A touch-friendly Windows 8 is least of Microsoft's tablet problems

A touch-friendly Windows 8 is least of Microsoft's tablet problems

Summary: All eyes are on Windows 8 as an iOS/iPad competitor, but Microsoft faces bigger challenges than just the interface for its next major release of Windows.

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Next month at Microsoft's Build conference, the company is expected to release a public beta for its flagship OS – Windows 8. The event will be closely looked at given how little is known about the next version of Windows.

The interest around Windows 8 is largely due to it being Microsoft’s definitive competitor to iOS-based iPads. Apple decided to have the same mobile OS for their phones and tablets; Microsoft’s strategy is fundamentally different. Because they can, Microsoft rethought their desktop OS interface for the tablet form factor. Contrary to vocal belief, the strategy has merit – the enterprise. Being able to switch between a desktop (designed for the cursor) that offers legacy support and an intuitive touch interface is theoretically a boon, not a curse.

Microsoft’s Ribbon interface (introduced with Office 2007) and Windows Phone 7’s highly praised Metro UI come together in Windows 8. (Ribbon clubs toolbar options and in some cases offers finger friendly usability.) The interface will not be Microsoft’s problem for tablets and Windows 8. There is a strong push towards new web development technologies (HTML5, JavaScript) in both Windows 8 and Office 15, which leads me to believe applications will not be as much of a hassle either. (The expected Windows App Store helps.)

With the interface in place and applications expected, Microsoft is still in a fix. Their Achilles heel is the OEM ecosystem. A few weeks ago I was searching for a new laptop. I focused on  PCs rather than Macs because PCs offered a better Back-to-School deal. After spending time on the online stores for HP, Dell, Samsung, Sony, Amazon,  and Microsoft, I was ready to give up. All I wanted was a light-weight laptop with long battery life and an SSD at a reasonable price. I went to Apple’s website and I knew the MacBook Air was their product for my requirement. There were just two options for the 13” MacBook Air -- unlike HP, Dell or Sony, who don’t have any such product in the $1,300 price range.

Navigating the websites to compare the specs was frustrating and this led me to realize that one of the reasons why Macs sell is because they are easy to buy. This has nothing to do with whether they are better PCs or not. Apple has limited options and for some reason they fit into all general requirements. To my surprise, the 13” MacBook Air base model is $300 cheaper than the Samsung Series 9. That was the deal maker. My decision was made.

Outdoing a mobile OS like iOS or Android for a desktop OS is an engineering challenge and Microsoft’s efforts will be known once the Windows 8 tablets are ready. Legacy support comes at the cost of battery life. I wouldn’t bet on Windows 8 trumping iOS and Android in battery life. In case of Android tablets, we hear the wives totally dig the dual core Tegras! (Windows 8 tablet ads will unfortunately be on the same lines.) Unlike the PC market where Windows was an easier choice for home PCs compared to Linux; for tablets, Android is a compelling offering.

It is not the hardware specifications that will influence tablet decisions. Whether it has one USB port or two won’t be the first question. How light is it, how long does the battery last, how touch friendly and cloud-powered the software is – these are the primary decision makers. Claiming Flash or Office 2010 compatibility while having a battery life less than the iPad, will not sell Windows 8 tablets.

Microsoft is expected to implement lessons it learned with Windows Phone 7 and have fixed chassis specs for tablets. These chassis specs coupled with OEM hardware differentiation such as Memory Card Readers, camera megapixels, RAM and CPU cores will only add to a buyer’s dilemma. The result is, as in my case while searching for a new laptop, most people will go for the option that’s less complicated (and more of a segment benchmark).

Windows 7 is expected to be on 42% of the PCs by year-end. Convincing companies to upgrade to a new OS next year will be a tough sell. Steven Sinofsky’s assurance that Windows 8 will support Windows 7 hardware helps Microsoft avoid the enterprise hardware refresh cycle trap, though I don’t see the enterprise jumping onto Windows 8.

