The significant hurdles facing Windows 8 tablets

The significant hurdles facing Windows 8 tablets

Summary: Microsoft is busily working on Windows 8 for tablets, but there are some obstacles that must be considered before they become a success in the market.

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Having used, and I mean really used tablets for a decade, I am excited and concerned about the upcoming Windows 8 tablets. Especially the ones running on a real mobile platform, ARM. I know Microsoft is putting a tremendous effort into getting Windows 8 on ARM as good as can be, but my experience with tablets tells me there are some significant obstacles in the way to make them succeed.

Form Factor

I used one tablet or another full-time for years in my consulting business, and that experience drives home what any tablet needs to have a chance at success in the market. Tablets are used for long periods in the hands, and that means only thin and light slates. Bulky tablets are too uncomfortable to hold for extended sessions, especially once the device starts approaching two pounds in weight.

There are several reasons why the most popular tablets to date have been accepted well in the market, and a comfortable form factor is way up there. When a tablet starts approaching or exceeds that two pound limit, it is increasingly uncomfortable to use and hold. This is a killer in the mainstream market, as no one wants to pay good money for something that is not comfortable to use. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Even if a tablet maker produces a slate that is sufficiently thin and light, the overall size of the device will affect the acceptance in the market. This means even though Windows 8 will support screens bigger than 10 inches, I don't believe there is a market for them. The bigger the screen, the harder a tablet is to hold and use, and it gets back to that comfort factor. While some folks are anxious for Windows 8 tablets to appear with screens of 11 inches or larger, I don't think the mainstream will buy them.

See also: CES 2012: Convertible notebooks are back; Lenovo Yoga: Tablet and Ultrabook in one with Windows 8

We are already seeing convertible notebooks demonstrated, and I think those will not be successful. Those are nothing new, they've existed for years and not attracted the attention of most buyers. The exception may be Windows 8 tablets that detach from a keyboard dock, like the ASUS Transformer Prime running Android, but only if the tablet portion meets all the form factor requirements described in this article. They must be mobile tablets first, with (optional) laptop capabilities second.

Differentiation

There are a lot of tablet makers building Android tablets, and they are very familiar with the need to differentiate product in a crowded market. This will affect the Windows 8 tablet field, too, as OEMs will all be using the same OS.

As more Windows 8 tablets come to market, the need for OEMs to make individual products stand out will be significant. They can achieve this through unique design, but history shows us they will likely try to accomplish this through hardware. This will either be by cramming more hardware in the tablet, or by going with something like a bigger screen.

Cramming more hardware inside won't do them any favors, as the tablet market has already demonstrated it doesn't care about technical stuff. Android tablet makers have been dealing with this already, and discovered that consumers don't line up for the tablet with more stuff inside. This is going to be the case with Windows 8 tablets, so differentiation will be harder to accomplish.

Tablets with bigger screens will fail due to the form factor situation already mentioned. Sure there will be specific cases where a bigger screen on a tablet might be better, but we're talking niche markets. Those are not the target for Microsoft nor OEMs, as tablets in vertical markets have already failed to generate significant sales for years. Any company that actively targets such markets are almost guaranteed to fail, if I may be so bold, as they've already been targeted with Tablet PCs and not successfully.

It will make more sense to differentiate Windows 8 tablets through software, and that's where the development effort better be directed. With tablets due to appear this year, that development effort better already be underway by the major tablet makers.

It is critical that OEMs (and Microsoft) not forget that Windows tablets are nothing new. They have been around for a decade, and have not set any sales records. While Windows 8 tablets running mobile hardware will no doubt be better than those Tablet PCs of old, mainstream consumers will have to be shown that clearly.

Those who think that the main competition for Windows 8 tablets will not be the iPad nor Android tablets better wake up. That is exactly the competition that will affect how well Windows tablets do in the market. If companies are depending on the presence of Windows to be the big selling point, I predict a massive (and rapid) failure in the market. The only market for which that really can be a selling point is the enterprise, and iPads and Android tablets are already appearing there in increasing numbers. Plus, those markets are niche markets compared to the massive mainstream consumer market, and not significant enough to guarantee success.

Pricing

Since Windows 8 tablets will be competing directly with Android and the iPad, price will be very important to guarantee success. Products launching at prices similar to the iPad or Android tablets will not find a receptive audience, and those that debut at higher prices will fail miserably. As mentioned earlier, it's not about the hardware nor technical specifications, it's about ease of use and price point.

I am willing to make a bold prediction that any Windows 8 tablet hitting the market for more than $400 will languish on the shelves. They need to be even cheaper than that to get mainstream consumers to buy them instead of existing alternatives. That may seem harsh but I believe it is accurate.

Conclusion

Windows 8 on tablets is looking really exciting so far, but to get sales numbers that matter they have to take on the iPad and Android tablets head-on. That means similar form factors, better pricing, and have compelling differences that attract buyers.

