There’s been a simmering debate as to whether Microsoft understands the tablet/slate market, and Apple’s announcement of the iPad 2 on March 2 turned up the heat on that subject.
To date, neither Microsoft nor its OEM partners has delivered anything to date that can be considered a head-to-head iPad competitor. And it looks as if Redmond’s 2011 tablet strategy revolves primarily around pushing Windows 7 tablets, emphasizing their enterprise-centric focus. (It remains to be seen how much emphasis and marketing muscle Microsoft will put behind “Webpads” running Windows Embedded Compact 7.)
Unlike some pundits and press folk, I don’t think Microsoft is clueless about what makes a compelling slate/tablet. But I do think the Softies are taking a risky gamble by putting almost all their eggs in the Windows 8 tablet basket, giving Apple and various Android and WebOS competitors a hefty head-start.
Before Apple’s announcement today, I was wondering how much more headroom the second-generation iPad might give Apple. Would Apple unveil any new features or functionality that would cut into Microsoft’s 2011 sales strategy for Windows 7 tablets? Given the growing appeal of iPads to not just consumers but also a number of business customers, maybe Apple would introduce new management or security capabilities — and not just movie-making or music-producing software. (An aside: Microsoft understands the need for compelling music content in the mobile space, too, and is putting up thousands of dollars in prize money to get developers to create HTML5 apps that work well in IE 9.)
But no. Apple didn’t unveil any new features aimed at business users — unless you consider the introduction of a front-facing camera for videochat to be technology that might entice business folks. So I expect Microsoft to continue to try to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, and to emphasize iPads’ lack of security/manageability functionality, their lack of USB support, and missing Flash/Silverlight support when trying to dissuade customers from going with Apple’s “Post-PC Era” platform.
(If you need a refresher regarding Microsoft’s iPad compete strategy, check out the slides I ran in January from it.) For good measure, here are some additional slides from that deck that I didn’t publish previously that reinforce Microsoft’s enterprise-focused slate-selling strategy:
As some readers of my blog know, I bought an iPad last year, and I’m still not sorry I did. I use it as a consumption device, and take it with me around town to keep up with e-mail, news and Twitter. I prefer the iPad when I need to read a lot of information quickly, and I find it far easier to respond to mail and Tweet on the iPad than a smartphone.
I don’t feel compelled to sell my iPad 1 for an iPad 2, just to save a third of a pound, speed up my browsing or get a new screen-cleaning cloth. Apple didn’t cut the iPad price with the new version 2 model, either, keeping me from feeling like I got cheated by spending $629 I paid for the 16 GB 3G/Wifi model.
What about you? Anyone of you readers ready to shell out for the iPad 2 in 2011 instead of a Windows 7 slate/tablet? Or are you waiting for the magical Windows 8 slates?

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for more than 25 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).