A touch friendly OS isn’t exactly Microsoft’s biggest problem when it comes to Windows 8. Selling them to the end-user is and that is a whole different ball game. Sinofsky and Ballmer have bigger problems. I do not consider iPads to be  post-PC devices; they have limited PC functionality and an improved touch interface.

Considering iPads as PCs, Apple is the second largest OEM. The OEM partners should feel threatened. Two iterations of the same product have made Apple the second largest OEM player ahead of Dell, Lenovo and others. According to figures, Android based tablets are expected to grow by 134% and the iPad saw a slight decline in sales. These statistics show an opening for non-iPad users, but if Microsoft can’t get the battery life right and delivers a delusional marketing message, Redmond will only be playing catch-up.

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Topics: Software, Hardware, Laptops, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Tablets, Windows

Manan Kakkar

About Manan Kakkar

Telecommunication engineer with a keen interest in end-user technology and a News junkie, I share my thoughts while preparing for my Master's in Information Management.

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79 comments
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  • RE: A touch-friendly Windows 8 is least of Microsoftâ??s tablet problems

    But Android tablets have not been able to match the battery life of the iPad either. I think once you get into the 8 hour range the battery life comparison goes out the door. Perhaps a Windows ARM tablet can achieve both the battery life and sex appeal of an iPad. I use a Windows slate everyday and IMHO the advantages of running Windows on this form factor far out weigh the extra few hours of battery life an iPad may offer you.
    rwalrond
    • RE: A touch-friendly Windows 8 is least of Microsofts tablet problems

      @rwalrond
      "sex appeal of an iPad"? - LOL
      AdnanPirota
      • RE: A touch-friendly Windows 8 is least of Microsofts tablet problems

        @AdnanPirota

        That's well known marketing speak. Nothing LOL about it really.
        betelgeuse68
      • RE: A touch-friendly Windows 8 is least of Microsofts tablet problems

        @AdnanPirota

        More like sex repel.

        "Honey put that iPad down I wanna fool around!"

        "In a Minute I am trying to get these pigs with Angry Birds!"
        bobiroc
    • But since Windows slate aren't flying off the shelves

      Your IMHO is just that, with most folks not agreeing with you.
      @rwalrond
      GoPower
      • RE: A touch-friendly Windows 8 is least of Microsofts tablet problems

        @GoPower Really? Do you know many people who have tried a Windows 7 slate? I would bet that if Intel had put out some decent mobile chips and companies created a Windows 7 slate with digitizer priced in the range of netbooks or even the iPad, that more people would be in agreement with me.
        rwalrond
      • RE: A touch-friendly Windows 8 is least of Microsofts tablet problems

        @GoPower

        I too, have a Slate, and would happily buy another over an iPad anyday. The power of having a digitizer far outweighs the greater battery life.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Nobody ever agress with you, GoPower

        @GoPower
        but then you troll anyway.
        William Farrell
      • gopouter -- slates done't have windows 8.

        @GoPouter. I guess you and the blogger who wrote this long piece of nothing but speculation, never having seen or touched windwos 8
        But then ABMers have always made these kinds of comments only to have MS make them eat crow.
        xuniL_z
      • gopouter -- slates done't have windows 8.

        @GoPouter. I guess you and the blogger who wrote this long piece of nothing but speculation, never having seen or touched windwos 8
        But then ABMers have always made these kinds of comments only to have MS make them eat crow.
        xuniL_z
      • gopouter -- slates done't have windows 8.

        @GoPouter. I guess you and the blogger who wrote this long piece of nothing but speculation, never having seen or touched windwos 8
        But then ABMers have always made these kinds of comments only to have MS make them eat crow.
        xuniL_z
    • RE: A touch-friendly Windows 8 is least of Microsofts tablet problems

      @rwalrond I love my Slate. The touch features may not be quite as slick, but they work well and having a full-featured PC in tablet form, complete with compatibility for all the apps I use and write, is just unbeatable. I admit that battery life is not as big a deal for me as it might be for others, but I haven't looked back nor regretted for 1 second my decision to go Win7 Tablet.
      marvcom
    • You have fogotten another development besides ARM.

