Rethinking the viability of the Windows 8 tablet

Rethinking the viability of the Windows 8 tablet

Summary: Windows 8 is designed for tablets first according to the flood of reviews on the web since it was RTM. As excited as I am for the Windows 8 tablet, the more I think about it the harder a purchase is to justify.

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JK Win8 tablet question

I went gaga over the Surface tablets when Microsoft announced them, especially the RT model. I was so impressed I quickly admitted I will be buying one as soon as it is available. Now that I've had time to think it through I am finding it hard to build a user case for either model.

It doesn't help there will be two versions of the Windows 8 tablet to choose from with vastly different benefits. The Intel-based Pro models will run everything you can throw at them, both Metro apps written just for Windows 8 and also legacy (desktop) apps. They are the one-size-fits-all model of the Windows 8 tablet world.

The ARM-based Windows RT tablets will only run Metro apps (I am still calling them that even though Microsoft won't), leaving the huge selection of those desktop apps behind. That means they will only run hundreds of new apps instead of the tens of thousands of existing Windows apps. That's a pretty big handicap compared to the Windows 8 Pro tablets.

We've recently seen how having few apps available can handicap the adoption of tablets with the HP TouchPad and the BlackBerry Playbook. No matter how nice a tablet might be, the first time you need a particular type of app to get things done and there isn't one available you're dead in the water.

Even with the vast library of legacy apps the Pro tablets are handicapped in their own ways. It is expected the Windows 8 Pro tablets will cost hundreds of dollars more than the RT counterparts (and the competition). That puts them more in the price range of a serious PC and not just a companion device. That will require a solid user case for the Pro tablet for me. I can justify the lower cost of an RT tablet without a real business need.

As more information is coming out about these tablets the Pro tablets have an even bigger handicap compared to the RT models: battery life. While I expected Intel-based hardware to have slightly worse battery life than ARM tablets, it seems the hit may be bigger than I thought. 

In a recent interview with Joanna Stern of ABC News, Lenovo (who is working on both Pro and RT devices) admitted that the Intel hardware in its Yoga hybrid tablet would have half the battery life of the RT model they are also working on. That's not a pure tablet but is similar enough to make rough battery comparisons.

Existing ARM tablets (iPad, Android) easily get 10-12 hours of battery life. The 5-6 hours Lenovo is indicating with Intel inside is nowhere near enough for a tablet in my experience. That's an especially big hit for a tablet that costs hundreds more than the one with better battery life.

I don't have a business need for a Pro tablet so the RT model looks like the way to go for me personally. Unfortunately the lack of apps is a big disadvantage compared to the ARM tablet competitors. Both the Android and iOS app stores have thousands of good apps available. The light selection expected for the Windows RT tablets is not compelling. 

There is the inclusion of Office on the Windows RT tablets that the competition lacks, but is that important enough to offset the lack of other apps? Maybe for some but for me that's not that big a deal. I don't use Office apps much on the desktop so not having it on the tablet is not a deal breaker.

I use office suites on both Android and iOS which do all I need when it comes to office apps. Having genuine Office on my tablet is not that critical for me personally, so it's hard to make a compelling argument in favor of the Windows RT tablet based on Office.

The viability of a Windows 8 tablet is coming down to this simple set of criteria (according to reviews of Windows 8 and other information becoming available):

  1. Windows 8 Pro tablet: much more expensive, real Office apps, much worse battery life
  2. Windows 8 RT tablet: good battery life, real Office apps, cheaper, very few apps

I am sure I will be buying a Surface tablet due to the nice hardware design and to give it a good test with Windows 8. It won't be because I expect it to do anything the competition doesn't already do. Even as heavily as I use tablets, it's not clear what Windows 8 brings to the discussion. Yet.

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Topics: Windows, Apps, Microsoft, Tablets

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185 comments
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  • A classic James Kendrick article

    A classic post from the author of these other classic recent articles:

    - "Windows 8 Pro tablets: Not a good laptop replacement" (9 August)
    - "It's not a race to the bottom for tablets, it's strictly an iPad market" (1 August)
    - "Nokia: It may be time to turn out the lights"
    - "Microsoft: Of course we threw Windows Phone 7 buyers under the bus" (3 July)
    - "5 good iPad apps worth checking out" (29 June)
    - "5 Great iPad Apps you don't want to miss" (28 June)
    - "This week at Microsoft: Throwing everybody under the bus" (21 June)
    - "Why I may buy a new MacBook Pro"
    - A few articles which don't live up to their pro-MS/pro-Win8 sounding headlines.
    - Etc... You get the idea. ;)

    Now, let's turn our attention to the article above.

    "As excited as I am for the Windows 8 tablet"

    This could be perceived as sarcasm. I didn't think he was excited about Windows 8 or devices running it.

