Rethinking the viability of the Windows 8 tablet

Summary:Windows 8 is designed for tablets first according to the flood of reviews on the web since it was RTM. As excited as I am for the Windows 8 tablet, the more I think about it the harder a purchase is to justify.

JK Win8 tablet question

I went gaga over the Surface tablets when Microsoft announced them, especially the RT model. I was so impressed I quickly admitted I will be buying one as soon as it is available. Now that I've had time to think it through I am finding it hard to build a user case for either model.

It doesn't help there will be two versions of the Windows 8 tablet to choose from with vastly different benefits. The Intel-based Pro models will run everything you can throw at them, both Metro apps written just for Windows 8 and also legacy (desktop) apps. They are the one-size-fits-all model of the Windows 8 tablet world.

The ARM-based Windows RT tablets will only run Metro apps (I am still calling them that even though Microsoft won't), leaving the huge selection of those desktop apps behind. That means they will only run hundreds of new apps instead of the tens of thousands of existing Windows apps. That's a pretty big handicap compared to the Windows 8 Pro tablets.

We've recently seen how having few apps available can handicap the adoption of tablets with the HP TouchPad and the BlackBerry Playbook. No matter how nice a tablet might be, the first time you need a particular type of app to get things done and there isn't one available you're dead in the water.

Even with the vast library of legacy apps the Pro tablets are handicapped in their own ways. It is expected the Windows 8 Pro tablets will cost hundreds of dollars more than the RT counterparts (and the competition). That puts them more in the price range of a serious PC and not just a companion device. That will require a solid user case for the Pro tablet for me. I can justify the lower cost of an RT tablet without a real business need.

As more information is coming out about these tablets the Pro tablets have an even bigger handicap compared to the RT models: battery life. While I expected Intel-based hardware to have slightly worse battery life than ARM tablets, it seems the hit may be bigger than I thought. 

In a recent interview with Joanna Stern of ABC News, Lenovo (who is working on both Pro and RT devices) admitted that the Intel hardware in its Yoga hybrid tablet would have half the battery life of the RT model they are also working on. That's not a pure tablet but is similar enough to make rough battery comparisons.

Existing ARM tablets (iPad, Android) easily get 10-12 hours of battery life. The 5-6 hours Lenovo is indicating with Intel inside is nowhere near enough for a tablet in my experience. That's an especially big hit for a tablet that costs hundreds more than the one with better battery life.

I don't have a business need for a Pro tablet so the RT model looks like the way to go for me personally. Unfortunately the lack of apps is a big disadvantage compared to the ARM tablet competitors. Both the Android and iOS app stores have thousands of good apps available. The light selection expected for the Windows RT tablets is not compelling. 

There is the inclusion of Office on the Windows RT tablets that the competition lacks, but is that important enough to offset the lack of other apps? Maybe for some but for me that's not that big a deal. I don't use Office apps much on the desktop so not having it on the tablet is not a deal breaker.

I use office suites on both Android and iOS which do all I need when it comes to office apps. Having genuine Office on my tablet is not that critical for me personally, so it's hard to make a compelling argument in favor of the Windows RT tablet based on Office.

The viability of a Windows 8 tablet is coming down to this simple set of criteria (according to reviews of Windows 8 and other information becoming available):

  1. Windows 8 Pro tablet: much more expensive, real Office apps, much worse battery life
  2. Windows 8 RT tablet: good battery life, real Office apps, cheaper, very few apps

I am sure I will be buying a Surface tablet due to the nice hardware design and to give it a good test with Windows 8. It won't be because I expect it to do anything the competition doesn't already do. Even as heavily as I use tablets, it's not clear what Windows 8 brings to the discussion. Yet.

Related:

Topics: Windows, Apps, Microsoft, Tablets

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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