Tablets with PC power: The Microsoft vs. Apple debate

Tablet computers are incredibly popular, both with consumers and enterprises such as government agencies, which are interested in seeing if they can be used to make work life better.

The GCN Lab recently looked at nine different models and rated them on a variety of features, including suitability for government use. But although all the tablets seemed to perform well, or at least adequately, they weren’t really on the same level as desktop systems in terms of functionality and power.

Now, let’s tie that in with what Greg Crowe wrote about his first impressions of Windows 8 after spending some time with the beta. He said the interface looked like a Windows phone. And it does look like a phone — or, perhaps, a tablet.

That’s because Microsoft is combining its tablet OS and its desktop OS. In a recent presentation, Microsoft spokespeople said that they would like to see devices that have all the computing power of a desktop but with the functionality of a tablet.

That sounds like a good idea to me, but apparently Apple CEO Tim Cook doesn’t think so. In a quarterly earnings meeting, he said that “anything can be forced to converge, but the problem is that products are about tradeoffs, and you begin to make tradeoffs to the point where what you have left at the end of the day doesn't please anyone. You can converge a toaster and refrigerator, but those things are probably not going to be pleasing to the user."

I thought it was pretty funny when Microsoft spokesman Frank Shaw tweeted a response, saying: “Must be a typo. It's not a toaster/fridge. It's a toaster/oven. Those seem pretty popular. Just saying.”

I think a tablet that’s as powerful as a desktop would be pretty neat. In fact, a few of the tablets in our roundup, such as the Fujitsu Stylistic Q550 Slate PC, approached that level of functionality, especially if you could add a keyboard, creating a sort of mini-desktop right there.

I think part of Cook’s negativity may be simply trying to fill the impossibly big shoes of Steve Jobs, but his comments bring to mind another event I attended where a company was seemingly warning others to stay away from something great.

Years ago, the only real multiplayer online game was "Ultima Online," run by a company called Electronic Arts. At a press conference, the company’s representatives were asked about running an online game, and how difficult it was. Their answer was that they were spending all their money on tech support for their servers, and although "Ultima Online" was a neat property, they didn’t really make any money off of it and advised other companies not to try to follow in their footsteps.

The problem was that the numbers didn’t match that statement. At its peak, the company had more than 250,000 subscribers, each paying $15 per month. So they were making about $3.7 million per month. I’m pretty sure that covered their tech support bill. Other companies thought the same thing, and the game was eventually surpassed in popularity by others, like "Asheron’s Call," "EverQuest" and, eventually, "World of Warcraft."

Apple, with its millions of iPads sold each year, probably doesn’t want to see a serious competitor come into its space. And I can’t really blame them, but it sounds like Cook’s comments were taken just about as seriously as the representative from Electronic Arts all those years ago.

We may start seeing PC-power tablets pretty soon. We’ll be on the lookout.

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