A lot of the details around Windows on ARM (WOA) architecture were revealed via a recent blog post by Steven Sinofsky, the President of Windows and Windows Live Division at Microsoft. Once WOA details were out, the discussion then turned to whether WOA tablets would truly compete with the iPad or not. Would the presence of the Desktop environment, albeit in a restricted fashion, make it clunky? Is it truly no-compromise, considering that today’s software will not work on those tablets? The arguments go on.
What should be recognized though, is that unlike Apple, Microsoft does not really build the WOA tablets, so it relies on its partners to build them. It can be debated whether Microsoft *should* build a tablet themselves or not, but it is clear that they alone do not control their destiny.
So, what will ultimately determine the success (or failure) of WOA tablets? The ecosystem, of course! Microsoft has done its part in building a touch-friendly OS, bringing a touch-first mentality to building apps, creating a development environment which will let apps work on “all Windows devices”, and built a marketplace which will help developers reap the benefits of being in front of hundreds of millions of customers all over the world.
I discuss three aspects of this ecosystem reliance which will determine how well WOA (and more generally, Windows) tablets do.
The iPad has been a phenomenal success for a variety of reasons. One of them is the design and the build itself. When you pick up the iPad you can feel that a lot of thought was put into the shape and the dimensions of the tablet. Many Android tablets come off feeling cheap, but the iPad feels exactly the opposite.
What the Windows OEM partners will have to do is go beyond just the iPad. They will need to think hard about the design and come up with something that does not look like a cheap knock off of the iPad, and no, that does not mean just adding a microSD card reader and USB ports. Having those connectivity options is a nice advantage, but the tablet itself should feel good to look at and hold in the hands. These tablets will have to manage sturdiness and long battery life with lightness.
Finally, just because they can, OEMs should refrain from making tablets in all kinds of sizes (yes, I am looking at you, Samsung). There is an advantage in offering a choice of sizes, but there is also a practical limit to what should be done in reality. Don’t confuse the customers with too much choice!