Forget 7-inch Surface tablets, here's the fatal flaw in Microsoft's mobile strategy

Microsoft hopes that a 7-inch Surface tablet will help turn around its mobile fortunes, but the company has bigger problems than tablet form factors. Its entire mobile strategy has a fatal flaw: The company aligns Windows tablets and their apps to desktops and laptops rather than to smartphones. Unless that changes, Microsoft won't gain serious mobile traction.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Microsoft is at work on a 7-inch Surface tablet in order to compete with the iPad mini and small Android tablets such as the Google Nexus 7. That's certainly a smart move, but by itself won't turn around Microsoft's poor mobile showing.

A bigger problem than form factor is Microsoft's tablet-and-smartphone app strategy. Because Windows tablets run Windows 8 and Windows RT, apps written for Windows tablets won't run on Windows Phone devices, and apps written for Windows Phone devices won't run on Windows tablets. Making things worse is that apps written for Windows 8 tablets need to be tweaked to run on Windows RT, and vice versa.

That's the exact opposite of how things work with iOS and Android, where typically, apps written for phones also work for tablets, and vice versa. That makes plenty of sense, because both are mobile devices and used in similar ways, but in much different ways than traditional computers.

As Nancy Gohring points out in CITEWorld, this also means that there's a different Windows Store for tablets than for smartphones.

It's this simple: Apps sell tablets and phones, and over time people will likely want to own tablets and smartphones with the same OS so that they can share apps between them. But people can't do that with Windows tablets and Windows Phone devices, making it less likely that people will want to buy them.

This problem goes back to Microsoft's decision to design Windows 8 for touch-based tablets rather than for traditional computers, rather than designing one operating system for mobile devices, and another for traditional computers. Apple has succeeded quite well by having one OS for mobile devices and one for traditional computers; it's not clear why Microsoft didn't follow Apple's successful lead.

As IDC's latest numbers show, traditional PCs sales have plummeted, down 13.9% from a year previous, because consumers simply don't like Windows 8, and because they are increasingly buying tablets instead. Microsoft would be much better off tying tablets to smartphone rather than to traditional computers whose sales may never again pick up.

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