    "the more I think about it the harder a purchase is to justify"

    This could be perceived as disingenuous. I can't imagine him starting from a position of wanting to justify it. Was this wording meant to try and make the tone sound more objective, like a pro-Microsoft commentator, when in fact this is arguably an anti-Microsoft commentator?
    Tim Acheson
    • Kendrick is just earning bonus from Apple

      Nothing more !

      All tablets started with low number of applications, so not sure why that is a big issue. The developer community is strong and the top 20 key application will be available at launch.
      ninjacut
      • Plenty more

        I rarely post here anymore due to the general bias and immaturity of those here (some things never change), to ninjacut - back when the tablet market was young and all of them had low numbers of applications, I would have agree with you. But to say that any newcomers can still succeed with a low number of starting applications when the likes of the Apple app store and the android market are well established is ludicrous. The developer community is not that strong for newbies when given the choice - Do I develop for tablets that have millions of users or for tablets with hundreds of users? Microsoft is so late to the game it's pathetic, and they will fail miserably trying to compete. Steve should have been canned long ago for his inability to lead.
        rpsin
        • Windows 8 Pro tablets would have built-in software advantage...

          over both iOS and Android. Many software vendors allow you to install software on two devices usually a desktop and laptop. If users buy the Windows Pro 8 tablet, they will already have a bunch of software they can install on it.

          The RT version will have a much tougher time. I don't know why Microsoft even bothers with that considering that the likes of Apple is heading towards a unified OS between MacOS X and iOS. By going with RT and Windows 8 Pro, Microsoft seems to be heading in the opposite direction when they don't need to. If they just stick with Windows Pro 8, they could be way ahead of the game as long as they keep working on extending battery life and reducing OS overhead.
          laequis
          • unified os

            I think MS is doing just that and taking a bold step. Many corporate giants cling to thier product line and marketing long after a decline in sales and profits out of fear, at least MS it taking a bold pro-active stance. Your solution is of course the best and I'm sure they would impliment it if they could, I use Brew os on my LG rumour and bring a tethered Windows 7 computer with. I would of course prefer not to use two OS and better yet not to have two mobile internet devices been shopping for a smart phone and will wait for RT. I like the small size and keyboard of the semi-smart phone but hated the OS till I got used to it, on the other hand I don't want a large heavy, battery sucking smart phone all the time just for maps, internet access, and occcasional, email, texting etc, but I certainly want an integrated OS interface.
            I would like to see MS or 3rd party develop a keyboard with a mini GUI so I can use the Win8 interface from the keyboard, I'm thinking an expanded mouse area, perhaps in the numbers section that I never use anyways, or a separte window in the midle or bottom of the keyboard, I'm a big fan of split keyboards anyways I hate when my fingers get in shoving match over which get to hang out near T,G,B,Y,H and N. Just my opinion by someone who uses a desktop most of the time buts needs a smart phone almost daily and a laptop for indor convienience and a necessity on infrequent trips for political reasons and Bank fraud investigation/law enforcement collaboration.
            gregzdnet
          • The WinRT version

            is the only one that matters.

            The pro version is just a touch enabled Windows 8 laptop/Ultrabook. The pro will NOT be a tablet when it comes to what consumers want. It will be heavier, hotter, shorter battery life etc.

            The ARM tablet/Windows RT is what matters. It will be what someone looking at an iPad or a Android tablet will compare the RT tablet to. Lack of apps matters at this point in the game.
            JeveSobs
          • ....

            If so then why would you buy the windows tablet whn the established android and apple tablets offer so much more and tons more apps at less cost? the fact of windows 8 metro tiles is not a selling point and in fact the biggest detracter of the windows tablet. If you can not run full on windows apps and legacy then an android tablet would be a way better way to go since you can get nice new android tablets for under $200 now adays.
            Fletchguy
          • why

            Because you are a windows user and believe a unified experience might be better than using Windows 7, have an ipad and using Galaxy s3. The idea is to have all window 8 devices. This is the theory, however if MS do not go in to high gear and make sure that every single important app is available on launch they will truly struggle. They will need to invest 100's if millions to get it to this point.

            They will also need to be very cheap. Very cheap, like they did with the Xbox. Lose on the device gain on the on-sell opportunities. They are up against it, especially with the utter failure of Win 7 phones. Once bitten twice...
            ttremeth
          • Under $200!

            You may be able to get a new Android tablet for under $200, but I doubt I would call it nice. Probably underpowered small.
            Patrick Worrall
          • Cost

            High cost for the Intel based pro is relative. Of course the demo model is as nice and up-market as it can possibly be. But this is commodity hardware, you're going to pay Chinese-netbook-money for a 'pro' Win 8 tablet before the next year is out.

