By Bob Eastwood
Last week, Microsoft Corp. announced the introduction of its new tablet PC dubbed Surface. It sports some cool new never-before-seen-in-tablet features like a kickstand to hold it upright, a touch keyboard cover that snaps on using magnets, a flexpad for scrolling and clicking, and the ability to write directly on its touchscreen with a stylus. Its debut is set to coincide with the upcoming fall release of Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system featuring a new tile-based GUI that seems specifically designed to target the mobile device market. The Surface has similar size display (about 10”) and price as the iPad ($500 to $1,000). CEO Steve Ballmer was on hand to announce the new tablet, calling it part of a "whole new family of devices" the company is developing.
The news generated a buzz, and many questions on a variety of topics not normally associated with the software giant. It’s one thing to release a device to showcase your fancy new software, but another thing entirely to announce a family is on the way. I wonder how HP, Dell and a host of other device-making MS customers feel about this—bad enough to find a new software supplier? And, of course what could have driven the Seattle-based company to such hubris? Well, we didn’t have to wait long for the answer.
This week, Google announced its latest foray into the tablet market. Tablets running Google's Jelly Bean (Android 4.1) mobile operating system and carrying the Nexus 7 name took center stage at Google I/O, the company's annual developer’s conference, held in San Francisco. Both Google and Microsoft are taking a page from Apple and its dominant iPad — dictating both hardware and software design. The 7-inch Google tablets are expected to cost $200 to $250, going head-to-head with Amazon's $199 Kindle Fire. Some reports have Google's tablet launching in July, which will likely be before the Surface hits stores. So, it seems MSFT had no choice but to enter this sector, with software like Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS eroding their mobile market share.
With the tablet wars in full battle-mode, what are we to make of all this hyper competition? One thing is certain: tablets and mobile devices like them will continue to drive network bandwidth demand for at least a decade to come, pretty much doubling every year. With that, we can expect further technological innovation and business consolidation in the smart box, and network management software markets that will have to meet these demands. Already, technologies like software defined metro networks and intelligent policy enforcement are taking advantage of these trends with keen new products. And as tablets get smaller, thinner, and lighter; someday they will join another list of items including keys, toys, remote controls and cell phones under the heading “Where did I put that thing?” OMG, I think it’s streaming video right now!