional interface, so the 8.1 upgrade made the screen simpler and brought back the traditional "start" button. In April Microsoft may also hint at a new software development code-named "Threshold," which could be Windows 9. This system could solidify its share of the PC sector and gain momentum in the tablet market, according to Supersite for Windows blogger Paul Thurrott, who has proven connections inside the company. Microsoft will not preview Threshold software but the operating system may be ready to debut by April 2015, Thurrott said.

Flores declined to comment on the Build conference.

"Windows 8.1 has also been the fastest Windows upgrade ever, four times faster than Windows 7 to 8 in the same time period," Flores says.

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Windows will occupy 10.2 percent of the tablet market by 2017, growing from a projected market share of 3 percent this year, according to data from the International Data Corporation market research firm. Android, however, will still dominate the lion's share of the tablet market in 2017, although its presence is projected to dip to 58.8 percent, compared to the projected market share of 60.8 for 2013. Apple's iOS will occupy 30.6 percent of the tablet market in 2017, compared with 35 percent in 2013, according to IDC.

The market research firm is not as bullish about Chrome, Google's operating system for PCs. Google's Chromebook, a laptop designed specifically for browsing the Web using Chrome, represents only 1 percent of the PC market for 2013, according to IDC, and by 2017 Chromebooks are expected to represent 2 percent of the PC market.

Microsoft's traditional PC interface appears to still has staying power, as the company announced on Wednesday it is planning to extend malware support for Windows XP through April 2015, even as the company will stop providing automatic updates for the system in April of this year. Close to one-third of Windows consumers use XP, which launched in 2001.

Microsoft is in a time of transition as it tries to innovate past the declining PC market that drove its success for decades, and the company is searching for a new CEO to replace Steve Ballmer, who plans to step down before August, so the Build conference may be an exciting to watch for announcements.

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