The iPad's Surprising Competition

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After watching tablet after tablet fail to launch, one might wonder whether the tablet market exists beyond Apple's (NAS: AAPL) iPad. However, a few recent surveys suggest that the tablet wars won't really get started until Microsoft (NAS: MSFT) releases Windows 8.

I'm as shocked as you
I'm generally optimistic about Microsoft's future, but I expected demand for Windows tablets to build slowly. It turns out that more consumers want a tablet running Windows more than any other operating system. A new survey from the Boston Consulting Group says that 42% of U.S. consumers would prefer one running Windows. Even though Apple gets the most attention, only 27% of consumers prefer iOS. Meanwhile, 20% of consumers prefer Google's (NAS: GOOG) Android.

What's even more startling is that the BSG poll is not the first to discover the desire for Windows tablet. An earlier poll by Forrester found that 46% of consumers considering a tablet preferred Windows, while 16% preferred iOS and 9% preferred Android.

Perhaps we've thought about this wrong
When Apple dropped iOS into the iPad, it redefined tablets as mobile devices rather than another form of computer. Working under this model, Android makes sense as a tablet OS. It's already the most popular smartphone OS and has begun to attract more app developers. Throw it in a tablet form factor, and you have an instant hit.

As we know, that hasn't really happened. It seems that -- thanks to Apple -- consumers want to see how their devices plug into a larger ecosystem. Unfortunately, Android on its own suffers from fragmentation and doesn't give the impression as being part of a network of devices.

In this light, it seems that the best way to sell an Android tablet is to rebrand it. Barnes & Noble (NYS: BKS) scored a surprise hit with the Android-powered Nook Color, and Amazon.com's (NAS: AMZN) Kindle Fire has reportedly already racked up more than 250,000 preorders. However, neither of these companies markets its device as an Android tablet. Instead, the tablets are sold as reasonably priced portable media devices tied into well-established ecosystems.

The more things change ...
Microsoft's solution to the ecosystem problem is actually pretty simple. Rather than make a separate operating system or reconfiguring Windows Phone for tablets, the company made Windows 8 tablet-friendly. The devices will have an ecosystem because they'll essentially be PCs, only flat. Users won't have to worry about finding good Office alternatives -- which always seem to lack that one key feature you absolutely must have for work -- because you can just run Office.

Granted, this doesn't mean Windows 8 is a guaranteed success. If the first tablets fail to impress, or the company rushes the release of the OS, skittish hardware manufacturers might bail on their tablet plans prematurely. However, I think the odds are pretty good that the big rivalry of the post-PC world will once again be Apple vs. Microsoft.

If you want to keep an eye on the coming tablet battles, then you should add these companies to your Watchlist, so you can stay up to date on all the latest news and analysis.

At the time this article was published The Motley Fool owns shares of Google, Microsoft, and Apple.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon.com and creating bull call spread positions in Microsoft and Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors.Fool contributor Patrick Martin owns no shares of any of the companies mentioned here. You can follow him on Twitter, where he goes by @TMFpcmart03. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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