One touch-based computer that did see the light of day in 2008 was Microsoft Surface. It was more of a table than a tablet: the computer was a big box that sat on a floor, with a big, horizontal screen on top. It was intended not for home use but for store displays and similar applications. Unusually, Microsoft didn't rely on hardware partners for this product, but made and sold it on its own. Intended as a niche product, it has remained one.
Microsoft has had one notable success in the tablet space — if you apply a broad definition to the term. Its "Pocket PC" operating system, which is distinct from Windows, ran on phone-sized hand-held "personal digital assistants" starting around 2000. The devices were powerful compared to Palm's PDAs, the market leaders of their time. The Pocket PCs supported color screens, and could recognize casual handwriting. Compaq made good use of Microsoft's Pocket PC software in its popular iPAQ line. But PDAs were a small market, and when Pocket PC moved over to smartphones and was renamed Windows Mobile, it soon found tough competition in the shape of BlackBerrys and then iPhones.
The company that finally cracked the tablet code in 2010 was Apple, not Microsoft. Apple made the iPad a success by scaling up a phone rather than scaling down a PC, which is what Microsoft had been trying to do with the Tablet PC and Origami. Phone chips are cheap and last much longer on batteries, which meant that the iPad was both light, inexpensive and had good battery life. In addition, the iPhone software it used was designed from the ground up for touch input.
Microsoft's strategy now is similar. For the tablet-oriented version of Windows, it's borrowing design features from Windows Phone, its new smartphone system. Most importantly, the software is designed to run on phone-style chips, rather than the PC-style chips that have been the mainstay of Windows since it was created in the 1980s. It remains to be seen whether Microsoft can make its tablet vision a reality, or if it will stay a mirage.
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