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Mapping The Mobile Landscape: The Windows 8 tablet death match

Written by Rich Fiscus (Google+) @ 14 Oct 2012 10:45 User comments (10)

Mapping The Mobile Landscape: The Windows 8 tablet death match In last week's installment of our series on mobile devices and the companies who make them looked at Microsoft's efforts to launch an ARM-powered Windows 8 platform (Windows RT) and its synergy with Windows Phone 8. Of course those are only two pieces of the Windows 8 puzzle. The other piece, and arguably the biggest one financially, is the standard x86 version of the OS; the one officially called Windows 8.
At first glance the decision to support ARM processors in Windows 8 seemed to be all about compatibility with the only hardware capable of the extended battery life necessary for a modern tablet. That's certainly how Microsoft described it from the beginning. However the biggest differences between Windows 8 for ARM (Windows RT) and the standard version of Windows 8 actually ended up being an unprecedented level of control and lack of user options.

Unprecedented for Windows anyway. It's actually almost identical to the type of control Microft built into Windows Phone 7 where a walled garden reminiscent of Apple's tightly controlled app environment is standard. It's pretty clear that Microsoft's goal with Windows RT, which also happens to be essentially the tablet version of Winodws Phone 8, restricting tablet users to installing apps via Microsoft's official app store.

In other words Windows RT doesn't allow you to just download software from whatever website you want. The Windows Store has an app approval similar to what Apple uses for the iTunes App Store. Even if you want to give your software away, you will have to get Microsoft's permission to do so first. They will have to approve of both the content and the UI which, among other things, means every app is required to be based on the new Windows Runtime API.

Just like Windows except when it isn't


For all their talk about how Windows RT benefits from the familiarity of Windows, in most ways it is more of a departure than a continuation of the existing Windows line. In fairness to Microsoft sometimes you need to turn your back on the past to reach the future. For many years it was the need to support legacy code which prevented them from dropping the old DOS-based Windows 9x line in favor of a single, unified, Windows NT-based OS until Windows XP.

What they're doing with Windows RT, though, takes that philosophy to the extreme by dropping all support for legacy applications. In and of itself that's not necessarily a big deal. In fact it's standard for a mobile OS. From Symbian to iOS to Android, many mobile operating systems have been based on desktop originals (OS X and Linux) but none of them supports the full range of software usable on the desktop equivalent. On the other hand Nokia, Apple, and Google didn't claim such compatibility existed either.

That's a key part of Microsoft's strategy for selling Windows RT tablets. "It's real Windows," they're saying. "It's compatible with the same software you can run on Windows 8 and look, it even comes with Microsoft Office." What they really mean is that it's compatible with all the software they expect to be available in the future as developers flock to the Windows Store to reach Windows RT tablet buyers.

Is that really a recipe for success? This is perhaps too complicated a question to answer but maybe it's simpler than it seems if you distill it into two simpler questions. Why do people buy Windows and does Windows RT meet their expectations? Of course there are many answers to the first question, but if you look at a broad cross-section of Windows users you will probably find the familiar interface and broad software support at or near the top of the list.

The Windows RT identity crisis


Assuming those factors remain important to Windows' future it seems reasonable that the standard x86-based version of Windows is still the key to Microsoft's success in the OS market. In fact it's easy to see x86 tablets (really tablet-laptop hybrids) not just outselling their Windows RT counterparts but even making them irrelevant.

Thanks to significant improvements by Intel in the design of their Atom mobile processors, combined with changes to the core architecture of Windows, these devices will be nearly able to match the power efficiency and battery life of ARM-based tablets. Just as importantly, or perhaps moreso, they will be able to do so without dropping support for the mountain of legacy software Windows users have come to expect and rely on.

For the average consumer this may not be the most important factor in choosing a tablet. The success of iOS and Android clearly show that millions of people don't really care about legacy support. If anything the most important features to a tablet buyer, at least to this point in time, aren't features a PC has to begin with. For those people Windows RT may have some appeal, at least in the same sense that Windows Phone has appeal to smartphone buyers in a market where Android and iOS already dominate.

Legacy support and legacy CPUs


For people who need (or at least want) the Windows experience, on the other hand, it won't be any substitute for standard Windows 8. Clearly HP and Acer, two of the three biggest PC vendors in the world, share that point of view. In fact not only have both chosen to stick with Atom-based Windows 8 tablets at least through the end of the year, they have also declined to even commit to even participating in the Windows RT OEM program.

