Why Windows 8 won't reimagine hardware that much

Why Windows 8 won't reimagine hardware that much

Summary: Problem is, failure is still very much an option, and the idea of Windows 8 being a catastrophic failure is a massive turn-off for hardware makers. Failures of devices such as Motorola's Xoom and RIM's PlayBook are still on the minds of all OEMs.


ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley wonders when are we going to start seeing 'reimagined' hardware that will make using the touch-centric Windows 8 less painful and more compelling.

"The problem is," writes Foley, "without these next-gen PCs and tablets, it's hard for me - and I'd think others, too - to really grok how Windows 8 is going to work from running it on PCs and tablets that were designed for a non-touch-centric operating system like Windows 7."

Yeah, that is a bit of a problem. Especially given that we're probably six months or so away from Windows 8 being released. So, where is all this cool new hardware?

Don't hold your breath for it just yet.

We can be certain of one thing. There will be Windows 8-specific hardware, in the form of tablets, ultrabooks and touch-enabled PCs, available at the launch of the operating system. The problem isn't going to be the availability of hardware, but the price point of the hardware.

Touch adds dollars to a system -- especially to the price of a PC, where the market hit rock bottom a long time ago -- and it is adding cost at a time when both consumer and enterprise buyers are most sensitive to price. To make matters worse, OEMs currently have no idea how the mass market will react to Windows 8. It could flop like Vista, in which case demand for touch-enabled hardware is going to be very soggy and OEMs will be left struggling to offload hardware. Alternatively, it could be a runaway success like Windows 7 was, in which case it will be harvest time for the OEMs.

Problem is, failure is still very much an option, and the idea of Windows 8 being a catastrophic failure is a massive turn-off for hardware makers; doubly so when they are expected to pour significant capital into design, development and production of Windows 8-specific systems. Failures of devices such as Motorola's Xoom and RIM's PlayBook are still on the minds of all OEMs.

Another problem is the incumbent desktop and notebook PC. While Microsoft is undoubtedly embracing touch computing with both hands, we're still not sure what the game-plan is here. Microsoft has made a lot of noises about how touch is the future because it is better and easier to use, but many others and I still remain unconvinced.

The keyboard and mouse are far too entrenched in computing to be swiped away overnight. I firmly expect that the majority of systems that will ship with Windows 8 over the new operating system's lifespan will be traditional, non-touch systems featuring keyboards and mice, and the OEMs must also suspect this.

Then there are Windows 8 tablets. It's here I feel that Microsoft's new operating system will shine the brightest, but it's still far too early to say that there's any guarantee of success. The biggest problem facing OEMs here is that they have to deliver a product that competes favorably with the iPad when it comes to a number of metrics - form factor, weight, battery life and, probably most significant of the lot, price.

If the OEMs can't get all their ducks in a row here, it could be a bloodbath.

Why are we not seeing some OEMs take a leap of faith now and start releasing touch-enabled hardware powered by Windows 7 in advance of Windows 8? Simple. That would be a bloodbath too. Windows 7 is an appalling choice for touch-enabled hardware. This means that OEMs don't really have the option of shipping touch-enabled hardware now with the promise of a free upgrade down the line to Windows 8.

Windows 8 will reimagine hardware, just not that much. There will be touch-enabled systems available, but they will command a premium price and appeal to a niche market. The traditional desktop and notebook will continue to be the main platform for Windows 8. There will also be Windows 8-powered tablets, but it remains to be seen just how well these will stack up against the iPad.

Uncertain times lay ahead for the OEMs.


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

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • I keep wishing

    Microsoft would create a spin-off company that would focus on creating "clean" Windows hardware. A company like this would kick other OEMs in the rear, and could really accelerate Windows 8 hardware.

    OEM's are too interested in copying Apple, and it's not working out (why would it? No one likes a copy-cat!), when they should be focusing on doing their own thing.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • Microsoft Store already does that

      microsoft store, from what I understand, sells OEM hardware bloat free.
      • No, no...

        Not just sell "clean" machines, manufacture their own hardware. Microsoft clearly has a direction they want to go with Metro, if the OEMs aren't up to making the hardware to make that happen, they should do it themselves.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Zune reimagined

        That was not a swipe. :)

        I've argued before that certain markets are best suited for a more vertical approach (one company making the whole pie) rather than horizontal (Too many OEM cooks in the kitchen). Not sure about PCs it may be too late for some "clean version", but I think Microsoft should have been the one creating a killer W8 (or WP8) complete tablet experience. Relying on OEMs to complete your vision have proven to be a bad bet in the past (PlaysForSure). And Zune entrance was too late.
    • I agree or at a minimum . . .

