Most significant mobile tech of 2013: Windows 8.1

Most significant mobile tech of 2013: Windows 8.1

Summary: In a year awash in smartphones, tablets, and other mobile tech, the release of Windows 8.1 is the most significant arrival of it all.

(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

This year has seen a lot of things happening in mobile tech, from the rise of wearables to the evolution of most mobile platforms. Of all that has appeared in 2013, the most significant advancement in mobile tech is the release of Windows 8.1.

That proclamation may be surprising to some, but it's the event with the most far-reaching implications on mobile tech, more than anything we've seen this year. Windows 8.1 has a direct bearing on the direction of mobile platforms, and with a big potential impact on both mobile tech and Microsoft.

The appearance of Windows 8.1 is more significant than the original release of Windows 8. The latter was the result of Microsoft's starting over with Windows, and as a company. The folks in Redmond saw the writing on the tech wall, and it clearly said mobile is the future. That's why it basically threw out earlier versions of Windows, although they are buried deep inside Windows 8, and started fresh with a version that could bridge the mobile divide.

The most impressive thing about Windows 8.1 is not how well it addressed the shortcomings of Windows 8, rather how fast Microsoft did it.

As impressive an effort Windows 8 was, it fell short in addressing the mobile nature it was intended to have. It did some things well, others not so much, and even Windows enthusiasts were complaining about various features of the new OS.

Yes Virginia, Windows 8.1 is a mobile OS

While updates are the natural order of things in the OS world, make no mistake, Windows 8.1 was largely created to address those things people didn't like about the first release. It was intended to make the OS work better on tablets, as mobile is very important to both Windows and Microsoft.

In that effort Microsoft succeeded, as Windows 8.1 has turned the platform into a good one for tablets. It does so while also becoming a good engine for notebooks, the other side of the mobile coin. The update has turned Windows into a valid competitor in the mobile space, while keeping it a solid platform for running PCs of the non-mobile variety.

Besides bringing Windows into the mobile age, Windows 8.1 is significant for a couple of other major reasons. First, it is a strong basis for Microsoft's new devices and services mission. That mission brings hardware to mind, like the Surface tablets, but for that to work it must be built on Windows. That is why Windows 8.1 is so important not only to the mobile space, but to Microsoft in particular. With the latest version, the company has strengthened its foundation for the devices it will build.

Secondly, Windows 8.1 is equally important to the PC segment, as OEM partners of Microsoft need a strong OS to make products desirable. The latest version of Windows handles tablets and notebooks so much better than before, so OEMs can start taking advantage of that and making it a selling point. It's especially good that Windows 8.1 runs nicely on tablets of all sizes, and we'll start seeing those appear in greater numbers. That's good for Microsoft, OEMS, enterprises, and consumers.

The most impressive thing about Windows 8.1 is not how well it addressed the shortcomings of Windows 8, rather how fast Microsoft did it. Long a company known to slowly change its software products over many years, Microsoft not only listened to customers but took complaints to heart in a very short period. This is almost shocking for Microsoft, and a sign of the way things will be done going forward. This alone makes Windows 8.1 one of the biggest things we've seen this year.

Arguments can be made that other mobile tech events in 2013 were more significant: the appearance of smartwatches, Google Glass, Chromebooks, KitKat, and iOS7 to name a few. Those are all important but in this writer's view none will have the far-reaching impact as Windows 8.1 will in the mobile space. It is even more signficant than the release of the original Windows 8 for the reasons detailed. It will affect tablets, laptops, consumers, and the enterprise, and that makes it a very big deal.

See related: 

Topics: Mobility, Tablets, Windows 8

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  • Who are you ...

    ... and what have you done with James Kendrick? Zdnet, it appears you have an imposter in your midst!

    I think I like this imposter. :-)
    P. Douglas
  • How much...

    did Microsoft pay you for this rubbish?
    • Apparently more then you did for him not to write it

  • It MAY be significant...

    but only to Microsoft.

    Nobody of significance wants it. NASA doesn't. DoD doesn't. Stock markets don't....

    Seems only astroturfers want it.
    • Since when..

      is NASA significant? And, realistically, what does "Stock markets don't..." even mean?
  • Wow, how much did MSFT pay for those props?

    Just astoundingly unbelievable. Then again, I thought you would have given that honor to the obamacare website.
  • I can just hear Mick Jagger singing...

    " make a grown man cryyyyyyy....."
  • James is having a senior moment

    James, did you forget that 'significant mobile tech' OS isn't on Windows Phones? While Windows 8.1 made a few cosmetic changes, it's still a bifurcated Win32/WinRT mess that can run on tablets but not on phones. Also, where does Windows RT fit into this fantasy? People yak about the fragmentation of Android but "Windows" has to take the cake for that.
  • MS Bashing

    Bashers will bash... Its what they do. Microsoft came come out with something ground breaking that will change our computing lives and people will still bash.

    Windows 8.1 is definitely leading they way. They may not have the top market share, but eyes will start to open up and more people will cross over back to windows.

    I write this comment on my iPhone while watching a video on my Windows 8.1 27" AIO and also while waiting for a new app to download on my Samsung Galaxy Android. I like to look at the best of all worlds and use it to my advantage. Each OS has it's goods and bad and usefulness.