In HP's case this seems like an entirely obvious strategy. In the business market, where they are still arguably the most important player, support for legacy programs isn't just a matter of convenience. It's a non-negotiable requirement. Between that and the complete failure of HP's own tablet, the TouchPad, it's hardly surprising that they're not prepared to commit to Windows RT.

Acer's decision is perhaps a little more surprising and certainly more troubling for Microsoft. Acer's success comes primarily from the mass market where the convenience and simplicity of Windows RT would seem to trump the legacy support of Windows 8. Their concerns are more likely motivated by skepticism about Windows RT's ability to compete with Android. While that concern does not appear to be shared by other high end Android tablet vendors like Samsung and ASUS, it's a fair question.

If what you want is a Windows experience why choose Windows RT over Windows 8? If you that's not what you're looking for why buy a Windows tablet of any kind?

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10 user comments

114.10.2012 11:38

In a nutshell: EXACTLY. This article nails it.

214.10.2012 14:29

Rich, I agree with you 100%!

Windows RT tablets, without being able to run Windows applications, will be irrelevant. People will want to buy the x86 Windows 8 tablets, so that they can run all of their Windows software.

But...

The problem is that people will be faced with the decision of buying an x86 Windows 8 tablet with an ultra, ultra low power Atom processor (which will last a long time on battery, but will offer anemic and frustratingly slow performance), or buying an x86 Windows 8 tablet with an i5 or i7 processor (which will offer the same Windows performance as on a notebook PC, but will run hot and have a very short battery life).

That is the conundrum of trying to shoe-horn a desktop operating system into a small screen tablet.

The x86 tablets will always be thicker, heavier, run hotter (requiring vents and an internal fan), and have a shorter battery life than ARM tablets.

Then there is the problem of trying to use desktop applications (like Excel or Photoshop) which are not designed for multi-touch gestures or interface element size, on a ten inch screen using stubby fingers.

Ultrabooks have larger screens necessary for Windows applications, and a real keyboard and multi-touch trackpad necessary for Windows applications. And since we have been told that the price of the x86 Windows 8 tablets will be similar to 13" and 15" Ultrabooks, which will be in a similar weight and thickness category, why would anyone choose the tablet over the Ultrabook for the same price?

Windows 8 tablets of both the ARM and x86 varieties will be a hard sell for anyone looking for a portable Windows PC.

Windows 8 tablets are just a new name for Tablet PCs, which were sold both in tablet form and in convertible notebook form, which ran Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7. We know how poorly those sold over the past 11 years. Revising the name to Windows 8 tablet is not very likely to change that.

This message has been edited since its posting. Latest edit was made on 14 Oct 2012 @ 14:38

314.10.2012 17:04
SBplayer
Unverified new user

'Proprietary OS systems' imo, only hurt the buyers. Which as I read this means and Apple already is. Especially as mentioned having to get an Ok from the maker. That's like the soldiers having to ask permission to shoot a terrorist in our war zones.
Ridiculous.
The buyers like myself are wanting to add or delete software on an as needed basis.
After all, you don't go to a store to purchase items to make an omelet <tablet, Pc, Mac, or what ever>, and need to ask if you need to use brown eggs or white ones <OS system>, AA or AAA grade <version>. As well as all they other 'fixings' <programs, up grades, or service packs > one might want in it. do we?
Microsoft and Apple are trying to control way too much as it is. Most is overprices anyway especially Mac. Both of which I use.
As far as I-Tunes goes, I hardly ever use it.

414.10.2012 18:05

@ViewRoyal

First to the point on why would someone choose an x86 tablet over an ultrabook? The answer is actually quite simple and comes from my own experience, which is that I want a single device that I can use as a tablet for casual use, but can also connect to an external monitor, keyboard and mouse and become a desktop base unit, or which can be used as a laptop. Many of the tablet hybrids launching at the end of this month allow the device to be used as a standalone tablet using the new Windows 8 UI, which I can tell you from my own testing on a Samsung 700T tablet, works great! These devices can optionally attach to keyboards or docking stations allowing them to be used as full PCs when required. Whether it's a tablet, a hybrid, an ultrabook, it's all about customers being able to choose a device which best suits their requirements.