      Take the opportunity to launch a Microsoft branded tablet like Google is doing. Test the waters, MS. Google is rapidly moving into a situation where they and Samsung are the only real players in the Android space here in the US. Oh, I forgot Motorola, who's been bought by none other than Google.
    • Uh, Microsoft entering the hardware business IS copying Apple!

      What you're advocating is MS taking control of the hardware platform to more tightly integrate their OS for a more pure user experience. That sounds very familiar, oh yeah-Apple's been doing it since 1984.

      I admit that a Nexus-esque "pure" Microsoft PC has some potential, but the realities are that it would probably kill the company. First, it would create some serious dissatisfaction with the OEMs. Second, Microsoft has proven itself to be very bad at hardware. Depending upon whom you ask, Xbox has either not yet been profitable (net of all expenditures) or has only recently done so. Either way, the time-value of the money spent could have been greater if they'd never done Xbox and just bought billions worth of T-Notes. Finally, it's arguable if MS could even achieve the economies of scale to compete in the market. A Win 8 notebook that costs more than a MacBook Air is DOA, plain and simple.
      • Microsoft in the hardware business, along with the software they already

        offer, would create a multi-trillion dollar market-cap corporation, and that would be scary to a lot of people, including government, and the regular consumers who would feel like just a little number with no real impact to such a massive corporation.

        XBOX is profitable to Microsoft, and it's been so for some time now, and with the Kinect, it's even more profitable and growing. When it comes to hardware, Microsoft has the know-how and the infrastructure to create a great hardware/software ecosystem; and when necessary, to make things happen quicker and more effectively, they'd have to purchase one or more hardware companies, such as a Dell or HP, which are huge on their own rights. There might be problems in the anti-trust and merger arena as far as government is concerned, but, if Apple can do it, why would government stand in the way of Microsoft "copying" the model? In fact, the model for a hardware/software corporation is as old as history itself, because, that is how business used to be done in the older times when huge corporations, such as IBM and HP and NCR and UNIVAC and many others, used to do business. They all had the complete package to run a technology company. Apple is not the first to "innovate" with a complete ecosystem that includes hardware/software and user support.

        If Apple can be allowed to compete in the hardware and software arenas, then any other corporation could not be blocked from doing the same. It would just be a very scary proposition to have a multi-trillion dollar corporation, where people might feel intimidated and perhaps not even consume what that corporation had to offer. But, perhaps that would be just be initially and until that corporation proves itself to consumers and businesses.
    • For once I agree with Cylon

      I've been saying they should do that on their tablets for the last couple of months now. They don't owe the OEMs anything in that ARM market.

      Then Microsoft can get away with lock-down, vendor lock-in, having their own app store and dictating whatever prices they want to. Just like Apple does with the iPad.

      Just clone Apple's business strategy here and acknowledge it.
    • Microsoft buy components, they dont make them !

      Microsoft have never made anything from scratch ! They buy parts all over the world and sample them in Hong Kong ! Thats why Microsoft cant learn by their own mistakes... They cant see any problems as long as the money keeps coming !
      • Riiight

        Microsoft should, like, copy Apple and, like, build all their hardware in the US, right?

  • Is Kinect for the PC enabling the next generation

    Everyone is talking about the need for touchscreen (which I think is important in a lot of devices). How about this for hardware re-imagined.

    A PC that is not touch screen, does not require a mouse, and had awesome voice recognition. All the user has to do is swipe their hands in front of the computer screen, point at something on the screen, or tell the computer what you want to dictate. This is all about to be very possible. Kinect will allow for not needing touch. Microsoft voice recognition is significantly better than Siri. If you have not tried it please hold off on derogatory remarks until you do. Is all of the above 100% flawless, no. But it is at the level that it makes it usable. How many of us are tired of the finger prints all over phones and tablets. Nothing like a child with greasy fingers using the tablet or phone. Now imagine that touch is not even needed. Make the mouse and the keyboard optional. Clearly the mouse and the keyboard support will be required for some power users

    Now think about Windows 8 and how it will work with these kind of technologies. This truly could be a game changer. However Microsoft will first need to get their collective heads out of the rears and learn how to market these types of ideas... They used to be marketing geniuses, now I believe that they may be one of the poorest companies at marketing.
    John J. Jordan
    • When was it Microsoft was a marketing genius?

