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Now Windows 8 goes into the ring to face Apple's iOS

Bloodied webOS, RIM tag in the big bruiser

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Step up, cannon fodder

HP was soon mowed down, with its announcement about killing the TouchPad, while Dell, Samsung, Motorola and RIM are still in the fight but have cut their prices.

Turned out it wasn't enough to deliver another touchy tablet with a similar price to Apple's. You couldn't undercut Apple a little at the low end (HP's 7-inch 16GB TouchPad was initially priced at $350 versus the 16GB iPad at $499); you couldn't match Apple (RIM and Samsung had both weighed in at $499); and you couldn't even be a tad more expensive than Apple (Motorola's 32GB Xoom started at $599 against the 32GB iPad's $523).

Ironically, it is in the TouchPad's dying days that sales have been flying: if you eliminate from the equation the nostalgia factor, wanting to own a piece of computing history, then HP found its pad's price point at $89 and $115 for the 16GB and the 32GB versions of the TouchPad. HP had to cut its prices by up to 75 per cent to finally hit its sweet spot.

If HP has found the price point, how could it be that PC and device OEMs messed up?

PC makers aren't necessarily known for their ability to innovate but they are known for the ability to mass-produce product. They should, therefore, have been able to churn tablets that undercut those of Apple, which, as Microsoft likes to remind us occasionally, cost more than a PC.

Was hubris responsible for the prices, a feeling that the consumers would open their wallets faced with the brand power of HP, Motorola, Samsung and RIM? Or was it price segmentation: PC and device makers priced so as not to cannibalise their existing products? Either way, judging by the cuts and backtracking, it has been a failure.

The question is: will Microsoft's PC partners HP, Dell and Samsung have been too badly burned to go for round two, this time using Windows? And will others watching this fiasco be deterred from jumping in?

It will now be down to Microsoft to convince them Windows 8 is different. HP, Dell and Samsung, of course, have dabbled with open source using Android or webOS on their tablets; now Microsoft could argue it is the time to return to the fold, this time with a partner they know articulating a platform story for the tablet.

The rest is down to whether OEMs can be convinced to price any Windows 8 tablets realistically rather than based on some spurious idea of brand value or using defensive accounting. They've done it once before, of course: when PC makers – slowly – gave up trying to protect their desktop markets by dropping the prices of laptop computers during the 1990s.

Jobs is just a man

Microsoft found its niche in building mass-market versions of expensive and complicated software: it succeeded on the desktop in part because it bundled Windows with OEM's PCs, making its operating system available at a price that was cheaper and more accessible than Mac. Using developer evangelism, Microsoft re-enforced Windows by building a critical mass of apps.

iPad creator Steve Jobs is not a "once-in-a-lifetime genius whose success can't be replicated or continued." He's had plenty of failures and mediocre achievements along with the outstanding successes. The success of the iPad and the iPhone makes us forget this.

If Microsoft and the OEMs can re-engage with their past, there's every chance Windows 8 can not only catch Job's iPad but secure the lead. It's a big "if" though. ®

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