Do Windows 8 Tablets Stand a Chance?

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Ben Bajarin is the Director of Consumer Technology Analysis and Research at Creative Strategies, Inc, a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm located in Silicon Valley.

According to Comscore, tablets now represent 2% of all U.S. based internet traffic. The dominant contributor to tablet traffic is, of course, Apple’s iPad. In fact, according to Comscore, iPads delivered 97.2 percent of all tablet traffic and even edged out iPhones in delivering the highest share of traffic for the iOS platform (46.8 percent vs. 42.6 percent of iOS traffic).

(MORE: Smartphones, Tablets Account for About 7% of Web Traffic Now)

Clearly tablets are here to stay, but where is the iPad’s competition? Given that Android tablets are yet to show a mass market success, perhaps the competition will have to come from Windows 8 tablets. The question is: Do Windows 8 tablets have a chance to succeed? Well, It may depend on HP.

Last week HP officially made the decision to keep their PC business and not sell or spin it off. This was a very good decision, in my opinion. Although HP and Microsoft have always remained strong partners, specifically in the area of personal computers, HP’s decision to purchase Palm and bring WebOS in-house caused many of us to believe HP wanted to control their own OS destiny.

It’s clear to me, though, how this story will most likely play out for HP: WebOS is basically dead in the water and HP is committing to develop Windows 8 tablets going forward. The decision for HP to keep the PC business in house is not only good for competition and consumers, but more importantly it will be good for Microsoft and Windows 8 in particular. HP is still the number one PC manufacturer and their commitment to Windows 8 holistically could do a lot for Microsoft’s new OS.

(MORE: HP Changes Its Mind, Won’t Spin Off PC Division)

This comes at a time when Microsoft is making the rounds, trying to rally partners to fully commit to Windows 8. I have heard some doubt and concern from PC and tablet manufacturers who have had some reservations about fully backing the new Windows OS. Even with that in mind, I have no doubt that all current PC manufacturers will back Windows 8 and charge forward with Microsoft, loading the new software on their notebooks and desktops.

However, if any product category in particular could be a winner with HP’s decision, it could be Windows 8 tablets. If HP gets behind this new tablet design and OS, it would help solidify Microsoft’s push with this category into the consumer and enterprise markets where tablets will become one of the major growth areas in the near future.

To be honest, HP is the best possible partner Microsoft can have in regards to Windows 8 tablets. Why? Because Android is out of the question for HP.

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A while ago, HP experimented with Android and working with Google, and decided it was not for them. I don’t see that changing any time soon. All of Microsoft’s other Windows partners like Acer, Samsung, Lenovo, Dell, and others also make Android tablets. This is not to say those vendors won’t also make Windows 8 tablets; only that HP is Microsoft’s only partner for whom Android is out of the picture. Therefore with regards to tablets, HP most likely would pour all of their considerable resources into supporting Windows 8 tablets.

(MORE: Windows 8: What You Need to Know)

This is important for Microsoft and for Windows 8 as a tablet platform because HP’s commitment will encourage other vendors to follow suit. HP could also help spur more third-party software development for Windows 8 as well, which would help Windows 8 gain traction.

HP also knows the value of selling a complete mobile solution—desktops, laptops, smartphones and tablets—to their enterprise customers. For HP, enterprise customers are a large part of their business and Windows 8 would play a key role in strengthening that part of their business strategy. The iPad is continuing to gain traction in the enterprise, and this segment will be an important battleground going forward.

The bottom line is that Microsoft needs to generate momentum with Windows 8 and especially Windows 8 tablets. There are few companies with the size and scale of HP who can assist in generating the kind of momentum needed for Windows 8 tablets to move along quickly. If Microsoft and partners fail to gain traction for Windows 8 tablets with both businesses and consumers, then I foresee the iPad holding onto its commanding share of the tablet market for some time.

There is perhaps another wild card in the Windows 8 tablet deck, and that is Nokia. From my column last week, it should be clear that Nokia, in my mind, is relevant again and has some interesting fundamentals that can make them a viable player in the smart devices category.

Should Nokia gain traction with their smartphones and their brand here in the U.S., they could be an important player in the tablet category as well. If this is the case, then Nokia would join HP as the only other “smart devices” manufacturer who is fully committed to Microsoft.

This market is far from being conquered. According to our numbers, the tablet category is growing at a pace of over 200% for 2011 and we expect near 200% growth again for 2012. We also believe the size of the tablet market will be larger than the PC market someday, but it will take time to get there. From what I have seen so far, I am more optimistic about Windows 8 tablets than Android tablets, especially in the enterprise. The problem is that we are still a year away from seeing Windows 8 hit the market. For Windows 8 tablets to succeed, vendors will have to go big or go home.

MORE: 50 Windows 8 Screenshots, Hardware Photos and More

Ben Bajarin is the Director of Consumer Technology Analysis and Research at Creative Strategies, Inc, a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm located in Silicon Valley.

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