11/29/2011 06:55 pm ET

Windows 8 Tablets' Release Date Too Late, Says Forrester, Blaming Product Strategy

The research group Forrester has a new study out in which it shows a shrinking appetite for Windows 8 tablets, the yet-to-be-released devices running the touch-friendly new Windows that is set for a 2012 launch.

In a blog post, JP Gownder of Forrester says that Windows 8 tablets are going to be "very late to the party"; he blames a slow-moving Microsoft for the dip in consumer interest. Gownder reports that, while 46 percent of U.S. consumers expressed an interest in an upcoming Windows 8 tablet back in quarter one of 2011, that number fell to 21 percent in quarter three of 2011.

From his blog post, titled "Microsoft's Shrinking Window For Tablets: Its Fifth-Mover Product Strategy Is Late":

Product strategists often look to be "fast followers" in their product markets. Perhaps the most famous example is the original browser war of the 1990s: Microsoft's fast-following Internet Explorer drove incumbent Netscape out of the market altogether.

Question: What matters more -- being a "fast follower," or being a good follower?

The steady decline of Internet Explorer, from about 91 percent in 2004 to 54 percent in 2011, as "slower" followers like Firefox and Google Chrome rose, would suggest that being a fast follower is not really important over time, at least in the browser space. Also, Internet Explorer came bundled with Windows PCs (later deemed to be an illegal monopolistic advantage), so that doesn't really seem like valid proof of the "fast-follower" thesis.

Gownder also writes,

For tablets, though, Windows really isn't a fast follower. Rather it's (at best) a fifth-mover after iPad, Android tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, HP's now-defunct webOS tablet, and the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. While Windows' product strategists can learn from these products, other players have come a long way in executing and refining their products -- Apple, Samsung, and others have already launched second-generation products and will likely be into their third generation by the time Windows 8 launches.

Gownder lists the iPad, and then three kinds of tablets that have gotten trounced by the iPad, as initial movers in the tablet space, products that "beat" Windows 8 tablets. Well, the HP Touchpad was discontinued by HP in recent months (so much for the virtues of being a third-follower), and the BlackBerry PlayBook has long been rumored to be nearly-dead. Android tablets (second-followers) that are not the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet are also failing in the marketplace. Would Microsoft really want to be in the position of any of the non-iPad tablets that Gownder lists as having a "mover" advantage over them?

Meanwhile, newer competitors like Amazon (Kindle Fire) and Barnes & Noble (Nook Tablet) are reshaping consumer expectations in the market, driving down price points (and concomitant price expectations), and redefining what a tablet is.

Here is the real wisdom of the Forrester analysis: Any drop in consumer desire for a Windows 8 tablet has less to do with its perceived "lateness" and more to do with a shifting marketplace that may even affect demand for the mighty $500 iPad. This was the primary finding of a survey conducted by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in October -- consumers decide on tablets based on a set of preferences, with tablet ease-of-use, available applications and price points informing their buying decisions. Windows 8 tablets really appeal to consumers, the BCG report found, because the idea of a Windows interface on a tablet is appealing to those who are familiar with Microsoft products.

It's likely this still holds true. By releasing its Windows 8-powered tablets late, Microsoft will have to overcome three generations of iPads and two of the Kindle Fire (which, let's remember, has probably sold many millions on its own "late-moving" first attempt).

Breaking into the tablet market is not impossible if you've made a desired device, as Amazon has proven. To dismiss the Windows 8 tablet before anyone outside of a bunch of developers have seen one seems premature, no matter what the survey says. Let's wait for a product, price and availability before we write off Windows 8 as Windows Too Late.