How will Windows 8 tablets stack up to the competition of the future?

How will Windows 8 tablets stack up to the competition of the future?

Summary: Windows 8 running on a tablet is looking promising, but it will be so long before it hits the market that it's impossible to tell how it will compare with devices of the future.

SHARE:

Microsoft unveiled the next version of Windows today at the BUILD conference in Anaheim and it looks smashing. The Windows 8 Metro interface (see the details provided by Ed Bott) is the touch-centric system that also runs on desktops and other non-touch devices. Metro operation looks heavily influenced by Windows Phone 7 because it is, and that's a good thing for tablets. Today's demos show a compelling OS that is a complete departure from all versions of Windows past. The problem is figuring out how it will compare with tablets of the future.

The geek in me can't wait to play with Windows 8, and MIcrosoft realized that would be the case and has already put the developer's preview up for grabs. I have a rare Windows 7 slate so I am certainly going to grab the Windows 8 preview and give it a spin when I have some free time.

As exciting as the new version of Windows is compared to Windows 7, it doesn't seem real to me yet. I don't think we'll see real tablets running Windows 8 for well over a year, so it's largely just good intentions at this point. The competition in the tablet space already has a lead of a few years on Microsoft, and that lead will be even bigger when Windows 8 hits the market.

The tablet space isn't going to sit still and wait for Windows 8 to get released. The iPad will be well into version 3 (or 4) by then, and Android will be into Jelly Bean (or beyond). The race has already started and Windows 8 is being lapped as we speak.

The demos shown of Windows 8 today on the developer's Samsung tablet leave a lot of questions unanswered about how it stacks up against current tablet competition in crucial areas, much less how it will compare at launch time against tablets of the future.

Even though Microsoft is working on a version of Windows 8 that runs on real tablet hardware (ARM), so far we've only seen it running on Intel hardware. That is not going to compare with either Android or the iPad as far as battery life is concerned. The instant-on nature of non-Intel hardware is also a big deal in the tablet space.

The biggest unanswered question about Windows 8 is that of apps. Legacy Windows apps may run on Windows 8 tablets, but they will not compare to other mobile platforms. An entirely new library of touch apps must be written for Windows 8, and that means getting a lot of development under way now. Unfortunately for developers it is so early in the cycle that building good apps requires hitting a moving target.

There will be no grace period after Windows 8 eventually launches to come up with apps to make it useful. There must be a decent library of good apps ready to go on launch day to make a good showing. The tablet space is not one that will let Microsoft have an iteration or two to get things right.

Don't forget that tablet hardware is getting better and cheaper all the time. If Windows 8 requires beefier hardware than the competition things will get ugly really fast. Plus it is not clear if Intel-based hardware can be priced competitively, all other issues aside.

Many will say it's early and Microsoft gets a mulligan because it's so early in the development of Windows 8. That's the problem. The tablet space evolves at a rapid pace, and typical OS development cycles don't work. It is impossible to tell what might be required to compete a year or more in the future, but that's what we must do to consider Microsoft's efforts.

Some will say that Windows 8 is more than just a tablet OS, and they are correct. I am focusing on that aspect of it because it is clear the tablet functionality is driving the lion's share of the development effort, so Microsoft has acknowledged the importance of it. I agree with that decision, and it validates why zooming in on how it will compete in this area is a legitimate thing to do.

Windows 8 looks really sharp and refreshing; it is understandable that we are enthusiastic about what we see. But don't forget, a refreshing interface hasn't helped Windows Phone 7 in the smartphone race. It may not be enough to help Windows 8, either.

There are so many unknowns about Windows 8 that it is impossible to tell how it will do in the race. The problem is the race is already in the latter stages, and is ongoing right now. Microsoft may think the race is a marathon, but it is in full sprint mode already. What we've seen today of Windows 8 looks really nice and it may be a contender, but it's so far in the future it's too early to call.

Related:

Topics: Operating Systems, Microsoft, Software, Windows

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

Talkback

66 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: How will Windows 8 tablets stack up to the competition of the future?