      If you read up on Microsofts development plan you will see that they are introducing SOC (System on a Chip) that will increase battery life and quicker start up access. Its a wise choice on Microsofts side to use multiple system architectures.
      hocarlos
    • Are you kidding?

      @rwalrond
      I have an iPad2 and an ASUS Transformer
      Battery life between the two is pretty darn close.
      Close enough I do not notice the difference.
      :|
      rhonin
      • RE: A touch-friendly Windows 8 is least of Microsoft?s tablet problems

        @rhonin Sorry, but I have a hard time believing that you own an ipad2, since the 1st generation iPad all you've done is post one negative post after another about apple, and any of their products.
        T-Wrench
      • RE: A touch-friendly Windows 8 is least of Microsoft?s tablet problems

        @rhonin:
        Burn. You got burned by T-Wrench.
        Oliver_Clozoff
      • RE: A touch-friendly Windows 8 is least of Microsoft?s tablet problems

        @T-Wrench

        Makes perfect sense to me. He got burned once, then probably traded up to get it fixed, and got burned a second time. That would tend to make someone a bit irked.

        Oh, and while the iPad continues to be priced near to $399 for a 7 inch pad, I have started to see Android devices priced at or near $100. that is when the real differences come into play.

        Windows became the dominant PC system by pricing at around 1/2 of the competitors price. I think we may be seeing the start of a repeat. If Microsoft meets Google in price, then iPad will just fade into the background. If not, then Apple and Google will beat the tar out of them in the market.

        Never underestimate the power of 'cheap'.
        YetAnotherBob
      • RE: A touch-friendly Windows 8 is least of Microsoft?s tablet problems

        @YetAnotherBob Do you have any clue what so ever about the topic? First, why would he have been burnt with the iPad 1? The iPad isn't for everyone but based on the satisfaction levels he wouldn't have been burnt and if the iPad is for him and he bought an iPad thinking it would be then that would just be stupid so either he is stupid of not being honest.

        You drealizeze that there is no 7" iPad like you claimed don't you? The original iPad is selling for that price as a refurb but it's not a 7" model. The cheap junk $100 Android tablets have been around for well over a year and are just that, junk. If you think these are true competition to the iPad, Galaxy Tab or Xoom you are completely delusional. Of course last week you could have purchased at TouchPad for $99 but that only because it's a two month own orphaned product with no infrastructure or future.
        non-biased
    • RE: A touch-friendly Windows 8 is least of Microsofts tablet problems

      I don't understand the assumption in this article that Windows 8 tablets won't have great battery life. I've always felt that the battery life issues with Windows tablets have been the fault of relying on Intel x86 chips. Now that ARM is running the show I expect to see Windows tablets with excellent battery life and efficiency.<br><br>Also Microsoft seems to be much more conscious of user experience and battery life issues than Google has been. Just look at Windows Phone Mango which comes with a brilliant battery saver functionality that automatically shuts down battery draining functionality of the phone to maximize battery life. That being said the Asus Transformer gets 16 hours of battery when combined with the laptop dock. I think Windows 8 will do fine when it comes to battery life. <br><br>As far as Apple the unbeatable hardware maker.... don't worry about them. The Asian manufacturers: Asus, Samsung, LG, HTC, and Acer will take care of the Apple problem.
      cool8man
      • RE: A touch-friendly Windows 8 is least of Microsofts tablet problems

        @cool8man I don't understand your assumption! On what basis do you say Windows' battery problems are dependent on Intel? Windows on Mac gives lesser battery than OS X on the same laptop. It's not Intel that's sucking resources but the processes Windows runs in the bg.
        Manan Kakkar