Microsoft Research and the Microsoft Surface team have developed some breathtaking innovations. But the company is blinded by a top-down bias for pen-based tablets, which have failed in the market. Still, Microsoft has all the parts in house for a successful effort, especially if it combined pen and touch input.
The company with the design talent that may be superior even to Apple's, however, is Perceptive Pixel. That company makes the multi-touch systems you see on news programs, and occasionally at airports. They really know what they're doing. To the best of my knowledge, however, Perceptive Pixel has shown no inclination to build a portable device, especially a low-cost one.
Microsoft Office 2010 hits in June. You'll buy it, and you'll use it, if you're like most people. Resistance is futile. Microsoft dominates the office suites category with 94 percent of the market.
Depending on whom you ask, Google owns between 5% and 1% of the market with its Google Docs suite. This doesn't make sense. Google Docs does most of the things that most people need from an office suite.
Google Docs is either free or very inexpensive, while Microsoft Office is pretty expensive. Office 2010 will cost between $119 and $499. Think about that. Microsoft has 94% of a totally mainstream market, and a price tag in the hundreds of dollars. It's like printing money.
Google has announced some high-visibility "wins" for Docs. But if you eliminate the tire kickers, freebie grabbers and casual users, the number of real people paying for and actively using Docs as their primary or exclusive office suite amounts to a rounding error.
Microsoft Office has dominated the category and will continue to dominate because nobody else stepped forward at the right time to provide a comparable experience for users, developers and businesses.
Now that we have great alternatives, Office is such an embedded standard -- plus it still provides a better experience for most people -- that there's no dislodging it, even with enormous price disparities.
If you have a job, chances are somebody is going to send you Office documents and expect you to modify them and send them back in a perfectly compatible format. Can competitive suites retain every aspect of Office documents after converting, then re-converting them? Who knows? Uncertainty benefits Microsoft.
Don't look now, but something roughly similar is happening in the burgeoning touch-tablet market. The iPad provides the right experience for the biggest global market: The majority of people who are unskillful with or don't like PCs.
Apple has probably sold 2 million iPads already, and it hasn't even starting selling it internationally.
If somebody doesn't do something quick, the iPad will become the new Microsoft Office -- the standard we'll never be able to get rid of. Every networked, document-based, multi-player, Bluetooth-compatible, social, shared mobile touch tablet app will have to be iPad-compatible to have a prayer at success.
iPads will remain three times more expensive than rivals, and still win almost all the customers.
The future looks grim for real competition in the fast-growing touch tablet market. An iPad killer -- or even a serious competitor -- is possible. But it had better happen soon -- before it's too late.
ALSO SEE: 50 Coolest iPad Apps (So Far)