More of the same in the Windows tablets, which have been around for over ten years, will not cut it. These will need to be mobile tablets first, and Windows computers second. The market that will buy these solely because they run Windows is very small, and won't make a splash as desired.

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

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53 comments
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  • RE: The significant hurdles facing Windows 8 tablets

    I think Windows 8 tablets will reach the same dizzying heights as Windows 7 phones.
    thebaldguy
    • RE: The significant hurdles facing Windows 8 tablets

      @thebaldguy win 8 will blow the baby os. ipad right out of water.
      augustus_rome
      • RE: The significant hurdles facing Windows 8 tablets

        @augustus_rome A Windows tablet is the product you sell the difficult customer you want to be rid of. Sell them just one Windows tablet and they'll bother somebody else from then on.

        That makes it a good product to have in your catalog, but you don't want to be holding more than a handful of a product like that.
        symbolset
    • RE: The significant hurdles facing Windows 8 tablets

      @thebaldguy Another news that I discovered from a site that windows 8 had an sensor feature check by your self here: http://www.technologyfazer.com/windows-8-enhances-sensor-support.html
      nomikhokher
    • RE: The significant hurdles facing Windows 8 tablets

      @thebaldguy mind you, WP 7 will blow the iJunk phone, and the Spyware Google phones, by June of next year. When WP8 come out it's all over for the other two. They will be fighting each other for Microsoft's cast off scraps, like they do on the desktop now lol.
      Stephen-B
      • RE: The significant hurdles facing Windows 8 tablets

        @Stephen-B Run along and play now, little fellow. The adults are talking.
        radleym
  • RE: The significant hurdles facing Windows 8 tablets

    You make some really good points.

    I do fear that these Win tablets will not be priced under $400 without serious compromises on hardware.

    One thing Win tablets have going for it is that Microsoft does have an ecosystem in its Zune software for music, video and apps. Unfortunately, apps for WinArm tablets will be few. At least there will be apps for Wintel tablets.
    mstrsfty
    • Give it away

      [ul][i]One thing Win tablets have going for it is that Microsoft does have an ecosystem in its Zune software for music, video and apps.[/i][/ul]An ecosystem where Microsoft gets the money is only an advantage if Microsoft pays hardware OEMs to put Windows 8 on their tablets. Otherwise, Windows-using hardware OEMs are twice-cursed compared to Apple and Amazon, both of whom get to use "ecosystem" profits to enhance the margins on their hardware.

      If an Apple or Amazon competitor has to pay Microsoft a license fee for each copy of Windows, and then watch the ecosystem profits go to Microsoft, there is no way they can be price competitive with Apple or Amazon.
      Robert Hahn
      • RE: The significant hurdles facing Windows 8 tablets

        @Robert Hahn

        Good point. But its not easy for all OEMs to come up with their own ecosystem. There can only be a handful of ecosystems and developing an ecosystem needs a lot of things. Hardware companies can't do that easily.
        rajeshvuta
      • Much like the Android ecosystem?

        @Robert Hahn
        in which only Google retains any profits from App sales at it's Android marketplace?

        Yet the alternative is for OEM's like Dell, HP, or Acer to create their own ecosystems in the hope that people will purchase enough of their products to make the investment in that ecosystem profitable.

        They would also have to contend with the fact that should their ecosystem be inferior to that of their competitor's , then they would loss sales to their competitors.
        Tim Cook
    • RE: The significant hurdles facing Windows 8 tablets

      @mstrsfty The Windows application catalog is quite uniform about one thing: they all have user interfaces that are quite inappropriate for tablets. They require fine motion recognition and activation from decades of mouse/keyboard interaction.

      And that defeats any argument for W8/Intel app leverage on tablets. It just isn't there. The vast Microsoft Windows application ecosystem just doesn't fit the tablet user interface paradigm. It will be frustrating to the few who dare try it.
      symbolset
    • RE: The significant hurdles facing Windows 8 tablets

      @mstrsfty

      This is the part that I think most have missed.
      That the Tablet wont just be a tablet. It has the ability to be a full funcioning OS when seated at a workstation and keyboard. It does not remote into a virtual WINDOWS environment to get work done.

      The Author, ( sorry but you did) missed that point when saying that people dont care about the hardware. They do. When you only need 1 device, to use a portable battery sipping tablet, and a full functional workstation... the ability to select hardware or core usage IS IMPORTANT.

