ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley wonders when are we going to start seeing 'reimagined' hardware that will make using the touch-centric Windows 8 less painful and more compelling.
"The problem is," writes Foley, "without these next-gen PCs and tablets, it's hard for me - and I'd think others, too - to really grok how Windows 8 is going to work from running it on PCs and tablets that were designed for a non-touch-centric operating system like Windows 7."
Yeah, that is a bit of a problem. Especially given that we're probably six months or so away from Windows 8 being released. So, where is all this cool new hardware?
Don't hold your breath for it just yet.
We can be certain of one thing. There will be Windows 8-specific hardware, in the form of tablets, ultrabooks and touch-enabled PCs, available at the launch of the operating system. The problem isn't going to be the availability of hardware, but the price point of the hardware.
Touch adds dollars to a system -- especially to the price of a PC, where the market hit rock bottom a long time ago -- and it is adding cost at a time when both consumer and enterprise buyers are most sensitive to price. To make matters worse, OEMs currently have no idea how the mass market will react to Windows 8. It could flop like Vista, in which case demand for touch-enabled hardware is going to be very soggy and OEMs will be left struggling to offload hardware. Alternatively, it could be a runaway success like Windows 7 was, in which case it will be harvest time for the OEMs.
Problem is, failure is still very much an option, and the idea of Windows 8 being a catastrophic failure is a massive turn-off for hardware makers; doubly so when they are expected to pour significant capital into design, development and production of Windows 8-specific systems. Failures of devices such as Motorola's Xoom and RIM's PlayBook are still on the minds of all OEMs.
Another problem is the incumbent desktop and notebook PC. While Microsoft is undoubtedly embracing touch computing with both hands, we're still not sure what the game-plan is here. Microsoft has made a lot of noises about how touch is the future because it is better and easier to use, but many others and I still remain unconvinced.
The keyboard and mouse are far too entrenched in computing to be swiped away overnight. I firmly expect that the majority of systems that will ship with Windows 8 over the new operating system's lifespan will be traditional, non-touch systems featuring keyboards and mice, and the OEMs must also suspect this.
Then there are Windows 8 tablets. It's here I feel that Microsoft's new operating system will shine the brightest, but it's still far too early to say that there's any guarantee of success. The biggest problem facing OEMs here is that they have to deliver a product that competes favorably with the iPad when it comes to a number of metrics - form factor, weight, battery life and, probably most significant of the lot, price.
If the OEMs can't get all their ducks in a row here, it could be a bloodbath.
Why are we not seeing some OEMs take a leap of faith now and start releasing touch-enabled hardware powered by Windows 7 in advance of Windows 8? Simple. That would be a bloodbath too. Windows 7 is an appalling choice for touch-enabled hardware. This means that OEMs don't really have the option of shipping touch-enabled hardware now with the promise of a free upgrade down the line to Windows 8.
Windows 8 will reimagine hardware, just not that much. There will be touch-enabled systems available, but they will command a premium price and appeal to a niche market. The traditional desktop and notebook will continue to be the main platform for Windows 8. There will also be Windows 8-powered tablets, but it remains to be seen just how well these will stack up against the iPad.
Uncertain times lay ahead for the OEMs.