Forget Android tablets and the iPad, there are a lot of folks waiting for the much ballyhooed Windows 8 tablets due to hit next year. A lot of folks believe a full computer like the Windows 8 tablets will offer lots more utility than the toy tablets currently available. The reality hasn't hit these folks yet, that these future slates aren't really aimed at the current tablet market.
Microsoft is busy working on Windows 8, especially the new breed of tablet that will take tablets to the next level. That may be the plan, but it's already hard to figure out who will benefit from this effort. There will be both Intel-based Win8 tablets and ARM-based models. This will require two different versions of Windows 8, and more importantly two different app ecosystems.
Those expecting the ARM tablets with Windows 8 to be more capable than Android tablets and the iPad better sit down. Windows 8 tablets using the ARM technology will need entirely new apps to be of any use. This means an entire ecosystem of apps, both third party and from Microsoft, will have to be written for this new platform. Those dreaming of running all of the legacy Windows apps are living in a dream world. Even if developers are willing to port all of the apps users might want, they all need to be totally revamped for the Metro touch interface. This means entirely new apps, even if based on existing user favorites.
While Intel-based Windows 8 tablets can more easily use legacy Windows apps, they too will need to be revamped for touch operation. Those of us who have been using touch Tablet PCs for years can tell you how useless most Windows legacy apps are on those devices. It will be no different on Windows 8 Intel tablets. This means yet another app ecosystem, on top of legacy Windows and ARM Windows.
It's too early to tell how many developers will be willing to do all of this work porting legacy Windows apps to these two new tablet platforms, much less write new ones. Without the ability to predict how the app situation will evolve for Windows 8 tablets, it is impossible to guess which market segments might be attracted to which version of Windows.
Will consumers flock to the ARM Windows 8 tablets? Depends on the apps available. Same thing holds true for the enterprise market. Will it be attracted to the Intel-based Windows 8, the ARM-based, or stick with desktops/laptops? That's impossible to predict without seeing how the apps go on each. It all sounds as clear as mud, but it really is even less clear than that.
Microsoft has forked the app development effort into three streams with Windows 8: conventional desktop/laptop (Intel), touch tablet (Intel), and ARM tablets. Each brings its own demands and requirements to write apps, and developers must guess what type of user they must target with the effort. They have to decide if they are going to develop just one or two versions of their apps, or go all-in with all three. Whatever they do, they will be stuck with supporting the various versions, a major investment.
Like many folks I am anxiously waiting the appearance of Windows 8 tablets. I am a tablet person after all. But I can't see how this will all shake out, and exactly who OEMs should target with them. It is anybody's guess at this point.
Image credit: Flickr user Odi Kosmatos
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