    But for 2013, Windows 8.1 has the most significant technogical advances/changes. Keep in mind that it's very easy to be the years most signicant technology when the previous years it totally blew because of its lack of mobility advances amongst other things. Android and iOS can't fix something that ain't broken. But then again iOS and Android lack the consistency across different devices. There is no iOS for laptops and desktops. And android is all over the place when it comes to the devices they are installed on. So many different versions tailored to specific platforms by different manufacturers. Google and Apple need to work on consistency. I like being able to use any device without having to relearn how to use the OS due to differences caused by manufacturers(speaking mostly of
    Android here).
    KillBot Project
    • Sorry, but Win 8 and Win 8.1 is more of a 'Me too' tech than anything else.

      Much of what's in there has been tried in various versions of Unix and Linux years ago - and much of it dropped from PCs but moved to what is used in Android.
      Deadly Ernest
      • Android was also a "Me Too" tech at one time...

        Just because a player is later to a market segment does not mean it will never be a significant player. Android was later to the phone and tablet market and frankly iOS was better for years till about Jelly Bean release and now Android has taken over in units sold and has polarity in the app store.

        Personally I don't think Windows Phone will ever be significant (not a prediction, just my hunch) but frankly I can see Windows taking over the tablet markets just like Android did because the reason to have a neutered OS like iOS or Android was because that's only what the current hardware could run. Even last year ARMs was struggling to run RT well and the early ATOM processors were weak and sluggish. Now with 8.1 and Baytrail, companies like Dell are showing what can be done with this platform on a cheap 8" form factor that costs a little more then a Nexus 7.

        This is significant. You can just think the US but the world market in that in developing countries and ones close to developed (like Brazil), people can afford a full computer that also serves as their mobile tablet.

        Personally I am surprised that Apple has not optimized Mac OS for touch yet. ubuntu is working on this as well.
        Rann Xeroxx
        • Actually, I think anything running Win RT is going to have some serious

          issues once they get outside the major US cities due to the high costs of the way it needs constant wireless Internet connectivity, also the heavy limitations on its use will turn a lot of people away as its EULA basically says Microsoft will spy on you all the time and it's only for use as a student device since you can't use the existing version of MS Office on it for any commercial use or load a full version of Office on it.

          Being an Australian I'm very much aware of how the market is very different once you leave metropolitan USA - they have a much better wireless coverage and unlimited data plans, we don't; that's why much of the consumer mobile device ideas don't work here.
          Deadly Ernest
          • Misinformed a bit?

            The company I work for pays for Office, so I can use my Office RT all I want for work purposes. That is how the license works... do some research.
        • What I think is about happen...

          Windows 8, 8.1 is already like 10% of the desktop-tablet market... What's that like 10% of a billion devices running Windows 8,8.1? After black Friday and Christmas who knows what that number could be, 15-20%... That's like 200 million devices.. Developers are going to have to pay attention to that.. And we all know how simple it is to make a Metro app into a Windows Phone app.. At least I think that's Microsoft strategy...
    • Excellent....

      User rules!!
      a hobbit
  • As significant as the leap from Windows 3.0 to version 3.1

    In retrospect (and considering my age - very retrospect), if lessons from that era are applied to the present, Windows 8.1 should have the same impact that Windows 3.1 had. That is to say, a software OS that showed promise but was fatally flawed compared to it's rivals from that era matured with it's "service pack" update into a highly useable and important OS for computer users worldwide.

    To be frank, James' choice for most significant tech achievement for 2013 was more than a bit of a surprise.

    But I understand his choice in view of historical precedent.
    • My vote for most significant tech achievement of 2013

      To quote Agam Shah in a PC World article, "Qualcomm has introduced a mobile chip that will play back 4K video on smartphones and tablets in addition to supporting the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi."

      And, "The Snapdragon 805 chip, announced on Wednesday, could be Qualcomm’s fastest performing chip. The quad-core chip operates at a clock speed of 2.5GHz and has the latest Adreno 420 graphics engine, which can process 4K or UltraHD video at a 3840 x 2160-pixel resolution."

      Of course, I have yet to see any actually mobile devices using this chipset but, non-the-less, that little chip could jump start affordable 4K worldwide usage.
      • At what point do extra pixels become overkill?

        I'm not disagreeing with your pick, but rather seeing the point about 4K beyond thrown around.

        For smartphones and tablets, I just don't see the point of cramming more and more pixels into the screens when the human eye can't notice any improvement.
        • One has to look at the big picture - no pun intended - Emacho

          Notice I mentioned "jump start" the 4K cottage industry. It's the old chicken and the egg story - which NEEDS to come first.

          If SoC technology can bring 4K capability to the tablet and smartphone industry without incurring a cost penalty than vendors will eventually start supplying the 4K content for that industry.

          When that 4K content is readily available (or the infrastructure to produce 4K content has been established) than large (and cheap) 4K Ultra HDTV sets might become mainstream.

          When that happens (five years or so) consumers will benefit.

          Than perhaps the dream (for some) of a Living Room UHDTV and super computer combo will have arrived.

          I wouldn't mind surfacing the net (via voice input or advanced gesture controls like "Minority Report") on the same 80" plus living room entertainment display hardware used in watching my movie and TV show content on.

          They say great things start can begin with humble origins. Interactive 4K UHDTV sets might trace their linage back to a mobile Qualcomm chip someday.
          • I do understand the possible futures of it

            and how TV manufacturers need something to push on consumers now the 3D television has failed, but I'm not sure there is going to be the benefit.

            Maybe on televisions, maybe. Yet I don't see the need on computers, even as media pushing devices.

            Not that the Qualcomm chip isn't fantastic.