    I hope it does well. I know several that love their iPads and other tablets but frequently wish it could do more like a regular computer. I believe this will provide the best of both worlds if the price is right.
    bobiroc
    • RE: How will Windows 8 tablets stack up to the competition of the future?

      @bobiroc
      I would agree. My girlfriend likes to stream shows off the internet, and gets miffed when she sees a flash error instead of her video. I'm sure there are work arounds, but this is my girlfriend we're talking about here.
      kstap
  • RE: How will Windows 8 tablets stack up to the competition of the future?

    I think that's why they unveiled so early - make apps!
    Eggry
    • RE: How will Windows 8 tablets stack up to the competition of the future?

      @Eggry That worked for Apple... Oh wait, no preview, tons of apps.
      jgpmolloy
      • RE: How will Windows 8 tablets stack up to the competition of the future?

        @john@...

        Tons of apps an yet so very few useful or relevant ones. Unless you are into having ever fart or joke app or many of the fake apps that trick your friends into thinking that your iPhone can locate them or have some extra security feature. Maybe if Apple gave better previews of their software there could be better apps. I like my iPhone but browsing through the App store I see tons of pointless apps.
        bobiroc
      • RE: How will Windows 8 tablets stack up to the competition of the future?

        @bobiroc - The same old fart apps argument. There could be 20-30% of apps which are useless, but there are some pure gems out there... 'nouf said
        browser.
      • RE: How will Windows 8 tablets stack up to the competition of the future?

        @bobiroc

        I agree with browser's iPad app comments. Respectfully, Bob, but please revise your Apple app opinions otherwise your credibility might suffer.
        kenosha77a
      • RE: How will Windows 8 tablets stack up to the competition of the future?

        @bobiroc
        At least the apps on iOS are legitimate and are not trojans unlike the Android counterparts, where you always have to have suspicion about the app's backdoors. even though 20 to 30% of apps there are junk on iOS, we can safely consider at least they don't have backdoors or haven't found one yet.

        @browser
        The quality of marketplace positioning of apps by Microsoft is identical to Apple, and advantage of Microsoft development ecosystem, is more number of tools and that too matured ones. Microsoft doesn't have to start from ground zero to build the developer ecosystem there.
        Ram U
      • RE: How will Windows 8 tablets stack up to the competition of the future?

        @browser, Kenosha

        Well when you search the word fart in iTunes app store and it returns hundreds of results of fart apps, fart soundboxes, toilet sound machine, type apps then you have to wonder. I understand that this is small in the 350,000+ apps total but my point is if the apps available are useful to you. I just used fart apps as an example but there are plenty of other apps that are duplicates of each other when it comes to the games and functionality. Some are better than others and everyone's tastes differ. You only need 1 good app to do the job.

        Also Rama.net got my point above when he pointed out developers for Windows will not have to start from scratch when developing for Windows 8.
        bobiroc
      • Let's do the "numbers" game, Bob

        @bobiroc

        From a Bing search, I came up with a TechCrunch article that breaks down the iPad app numbers from this past April. TechCrunch quotes Distro's data that indicates there are 75,755 iPad specific apps. (Again, this number is derived from Distro's April, 2011 search results.)

        See link: http://techcrunch.com/2011/04/27/there-are-now-more-free-apps-for-android-than-for-the-ios-platform-distimo/

        Let's assume your opinion that fart related apps number in the hundreds is accurate. (I'm not saying it is but for this demonstration, I'll give you that.) Heck, let's say there are 755 fart related iPad specific apps in the iOS App Store. (I'll let you calculate the percentage of fart apps to the total number of specific iPad apps as a math exercise. Hint. even at 755, the percentage will be small.)

        That leaves 75,000 iPad specific apps left to choose from.

        Now .. let's assume that your opinion that for ever iPad specific app that exists, there are other apps that duplicate its function.

        Heck, let's assume your right and say that every app has nine other apps "just like it". That means, of course, for every Angry Birds app sold, a customer could choose nine other apps that duplicate the Angry Bird experience. Also, for every Apple Numbers App sold, there are nine other spreadsheet apps that duplicate those functions.

