The iPad is by far the most popular and desired tablet in the world in terms of sales. But could a Windows tablet running Microsoft's new touch-friendly operating system dethrone the Apple slate?
That is the implication of a new survey by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which polled American and Chinese citizens on which OS they would prefer on a tablet. In both China and America, Windows outpaced both iOS and Android by healthy margins. The results, in graph form, are below:
To the question "Which operating system do you prefer on your tablet?" -- odd wording, considering that real Windows tablets don't exist yet -- both Chinese and American respondents crowned Windows over iOS, Android and BlackBerry. The competition was a little closer in China, with the Chinese opting for Windows over iOS at 44 to 34 percent. Americans preferred a Windows tablet to an iOS tablet at 42 percent versus 27 percent.
John Rose, a senior partner at Boston Consulting Group and one of the lead authors of the report, told HuffPost that this does not necessarily mean that, when Windows tablets emerge in 2012, they will become the top tablets in the world in terms of marketshare, or even that people will actually buy these Windows tablets at all.
"You can look at the chart and think it's time to sell Apple stock," Rose said, "but really it's new demand. ... The introduction of a Windows tablet would be market-expanding as opposed to share-shifting. The volume [of tablets in America] will continue to grow, and it's hard to imagine that the Windows platform...will crush the iOS trajectory."
Among the less surprising findings of the BCG survey is that the tablet market is set to explode over the next few years, with tablet ownership expected to double in the United States by 2013. Rather than directly taking away business from Apple, Rose said, the multiple Windows tablets should attract first-time tablet buyers in the expanding market.
"Think of smartphones with Android and iOS," Rose explained. "The U.S. market shares of Android versus iOS crossed 8 to 9 months ago, but from a pure shipment perspective -- it really hasn't harmed Apple's sales at all."
Rose also cautioned that, in order for consumers to actually buy one, certain tablet features must be present. According to Rose, past BCG surveys identified the three major conditions that people take into account when deciding between tablets: price, feature functionality including a robust app marketplace and an attractive user interface. For an actual Windows tablet to have any success at all, it would have to come to market with price, feature functionality and user interface satisfactorily addressed. Survey respondents were simply responding to their familiarity with the Windows platform, Rose said, rather than any concrete notion of an actual Windows tablet.
Also important to note: The survey took place before the announcement of the Kindle Fire. Having reportedly received a stunning number of pre-orders, the Amazon tablet, with a low price and fully-formed media consumption marketplace, is an example of a tablet made and marketed right, according to Rose.
"It's a purpose-specific usage pattern that's not as full but which as a consequence has a simple user interface designed around those predefined applications and a price point that justifiably gets a degree of excitement.," Rose said.
Still, the most interesting and surprising finding is the supremacy of the Windows OS over iOS and Android among potential tablet buyers. Rose says he thinks it's mainly a case of familiarity and convenience rather than excitement over the Metro platform: "It's pretty clear that integrated multidevice functionality is a major value," he explained, "and there's a lot of content and services that reside in the Windows world. Until an Apple tablet bridges over [to those services] there's a missing functionality gap that a whole bunch of folks are missing."
This just could lead to a new king in the tablet market.
Neither Microsoft nor any of its associated hardware makers have announced release dates for tablets running Windows OS, though 5000 Samsung prototypes were handed out to developers at the Build conference in September where Windows 8 was announced. Microsoft's new desktop operating system has a huge emphasis on touchability -- one that seems fit to cross over nicely to the tablet space. But whether or not Windows tablets really can capture 40 percent of the tablet market and take down the iPad will certainly be a major tech story in 2012, and beyond.