If there wasn’t enough pressure on Microsoft with Windows 8, RIM just gave them a reminder that they need to get their tablet strategy right on Day One.

This morning the Wall Street Journal reported that RIM is taking a $485 million charge for their lackluster tablet, the Playbook.  The charge comes by way of a markdown in the value of the massive inventor that RIM still has of the devices.  It is a brutal and costly reminder that if you kinda-sorta-maybe-woulda-shoulda your tablet strategy, the price can be steep.  Very steep.

Which turns my attention to Microsoft.  Redmond has made it clear that Windows 8 will be designed with tablets in mind.  It will have the Metro UI that us Windows Phone users have loved, will be touch input ready and looks to be the first real significant update to the flagship OS since, dare I say, Windows XP.  To this point Microsoft has been somewhat coy about what they ultimately will do with tablets – will they be x86?  Will they be ARM? Will they be both? – but it is clear that the company sees tablets as a part of their future.

The challenge facing Microsoft is that they are behind when it comes to a tablet strategy.  Regardless of what Steve Ballmer said in the Microsoft shareholders meeting last week, Microsoft to this point has a limited at best and horrible at worst answer to the tablet market.  The challenge also comes from the unbelievable pressure that the iPad has put on this entire segment of the industry.  As I said in my opinion piece about Office for iPad, there is no tablet market today.  There is just an iPad market.  The risk, as RIM did with the Playbook to a large extent, is to try to go head-to-head with the iPad.  It has been prove a couple of times – WebOS and the Playbook – that such a strategy ends in tears.  No, what Microsoft must do is differentiate their Windows 8 and tablet strategy from that of Apple.  This, I believe, is one of the reasons that Amazon has had such quick success with the Fire.  Sure it runs Android but you would never know it and Amazon has positioned it as a consumption device not necessarily a “tablet”.  Regardless of what you think of the Fire itself (which I think is really good by-the-way), Amazon likely will see success simply because they are going to market with a different message.  Microsoft will need to have their own message that is different as well.  They need to market and capitalize on the power of the Metro UI but also bring the message that they have with Windows Phone which is making the experience more personal.

As important to the message is the content.  Microsoft cannot do what RIM did which is bring a buggy, half-baked solution to market.  It has to perform and have all the features that users need/expect/want.  It can’t come out of the box needing a boatload of updates (which has to be WAY easier than the upgrade process that Windows has today) nor can it come with a limited function set of apps (think PowerPoint reader instead of PowerPoint).

It has got to have it all.  Sorry Microsoft, that’s just the way it is.  And if you don’t get it right, Windows 8 will be a failure.

Sure people will still buy it for their PCs and enterprises will upgrade to it but the consumer market, where the tablet fits so perfectly, is where the money of the future lies.

I for one am desperately hoping that Microsoft takes their time and gets it right with Windows 8 on tablets.  At this point frankly, they should rush.  They are already behind so another few months really  isn’t going to matter much.  The Metro UI is without question built for a tablet and would be the biggest win for Microsoft in years.  But the margin of error is nill.

Microsoft, get it right.  Your future may well depend on it.