      I mean seriously, only a mactard would think that using 1 device ( tablet for 600 bucks) and MACBOOK ( 1200 bucks) - to use as a desktop and remote into a hosted windows platform ( about 1000 bucks for work hardware and licensing per user) to get work done ---- is a good value. Not when you can have 1 device that is 1000 bucks and have virtual apps ( like MS APPV) be used to push to end devices, acts as a tablet and workstation.
      JABBER_WOLF
  • RE: The significant hurdles facing Windows 8 tablets

    Microsoft tablets have an advantage that Android tablets don't - a unified ecosystem. If a MS tablet can be well intergrated into this environment (in much the same way the iPad wirelessly is intergrated into Apple's ecosystem) and MS ADHERE's to all the suggestions James stipulates in his blog (although the 400 dollar price ceiling might be hard to achieve) than Win 8 tablets will be a huge market success.
    kenosha77a
  • RE: The significant hurdles facing Windows 8 tablets

    The main problem is apps, Android and iOS already have a huge amount of apps and people who buy a Win8 tablet will expect to be able to use desktop Windows programs but they won't be able to on ARM tablets, or only a small amount of apps.
    explodingwalrus
    • RE: The significant hurdles facing Windows 8 tablets

      @explodingwalrus From what we know so far, its correct that ARM-based Windows 8 tablets won't be able to run legacy Windows apps that are built upon the Win32 API. Windows 8 on ARM will be a legacy-free environment.

      If you require apps that need to run in the Win32 environment, then you'll need to purchase a tablet, ultrabook, desktop, etc. that has an X86 (AMD or Intel) processor
      smulji
      • RE: The significant hurdles facing Windows 8 tablets

        @smulji

        Two possible solutions to the app problem. Emulator to run WP7 apps on the tablets or port Bluestack to run on either version tablet to run Android apps.

        There appears to be plenty of developer interest in Win8 tablets, but it will take some time for apps to appear.
        mstrsfty
  • Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish

    Windows tablets over the last 10+ years, suffered from two major problems: they had an unsuitable UI, and they lacked an app ecosystem. These shortcomings are addressed in Windows 8.

    People are still going to want large screens for their PCs, and a great many will not be satisfied with 10" or smaller sized screens. Many of these people will be prepared to pay the price for their large screens, and sacrifice the mobility advantages of smaller screen sizes, for larger working areas. Generally if you want to do productivity type activities on your PC, the bigger the screen, the better. Many people will therefore simply handle these tablet PCs similar to the way they handle laptops: they will move the devices to where they want to work, then they will sit down and work on them at those locations. If people want Windows 8 tablets they can take with them and use anywhere while on the go, then they can get light weight versions of tablets - which will likely require them to sacrifice screen size.

    Windows 8 is about remaking the PC to fulfill a range of needs in new ways. Someone doing spreadsheets, engineering, programming, or creative work, is not going to want to do so on a tiny 10" screen. E.g. I can see many DJs each using 1 or more Windows 8 tablets with screen sizes 15" or more, to be able to do their work - eschewing the iPad, because its screen just too small, and it lacks the horsepower to do so.
    P. Douglas
    • No sale

      You summarize well the argument many Windows proponents make, which goes something like this:

      1) Windows tablets will be for people who want to do RealWork(tm).
      2) People who want to do RealWork(tm) will want to do it on devices that have no keyboard because, oh wait... no, they'll want a docking station with a keyboard. That's it, a keyboard. And a mouse.
      3) But even though they need a device with a keyboard, a mouse, a flat surface to set things on, and an ergonomic chair, they will buy tablets because, umm, well, they just will. Windows on tablets will be a big success!

      I don't buy it. Once you start talking RealWork(tm), keyboards, ergonomic chairs, big screens, and probably printers too if you'd admit it, you may as well sign up for an inch-thick, 3 pound laptop... if not a desktop computer.

      It's as if the Windows advocates are trying to shoehorn a desktop computer into a tablet form factor for the sole reason that Windows dominates desktop computing, and if they can re-define tablet computing to be just like desktop computing, they can convince themselves that Windows will be a big hit on tablets. When if you listen to what they're saying, it's ludicrous.
      Robert Hahn
      • I believe tablets in the office will work

        @Robert Hahn,

        Unless someone does heavy writing, I don't see the necessity for a physical keyboard in metro apps. This means if someone uses e.g. Powerpoint, Excel, a browser, creativity oriented apps like MS Expression apps, Adobe apps, Autodesk apps, video authoring apps, and countless others, they will be able to get by without a physical keyboard. Also in touch mode, people will likely be using styluses in lieu of mice. Therefore I believe most metro productivity apps will be able allow people to be productive in touch mode - while using soft keyboards and styluses.

        Now the above may help bias people to stay in touch mode (particularly on Windows ARM platforms) - even while doing writing activities in word processors. People could increasingly use soft keyboards with word prediction engines, and maybe innovations like those seen in the LiquidKeyboard concept (liquidkeyboard. org), and avoid physical keyboards altogether. There will be diehards who won't let go using physical keyboards easily; but my guess is that they will be a dying minority.

        Another thing you should remember, is that tablets are already being adopted by many businesses now.
        P. Douglas
      • Well, how many people NEED a tablet (any tablet)?

        @Robert Hahn : I'd say, not many. That's to say, if people already have desktop or laptop computers, a tablet may be seen as an expensive luxury. That makes it a smallish market. And hence, $400 would indeed be too much. For these folks there'd be a tipping point around $225.
        And I agree, it WOULDN'T do for RealWork. Tablets are inferior.
        peter_erskine@...