      I must have missed that. Oh, I remember! It was during the Gates/Seinfeld era, right? Yeah, things have gone downhill since then. :P
      Hardware-wise, Microsoft has a BIG problem with touch from OEMs. The VAST majority of their installed base is desktop, and touch on the desktop makes zero sense from the ergonomic standpoint. OEMs are smart enough to realize this, so are not going to produce touch-enabled desktop hardware. Metro only makes sense on tablets and phones, NOT on the desktop (or laptop).
      • you missed the point

        Back in the days (Windows 95, XP) Microsoft was pretty good at marketing. However for the past 5 years or more they have sucked at it pretty bad...

        While touch is very cool I am proposing that touch screens ultimately may not be their end game. I think that Kinect for PC's could be a dramatic game changer. In many ways it has changed how games are going to be played (not in all cases obviously). This article is about how can hardware re-imagined...Everyone seems to be completely hung up on the concept that re-imagined must mean touch screen. I am proposing what if you imagine that the next generation of hardware does not require a touch screen, keyboard or mouse....This is what they may mean by re-imagined.
        John J. Jordan
      • RE: Lousy touch ergonomics on desktops or laptops

        Ditto for Kinect.
      • Kinect on PC a Bad idea

        Lift your hand above your desk and wave it a dozen times in front your PC monitor, now can you imagine someone doing this for an entire day without causing some type of injury? It's just not practical, bad ergonomics.
      • dave95: Bad ergonomics? In reality, tablets and smartphones feature bad

        ergonomics themselves. When people need to hold a device with one hand and interact with the screen with the other free hand, or make entries on a tiny keyboard with that same free hand, then, we're talking about very bad ergonomics all around the mobile devices.

        When it comes to touch screens for desktops or laptops, they would be a lot easier to manage than the tiny mobile devices.

        What you're failing to do, is to imagine a monitor which isn't set vertically. A monitor which can be set to an angle at, say, 45 degrees, would be a lot easier for touch than any tablet or smartphone. Just imagine that, monitors can be swiveled from flat to vertical, and to various degrees, depending upon personal preference, and then imagine that, the monitor/screen can be moved along the plane on the desktop to come as close as a user desires. That would be very ergonomic and a lot less troublesome than any tablet or smartphone. On the desktop or tablet, you'd still have both hands free to work with the monitor and/or keyboard, and on all the other things people do while at work or at play. Thus, you have things absolutely backwards when it comes to ergonomics on desktops and laptops versus tablets and smartphones.
      • @John J. Jordan

        People aren't going to sit in their offices and gorilla arm all day. That's not gonna happen, so...

        That's not to say there aren't some valid uses for what you're talking about.
      • Actually...

        Not only ARE OEM's going to make touch enabled hardware (they've announced as much), but they MUST if they want to sell Windows 8 certified PC's. It is a *requirement* for Windows 8 certification that a PC support 5 point multitouch as a minimum.

        The problem is, of course, that people ASSUME, incorrectly, that touch=necessarily touch *screen*, and that just isn't true. What we're really looking at on the desktop and on laptops is the mass introduction of multitouch panels similar to Apple's magic trackpad (Logitech already has a version of this for Windows, and Wacom has recently introduced similar technology). So, where your mousepad *used to be*, you'll instead have a multitouch trackpad which you'll use to control desktop windows, using gestures. It'll be MORE ergonomic than a mouse, allow for natural actions and, at least on the nicer models, allow for stylus use as well.

        And as someone above pointed out, Microsoft's TellMe voice recognition technology, rumored to be baked into the final version of Windows 8 (it's already in WP7.5 and works stunningly well), will add another level of natural user interaction as well.

        The times are changing. You can either embrace it and move forward, or get left behind. The option of maintaining the status quo--well, that's not actually an option.
    • Voice only goes so far

      Yes, voice recognition will gradually become a viable way to get text and some data into applications. However, keyboards and mice will still be needed to handle the heavy editing that follows the initial entry.
    • Voice, hands, feet, eyes or body movement is a good combination...

      I have tried the V.R. and it is good when you need to write things down fast. But when it comes to commands around in the OS then would the OS kick you back to stoneage technology or the lack of the same...
      You still need to know all the commands, (like in the time of DOS), and their limits.
      V.R. was invented before Bill Gates knew what a computer was...