        So, if you agree with that 10 percent duplication rule for each app sold in the iTunes Store, this leaves the prospective iPad app customer JUST 7,000 app choices to choose from if that customer wishes to populate his iPad with applications.

        BTW, this absurd exercise just deals with iPad specific apps and not from the total iOS app ecosystem. (I myself use several non universal apps on my iPad. Dragon Search, for example is just one iPhone iOS app I find extremely useful.)

        So, again I caution you, Bob, to revise your estimate of useful apps available to a prospective iPad owner.

        If you continue to publish your opinion that only a "very few useful or relevant" iPad apps are available, than your credibility will indeed suffer.

        Of course, if your definition of "few" means something like 7,000 or so apps, than, OK, I'll agree with that interpretation.
        kenosha77a
      • RE: Few Useful Apps

        @Kenosha

        I was thinking more along the lines of 20,000 - 30,000 apps but still that is small compared to the grand total. I didn't mean to cause big fight. I was just trying to illustrate that quality of the apps is much more important than quantity. What some might find useful will differ from what others find useful.
        bobiroc
      • RE: How will Windows 8 tablets stack up to the competition of the future?

        @john@...

        Are we really going to debate the quality of software on iOS vs. Windows?

        Microsoft knows how to treat developers and it shows. As far as devs are concerned Apple has absolutely nothing going for it other than a first mover advantage. The Windows footprint across PC, tablet, and phone can wipe out that first mover advantage in short order. A developer not making Windows their primary dev platform right now is insane.
        cool8man
      • Where does this happen?

        @cool8man
        On what planet is there a "Windows footprint" across PCs, tablets, and phones? PCs we know about. But there is no such thing as a "Windows footprint" on tablets, and in phones Windows is a 2%-share also-ran.

        It's obvious that Microsoft would like us to think that there is some reason why the dominance of Windows on phones and tablets is inevitable, but I don't see IBM paving the way for them this time, the way IBM did on PCs in 1981.

        Apple is no longer a 98-pound weakling. It's bigger than Microsoft and has more money. Google isn't exactly Netscape, either. Microsoft will get some share of all this business, but they are going to get scuffed up like never before.
        Robert Hahn
      • Robert Hahn: That "windows footprint" is the 800 pound gorrila, waiting

        outside the room, and when it enters the room, it becomes the 800 pound gorilla in the room, which will become a major force to be reckoned with.<br><br>And, Apple may not be a weakling anymore, but it's still not bigger than Microsoft. A bigger market cap is not the same as a bigger corporation. Microsoft is still much bigger and with a bigger penetration into more markets with much bigger diversification than Apple with products and services.
        adornoe
      • The Softies are living in the past

        @adornoe@...
        I hate to bust your bubble, but Apple is the larger corporation. Microsoft's annual revenue was $70 billion. Apple's was $100 billion. Microsoft has $52 billion in cash; Apple has $79 billion. The image of Microsoft as "the 800 pound gorilla" is one near and dear to the hearts of Munchkins and monkey boys, but it's last century's news.

        What Microsoft owns, indisputably, is last century's computing model. The new one is up for grabs. So far its new phone OS has jumped up to 7% market share, and then declined back to 5%. That's not exactly mowing down the competition. As for tablets, right now they have nada, and won't for year. Sorry, but all the huffing and puffing isn't blowing down any houses.
        Robert Hahn
      • Robert Hahn: So, why do you have to label me a &quot;Softie&quot;?

        I call them as I see them, and what Microsoft is doing is a lot more powerful than anything Apple has in the wings.

        Apple may have more money in the kitty, but, when they keep the dividends and haven't paid any for many years, then of course, their cash-on-hand will build up nicely. If Microsoft were to do the same, their cash-on-hand would be a lot higher than Apple's. And, like I said, being the largest in market cap, does not equal being the largest.

        When it comes to products and services, Microsoft has a much bigger lineup, for both, the consumer and business markets. Apple is basically a consumer electronics player, with a PC (Mac) tossed into the mix. As far as diversification is concerned, again, Apple is a very distant second and is not even a significant player in the corporate world as far as computing is concerned.

