Can 'good enough' tablets save Microsoft in mobile?

Windows tablets continue to struggle, with minimal market share and little buzz around them. But a recent IDC report says that there's a bright spot for Windows tablets that few see: It's starting to gain ground among those satisifed with a tablet that's merely "good enough."

IDC's most recent tablet survey has little good news for most tablet vendors. It found that worldwide shipments of tablets and 2-in-1 devices (devices that do double duty as tablets and ultraportables) in the most recent quarter plummeted 35.7% compared to the previous quarter. That it fell was no surprise, because the previous quarter was the holiday buying season. But the size of the drop was unexpected. Sales in the most recent quarter were a bare 3.9% over the quarter a year previous. The report noted:

The slowdown was felt across operating systems and screen sizes and likely points to an even more challenging year ahead for the category.

Tom Mainelli, IDC Program Vice President, Devices and Displays, gave this reason for the stagnating sales:

"The rise of large-screen phones and consumers who are holding on to their existing tablets for ever longer periods of time were both contributing factors to a weaker-than-anticipated quarter for tablets and 2-in-1s. In addition, commercial growth has not been robust enough to offset the slowing of consumer shipments."

Android remains at the top of the market, with nearly two-thirds share of tablets. Apple, though, is the biggest single vendor, with 16.4 million tablets sold, for a 32.5% market share.

Microsoft didn't sell enough tablets to be listed in the top five tablet vendors. However, there was some good news for the company. Jitesh Ubrani, Research Analyst, Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker, noted:

"Although its share of the market remains small, Windows devices continue to gain traction thanks to sleeper hits like the Asus T100, whose low cost and 2-in-1 form factor appeal to those looking for something that's 'good enough'."

That's not exactly a great marketing tagline: Buy us -- we're good enough. Still, these days Microsoft will take any good news it can get. And it should start taking the message seriously. The latest ASUS Transformer Book T100 is a flat-out great deal. It's a combo tablet and ultraportable with a 10-inch touchscreen, dock, and a free copy of Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013. It's available on Amazon for $349. In fact, as I write this, it's the best-selling laptop on Amazon.

Consider that the Surface Pro 2 sells for $899 and is a tablet only, and you can see why the ASUS Transformer Book T100 is so popular compared to it. If Microsoft is going to succeed in the tablet market, it should go downmarket, to less-expensive devices than the high-end Surface line. That's why Android tablets have overtaken the iPad. Microsoft should follow suit.

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