            That leaves battery life. 5-6 hours is less than a tablet, but on par with just about any ultrabook out there. It's an "Ultrabook+" with an additional touch interface more than anything else.
            Han CNX
        • Ninjacut - Window Tablets

          If you look at how the Window phones have suceeded in the market place today, I don't see how the new Windows Tablet will be the viewed in any different light. For me as I see it its a two horse race Apples iOS and Googles Andriod. I see Windows 8 as the Nokia of today, previously a market leader but with little vision and tunnelled marketing.
          darrell.hixon@...
          • .....

            I agree with your comment whole heartedly especially when Microsoft took the windows out of the os people wanted on a tablet. If it was true windows tweaked for touch use on a tablet you might have gained some ground but with this new os and push I don't see any reason to want one and Im a windows guy but on tablets its android or bust since ios sucks so bad.
            Fletchguy
        • Need for apps is a Non-sequitur logical fallacy.

          Ipad succeeds because it has billions of apps, windows tablets (RT especially) will fail due to lack of apps. Morons. Apple has spent billions ensuring good = a bunch of apps in the minds of consumers. This despite the fact that 90% of iPad activity is mail and browsing.
          It's like Ford convincing the public that 1. People should expect their vehicles to tow 2 tons or more, 2. The Prius can't tow 2 tons, therefore the Prius is bad and will fail.

          Apple has brainwashed many. Drink the koolaid people, drink the koolaid?

          Or, realize that RT will work for most, and business minded or anyone married to a PC app will do well with Pro. This without a single new app being developed.
          Kelly Murphy
          • To add a bit more to your argument...

            (If you don't mind)
            There is more and more talk of HTML5 becoming the next method for apps, and those apps will be platform independent. If this is the case, which I believe it will be, then Microsoft took a great direction in assuring that IE10 supports GPU acceleration, and it may be possible the 'app-store' becomes an outdated mode in the near future anyhow.
            TechNickle
          • Apps are everything

            My sister is an iPad app addict. Once you surf and check your email you will of course want more.
            johnsmith9875
          • .....

            Lol too bad she has an ipad since thats about all she will be able to do with it. Were you mad apple raped her when she bought it?
            Fletchguy
          • Pathetic response (re: Fletchguy)

            There are other ways to put down the iOS system (near-total lock-in, a whole raft of proprietary cruft, etc.) and yet you choose a pathetic, erroneous way to denigrate it.

            What are you supposed to use a tablet for if not using apps on it? Even the quintessential music player, camera, and all that are apps to begin with.

            What, do you wash dishes with your tablet? Use it as a cup holder? Back-scratcher? I would really be interested for the uses you mention of your tablet that is NOT driven by some app. Please enlighten us all with your infinite wisdom.
            vinzer_x
          • not really

            I don't think that ipad succeeds because of apps only. They succeed because of the experience. This is where Android has not learnt from it major mistakes. Although they are both Linux, IOS is a good experience. It is generally smooth on t he new ipads. (not always) Where Android has only just got that smooth butter experience.

            The Surface will need to be very very sexy and smooth. Simple as that with a decent amounts of popular apps right away promoted for free. They will need to give away the apps and the device to succeed.
            ttremeth
          • you dont seems very smart so I will explain slowly to you

            why you are wrong
            1
            ipad succeeded, not because people are morons, stupid, idiots, brainwashed, etc; ipad succeeded because, from the moment it was launched, it was a very , very good device.
            with a modern OS optimized for the device, not like Windows ReTard, delivered with an OS that run like a snail because the OS was optimized for market domination, not for consumers proficiency (same as Kin, where you had to wait a couple of seconds between every key input).

            2
            contrary to what many clueless fanboys are claiming, apps are important. You see, MS fanboys try to make you think that the OS is the only thing you need, plus, of course, Microsoft Office; plus Microsoft Exploder; plus Microsoft antivirus. But, an intelligent person knows there is a lot more is needed, so the Windows Retard just doesn't cut for any modern mobile computing experience.
            theo_durcan
      • Tablet Liabilities

        The tablets have two liabilities...............one is that they are too large to be convenient, the other is that they are too small to be good data entry devices without an external keyboard. The next stage of development needs to be developing a display that is tiny, but fools the eye into seeing a large display............ and in conjunction with that development of a data entry system that is entirely new and does not require keys on a pad, or board, or voice. Both entirely new and revolutionary technologies. The tablet is NOT the ultimate form factor for mobile computing, it is a temporary step in the evolution of computing. The smartphone, not the tablet is the evolutionary turning point in personal computing. You can rest assured that retinal projection and thought based data entry are already being experimented with in the skunk works at Apple and others. You can also be sure that they will NOT be released until they have milked current technology for all it is worth! Like the multifunction printers, they will drag one rabbit out of the hat at a time, milking the consumer, and keeping something in reserve to wow us the next time. For now they wow us with thinner, lighter, better resolution, brighter colors, Siri, etc, making millions from each new generation! P.T. Barnum famously said "There's a consumer born every minute"!!
        **owly**