How a Windows slate can take on the iPad

If your tablet needs a stylus, you've failed

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Good news! Microsoft is "hardcore" about Windows 7 slates.

More good news! Microsoft already has an awesome Windows slate with an eye-popping interface and the all-important wow factor! Bad news! It was called Courier, and Microsoft cancelled it ages ago!

Oops!

The Courier won't happen, but Windows slates definitely will. Just days after Microsoft canned its half-cocked Kin mobile phone, does its slate plans mean it's heading for another expensive and embarrassing disaster? The pro-Microsoft angel on our left shoulder hopes not, but the realistic angel on our right fears the worst.

The danger here is that Microsoft approaches Windows slate devices from the wrong direction. If Microsoft asks "how can we stuff Windows into an iPad-style device?" rather than "how can we make the most awesome tablet computer ever made, a machine so mind-meltingly incredible that Steve Jobs fills his pants when he sees it?" then all we'll end up with is a bunch of slightly smaller tablet PCs.

Don't get me wrong. I like Windows 7, and I quite like tablet PCs. But I like the iPad much, much more. It's an amazing device, and that's largely because Apple hasn't just sawed the keyboard off a MacBook Pro and jumped around the place shouting "and that's magic!" like a demented Paul Daniels.

It's been designed from the get-go as a mobile, finger friendly device, not a Mac with touchy-feely bits glued on as an afterthought.

The Windows approach

Have you tried HP's touch-enabled Windows 7 PCs? They look great but they don't quite work, and that's mainly because Windows 7 isn't a finger-based system and HP's touch goodies have been stuck on top of it.

Sure, you can flip your photos and spin things around in the obligatory eye-catching manner, but doing something as simple as picking a track in Windows Media Player has you reaching for the keyboard and the mouse. It isn't a true touch system any more than a teenage boy's facial fluff is a proper beard.

Microsoft could easily do this right. With Windows Phone it's recognised that to compete in an iPhone and Android world it needs to start from scratch - something the failure of the Kin only underlines - and it needs to do the same with tablets.

By all means use Windows to provide the horsepower, but create the front end from scratch, creating something so simple a two-year-old can use it. We mean it: two-year-olds can easily use iPads and run up insane bills from in-app purchases. Microsoft needs to emulate that, although perhaps not with the bankrupting-parents bit.

Most importantly of all, Microsoft needs to make sure its OS works with fingers and thumbs. Not fingers and thumbs for most things, but fingers and thumbs for everything – and if anyone says "hey, this would be awesome if it used a stylus" then take them out the back and shoot them.

When it comes to the tablet form factor, Steve Jobs is right and Steve Ballmer is wrong. If your tablet needs more than fingers, you've failed.

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