Are consumers expected to take Windows 8 ARM tablets mainstream?

Ultimately, it comes down to price. If that's wrong, and Microsoft is relying on consumers to take tablets mainstream, they could be toast.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

Who's going to be the people buying these Windows 8 ARM tablets when they hit the shelves? I've come across some commentary over the past couple of days that suggests that these tablets will be aimed at consumers as opposed to enterprise.

Two examples of such commentary: first by ZDNet's Larry Dignan:

Consumers will have to drive the Windows 8 bus. I'm looking forward to Windows 8 tablets only because the Android army has botched numerous attempts to storm the Apple iPad beaches. Windows 8 could be a tablet juggernaut. However, the tablet story for Windows 8 is also a show-me tale. Show me consumers will buy a Windows 8 tablet over an iPad. Show me Windows 8 tablets can be a viable No. 2. Show me I won't be a technology leper if I carry a Windows 8 tablet around.

Here's the second, by Paul Thurrott over on Winsupersite:

WOA (i.e. tablets) are for consumers and x86/x64-based PCs are for business. And what I mean by that is that, for the vast majority of consumers--i.e. not you and I, not the power users--that the tablet-based Metro UI will be the primary user experience and that it has the added benefit of the occasional desktop use. For power users, content creators, developers, IT admins, many office workers and so on, we have the desktop, with occasional forays into Metro.

Oh dear. I see a big problem ahead for Microsoft with this strategy.

First, there's no proven market for Windows tablets, in particular when it comes to consumers. Yes, I know that iPads sell as fast as Apple can make them, but a market for the iPad doesn't automatically mean a market for Windows 8 tablets. Did a huge demand for the iPod signify a massive market for high-end media players? No. Sure, there was a low-end, low-margin market, but this market pretty much killed itself by running headlong to a race to the bottom when it came to price -- and most of the time, quality too.

If consumers are going to have to carry the can with regards to Windows 8 tablets, then Microsoft better have a plan of action as to how it plans to pull this off. Windows 8 tablets powered by ARM architecture will be a tough sell because they're not PC as people know and love them. It might say 'Windows,' and it might look like Windows -- a bit, at any rate -- but in terms of legacy support, it's not Windows.

Another possible speed bump is apps, or the lack thereof. Microsoft is building a whole new platform, and a platform needs apps to draw users in. The problem with that is, developers aren't interested in investing time and effort into something that might wither and die on the vine.

You might be thinking that Microsoft will have no difficulties at all in convincing developers to come on board and build apps, but history tells us different. One example is desktop gadgets. Yes, they still exist even in Windows 8, but they never really took off, mostly because developers didn't bother making compelling gadgets. If the same thing happens with Metro on Windows 8, Microsoft could be in serious trouble.

It's interesting to pause here for a moment and note how Apple built the iOS ecosystem. When the first iPhone and iPod touch was released, apps didn't exist beyond what was already installed on the device. Apple first built a buoyant user-base, and then took that to developers who pounced on it. No hard sell required.

While the lack of legacy support and limited apps might be an issue, the biggest issue facing Windows 8 tablets will be price. While I feel that enterprise might pay a premium to have Windows 8 on tablets just for the simplicity and integration with existing services that Windows would offer, consumers won't pay over the odds for Windows hardware. As far as consumers are concerned there are two price points. At the top end we have the premium price point set by Apple for the iPad, and the mid-range price point has been set by the low-cost 16GB iPad 2. All that's left is the low-end, and Amazon has that with the Kindle Fire.

If Windows tablets come with a bigger price tag than the iPad then they're dead in the water. People don't buy tablets based on features; they look at the price tag. If Microsoft wants to be in with a chance, it had better make sure that the price is right.

Ultimately, unless you're Apple, selling a tablet comes down to price. Get that wrong, and the device is more than likely toast.


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