During his time in the spotlight at WPC 2014 today, Microsoft's Chief Operating Officer, Kevin Turner stated that his company was working toward invigorating the PC market with $99 tablets and $199 laptops. Microsoft won't be producing these itself, but instead making Windows licensing more affordable (read: free) so that hardware partners can release lower-cost devices.

But, isn't the word here really "cheap" instead of lower-cost?

During my trek along the Android tablet road, I admit I've been ensnared by lower-cost devices, thinking that somehow they might last longer than a day and work to fulfill my needs. But, like a fool sailor lured by a siren's song, my hopes were dashed on the rocks – and hard. Once, I snagged a couple sub-$50 devices. I thought, gee, at $50, I'll get two in case one craps out. The supplier was questionable, but what the heck? One of the devices I received powered-on only once and I tossed it aside. The other powered-on for a couple weeks, and then met the same fate. $100 and two weeks later, I had nothing to show for my troubles, except additional troubles. The supplier could not be reached.

And, sadly, I was bitten by the "low-cost" bug more than once. I'm honest to admit that, but you can't make me admit to how many times, exactly.

So, can Microsoft do something here that even Android can't? Can the company make Windows licensing so affordable that hardware vendors can produce reliable, quality devices at a lower consumer cost? From my lessons, I'm a bit reluctant to believe so. My lessons taught me that it's just better to save up for a quality device like a Surface Pro 3 or for a smaller profile device, the Dell Venue 8 Pro.

Mr. Turner implicated HP in his speech, stating that the hardware vendor (who has become a clear Microsoft competitor in Cloud, btw) will deliver a $199 Windows laptop by the 2014 holiday season, and 7" and 8" Windows tablets for $99. To be fair, I've owned HP hardware (laptops, servers, and desktops) over the years and believe them to be solid offerings. So, if someone can pull this off, its HP. Turner also stated that Toshiba would deliver a lower-cost notebook, but priced at $249. I have enough experience with Toshiba to know that the company's PC lines have been struggling since the early 2000's. So, it's going to boil down to HP to deliver.

But, I'm still reluctant.

The obvious reasons for the intent to deliver lower-cost devices is to compete directly with Google against Chromebooks and Android tablets and because Microsoft has woken to the fact that it is sitting at only 14% market share for the entirety of the device market. The market definition for PCs has expanded, just like I said it should over a year ago. Microsoft tried to avoid the realization, but a company can't control a market it no longer owns.

Turner said Microsoft is approaching the market now as a Challenger. This was met with applause from the WPC 2014 attendees. But, I have a problem with this approach for a couple of reasons.

  1. In racing, a challenger is generally considered an upstart – a youngster with possible new ideas and exciting skills with the promise of someday, with the right opportunity, attaining excellence. Despite a new CEO and a new "world view" on technology, Microsoft is still an old company with an aging mentality. Microsoft is more like a middle-aged man getting cortisone shots in his knees just to finish the last mile of a young man's race.
  2. Challenger seems to be the wrong word here, if you've somehow lost the lead because you simply forgot to feed the horse or left the barn door open too long. Admitting you're a challenger, at this point, is close to admitting failure. It's not like kids' sports these days where everybody gets a trophy just for participating. To me, it's not OK to come in second or third. I know that's not really politically correct, but I'm not really "PC" anyway.

Microsoft wants to change, and the company really, truly wants the public to believe it can. Personally, I think it can, but, I'm not sure a garage sale tablet will push the company back into the limelight and back into contention with younger, oft times, more appealing competitors. It won't take long for those trying to make Android work for them in business situations to realize my same mistakes. I'd love to see Microsoft and its hardware partners take special care with each new device, to ensure that its quality that releases instead of something thrown together that looks as if it was put together with bobby pins and chewing gum.

But, what about you? Would you try a $99 Windows tablet?

Obviously, it's going to depend on the specs and these barebones devices are more designed for consumer appeal than for business. But, as we all know, these devices will find their way into corporate American anyway, thanks in no small measure to Microsoft's (and others) BYOD efforts.