The second point is about the argument of iPad vs Windows RT tablet - why would anyone buy an RT tablet? The answer is for several reasons -

1. Windows RT tablets can run two apps side-by-side on the screen, whereas the iPad cannot. It's a great feature which offers significant benefits in many situations.

2. Windows RT supports multiple users, which is perfect when sharing a device in the family where everyone has their own login and can have their own apps, there own settings, their own accounts, their own contacts etc.

3. Windows RT tablets have expandable storage with SD / Micros SD card slots. You can take a 64GB RT tablet and instantly expand it to 128 GB using a Micro SD card. It's also handy for importing picture or videos from camera equipment without needing any extra cables.

4. Windows RT tablets have much better connectivity to external peripherals due to integrated ports for HDMI, USB, (plus SD cards as menntioned above).

5. The Live Tiles in Windows RT are a great feature, offering many benefits such as live data, rolling notifications with pictures, mutiple shortcuts to subsections of an app, etc.

There are many more advantages, but these five points are enough to demonstrate that Windows 8 / RT is a much more capable operating system even when used on an ARM tablet.

514.10.2012 18:30

Windows 8 tablet death match -- see which tablet can die quickest!


614.10.2012 22:14
harley22x
Unverified new user

Originally posted by ViewRoyal:
Rich, I agree with you 100%!

Windows RT tablets, without being able to run Windows applications, will be irrelevant. People will want to buy the x86 Windows 8 tablets, so that they can run all of their Windows software.

But...

The problem is that people will be faced with the decision of buying an x86 Windows 8 tablet with an ultra, ultra low power Atom processor (which will last a long time on battery, but will offer anemic and frustratingly slow performance), or buying an x86 Windows 8 tablet with an i5 or i7 processor (which will offer the same Windows performance as on a notebook PC, but will run hot and have a very short battery life).

That is the conundrum of trying to shoe-horn a desktop operating system into a small screen tablet.

The x86 tablets will always be thicker, heavier, run hotter (requiring vents and an internal fan), and have a shorter battery life than ARM tablets.

Then there is the problem of trying to use desktop applications (like Excel or Photoshop) which are not designed for multi-touch gestures or interface element size, on a ten inch screen using stubby fingers.

Ultrabooks have larger screens necessary for Windows applications, and a real keyboard and multi-touch trackpad necessary for Windows applications. And since we have been told that the price of the x86 Windows 8 tablets will be similar to 13" and 15" Ultrabooks, which will be in a similar weight and thickness category, why would anyone choose the tablet over the Ultrabook for the same price?

Windows 8 tablets of both the ARM and x86 varieties will be a hard sell for anyone looking for a portable Windows PC.

Windows 8 tablets are just a new name for Tablet PCs, which were sold both in tablet form and in convertible notebook form, which ran Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7. We know how poorly those sold over the past 11 years. Revising the name to Windows 8 tablet is not very likely to change that.
Maybe, but when the iPad came out, people were crapping about how it was not running OSX and people couldn't install Mac software on it. It ran a closed iOS, but I don't see the iPad doing too bad in the masses. Microsoft is a business, it sees Apple doing very well aiming at consumers, so Consumers is what Microsoft is doing.

716.10.2012 7:01
jack121231234
Unverified new user

Everyone. I have an idea. Instead of voicing your prejudices and possibly misconceptions, how about actually wait for it to come out, evolve, and (just perhaps) give it a try for yourself?

816.10.2012 17:36

Originally posted by jack121231234:
Everyone. I have an idea. Instead of voicing your prejudices and possibly misconceptions, how about actually wait for it to come out, evolve, and (just perhaps) give it a try for yourself?

Windows 8 has been available for people to try out for quite some time. And Microsoft has stated they're not changing the things people are complaining about. So these aren't really prejudices and misconceptions; they're informed judgements and conceptions.

918.10.2012 7:52

I smell fail...

1018.10.2012 11:46

Quote:
What they're doing with Windows RT, though, takes that philosophy to the extreme by dropping all support for legacy applications. In and of itself that's not necessarily a big deal. In fact it's standard for a mobile OS.
This is exactly what is wrong with all of those OS's and the tablet world mentality so predominant today!

Dumb move folks and it is not only excepted but embraced, amazing!!

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