Windows 8 officially launched at the end of this week and it looks to be a solid OS, both for enterprises and consumers, launching Windows into the age of touch. Almost simultaneously, Apple released an updated 10" iPad and their iPad Mini. Google will most likely be releasing flagship 10" and 7" tablets on Monday. If tablets are your thing (and, increasingly, they're a lot of people's "thing"), then life is good.
I've talked to a lot of people looking towards better approaches to BYOD as well as formal enterprise deployments of tablets and, with the launch of several Windows 8 tablets (I'm not talking Surface, which is a consumer-only play that I fully expect to go the way of the Zune and Kin devices), the degree of competition in this space just increased drastically. When I interviewed Google's Chief Android Developer Advocate (and one of the key architects of XML and a driving force behind open sourcing Java at Sun Microsystems), Tim Bray, over two years ago, he told me that he "hopes for at least 3 major competitors in the market driving innovation and providing consumer choice over the next several years." He just got his wish.
In fact, on the tablet and enterprise fronts, I would argue that Google has much more to fear from Microsoft now than it does from Apple. The Apple faithful are going to use Apple products. They're going to push BYOD with iPads and iPhones and few will be swayed even by the coolest of new Windows 8 tablet and hybrid devices. Android users, as a group, though, tend to be a bit more pragmatic and brand loyalty doesn't run nearly as deep. And these new Windows 8 tablets (again, I'm not talking about Surface), are really cool. Just when you thought innovation in the PC space was dead, these devices running full-blown Windows, natively capable of hooking into Active Directory, and able to run any Windows application (not just apps, but actual Office 2013, Quickbooks, Firefox, Minecraft, or whatever) come on the scene.
I spent a fair amount of time with Dell's Latitude 10 enterprise tablet and walked away wanting one. Not just because I like toys and gadgets. I'm a Google fan to the core - Why would I want a Windows tablet? Why indeed. Because it's useful. Sure, the UI is actually quite nice and performance is remarkably good for an Atom-powered machine. In fact, the experience and graphics are as smooth as anything my iPad or Nexus 7 can dish out. But the ability to run any Windows software I want, dock it and have a full-blown Windows PC, and then grab that Windows PC and shove it in my bag makes it significantly more useful than my iPad. Add support for a Wacom stylus and suddenly, the issues inherent in writing and drawing on a tablet also go away, making it as useful for visual communication as for productivity, web surfing, or entertainment.
Android convertibles/hybrids have also been less than satisfactory to date, but the 12.5" XPS 12 really shows the flexibility of Windows 8, as well as the hardware innovation that has been lacking in this space for so long. Again, this computer dispenses with the novelty of a convertible and makes it really useful as a business machine. It's not often that I get excited about anything with Windows on it; for businesses, though, these are just two examples of portable computing devices that make Android a much tougher sell. Particularly for companies that have invested substantially in Microsoft infrastructure (and that's a lot of companies), the ability to manage both of these without any third-party software through Active Directory is a deal-closer in and of itself.
Android isn't going anywhere. Windows 8 tablets and hybrids aren't for everyone. In the best case scenario, we're going to see Google pushing a lot harder for fast, efficient, business-friendly hardware/Android combinations. However, devices like Dell's or slick tablets/convertibles from the likes of Lenovo and HP are going to give Google a run for its money.
Speaking of money, the one downside to these devices is price. Traditional laptops with comparable performance can be had for much less. However, for many people, those inexpensive laptops will sit side-by-side with a tablet on a desk or in a messenger bag. With Windows 8 Pro tablets, the right docks or convertible solutions just might find those bags getting a lot lighter. Why have two devices when one can be a great tablet and a solid PC at the same time?
Of course, Google is in the enviable position of potentially winning regardless of the OS businesses and consumers choose. As long as we keep using Google for search and Chrome as our browser, they get to deliver their bread-and-butter ads. However, Google is going to need to make a much stronger case for Android tablets in the enterprise now that Windows 8 tablets have arrived.