Big hurdle facing Windows 8 tablet adoption

Microsoft is working extremely hard to get Windows 8 just right on tablets that consumers love so much. That strategy may not pan out due to one simple thing.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor
iPad over Win8
Image credit: James Kendrick/ ZDNet

Say what you will about Microsoft's shot at the tablet market with Windows 8, there's no denying the guts it took. Completely redesigning the biggest OS in history was guaranteed to ruffle a few feathers. Unfortunately, the big roll of the dice the company's taken with Windows 8 is not panning out so far in the tablet space. There's one particular reason why that may be, and there's not much Microsoft can do about it.

Windows 8 is designed from the ground up to handle both desktop and tablets, but it's the latter category Microsoft most wants to crack. The tablet market has been growing like weeds while the PC/desktop market has been slowing down. Breaking into the tablet space makes perfect business sense but so far Windows 8 hasn't done that.

Consumers aren't looking for tablets running Windows. It is in fact the furthest thing from their minds when they shop for tablets.

No one predicted how fast consumers would take to the iPad when it was introduced. There was undeniably something about the iPad that resonated with buyers that turned it into one of the most successful products we've ever seen. I believe I know what attracts buyers to the iPad and now the iPad mini, and it's something Windows 8 can't give.

Firstly, Windows 8 tablets should do well in the enterprise, that market is already huge for Windows. Many vertical markets will be well served by a tablet running Windows.

The consumer space, which is the giant market that has turned the iPad into such a success, is a different matter. Consumers aren't looking for tablets running Windows. It is in fact the furthest thing from their minds when they shop for tablets.

What they are looking for is an extension of their phone with a screen more comfortable to see. I believe that's a big reason why the iPad was so successful from its first appearance. People saw a way to do what they loved doing on their iPhones on a device that was better to use due to the bigger screen.

Sure the iPad has grown beyond simple use cases but I think those simple activities -- email, web browsing, social networking, and the like, are still what drives buyers to grab iPads. That's why the iPad mini has been flying off the shelves, it has an even more comfortable form to do those phone-like activities than its bigger sibling.

Critics of the iPad have always contended that it is just a "big phone". I believe that is a correct assessment, and the very reason consumers love it. They aren't looking to get work done, something I admit I do all the time, they are looking to do the simple things they do on their phone, but with that slightly bigger screen.

The iPhone-based heritage is what makes the iPad so appealing to the masses, and this is something Windows 8 doesn't have. There's a big difference in bringing the desktop to the tablet and bringing the phone to one. No matter how successful Microsoft will be at improving Windows 8 for the tablet, and version 8.1 looks to be a good step in that direction, it will still be a full desktop on the slate.

Consumers don't want that at any level. Yes, there will be some who like having a "full" system on the tablet, but the number of those buyers are nothing in the big scheme of things. Tablet buyers want to do simple things on their device like they do on their phone. I firmly believe that is the draw of the iPad in particular and Android tablets in general.

This is the big hurdle that Microsoft faces in trying to sell Windows tablets to the masses. Yes, it's more capable than the iPad with iOS, and yes it runs Office. But that's not even close to what the typical consumer wants in a tablet. They just want a big phone screen with apps.

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