        I call Microsoft the "gorilla about to enter the room" because of the high expectations about Windows 8, which threatens to "redo" the whole computer and tablets marketplaces. When it comes to the gorilla already in the room, that of course would still be Microsoft, because, they are still the much bigger player and the most significant to the tech world, in the consumer and the business markets.

        If all the products and services from both companies were considered, and then put up at auctions, there is no doubt that, the total for all of Microsoft's products and services would dwarf the total from Apple's offerings.

        Market cap has a lot to do with investors' perceptions. Apple has done quite well with its "i" products, but, it's not going to be enough to carry it forward in the coming years. They're going to have to branch out to something that is really unique, because, the "i" products have a lot of competition already, with a lot more to come, so, that market cap may be in danger.

        Now, I don't shill for anybody, and I don't really care one way or the other who ends up on top in any particular market. What I do and what I plan to do, if I ever get it off the ground, won't be dependent on any one manufacturer or any one software maker, and "it" would use all platforms and all products from all software and hardware makers. In fact, the iPhones and the iPads would be very good fits for what I want to do. But, my idea will work just as well on the larger systems and the larger OSes, including laptops, desktops, netbooks.

        So, basically, I call them as I see them, and I'm a realist.
        adornoe
      • The realist isn't real

        @adornoe@...
        <ul><i>If all the products and services from both companies were considered, and then put up at auctions, there is no doubt that, the total for all of Microsoft's products and services would dwarf the total from Apple's offerings.
        </i></ul><p>Actually there's a lot of doubt about that because the only objective measurements of those things tell us that you're wrong.

        If we consider the total of products and services sold by Microsoft, we know from their annual report that those brought in $70 billion. The products and services sold by Apple brought in $100 billion. Totally objective measurements. You're just plain wrong.

        Oh, you meant the value of their various businesses? That's what market cap is. It's the collective wisdom of millions of investors as to what a company's products and services are worth, and it really is an auction. The world is telling you that you're wrong. It's saying that Apple is worth more than Microsoft.

        Should we take your opinion over that of millions of other people? We can be sure you will, but there's no reason for the rest of us to pay it much mind.
        Robert Hahn
    • It's not early enough...

      @Eggry : the problem I see few enterprises interested on doing apps, mostly because the UI looks so "consumerish".
      cosuna
  • The question is, how will the iPad and Android tablets .....

    ... compete with Windows 8 PCs? Why would you get an Android tablet when Windows 8 tablets are better functionally and aesthetically, support a ton of legacy apps, and will likely have thousands of new metro styled apps at launch? iPads sales may continue to chug along, but if Windows 8 PCs can deliver more than iPads with PC caliber performance and superior aesthetics - along with a robust app ecosystem - iPad sales will take a hit. There is no way Apple and Google will be able to upgrade their respective OSs to match Windows 8 by the time it is released. (In fact it would probably take them several years if MS stood still.) Window 8 is ginormous, and brims with features not present in iOS and Android. There is also going to be <a href=http://microsoft-news.com/xbox-live-user-interface-to-be-the-same-on-windows-8-as-xbox-360/>an Xbox games / entertainment app / hub</a>, which will dramatically expand the Xbox service to hundreds of millions of PCs. I also expect MS will eventually make the case for Windows 8 touch computing on All-in-ones and desktop PCs. This will revolutionize large screen computing. If people thought touch computing was better and more immersive on tablets than on smartphones, they will find it to be much more so large screens. Users will really be sucked in!

    I therefore think MS is much better positioned than Apple and Google, and I expect Windows 8 to be an enormous success when it is released. (Microsoft, please don't screw things up!)
    P. Douglas
    • RE: How will Windows 8 tablets stack up to the competition of the future?

      @P. Douglas
      Totally agree. Moreover, Win 8 has the level of integration with the internet that the other OSes don't have. Maybe they will be up there in a year, but that puts the others on equal footing with Win 8.
      Look, the tablet space is not settled yet and people will need at least a year or 2 more to really understand what they can and cannot do with a tablet.
      The argument here seems to be whether MS has enough time to catch up. I'd argue, that they do have the time, while the author seems argue the opposite. Only time will tell what is true.
      regsrini