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!
At one point it would have been laughable to even say it, but Apple has set a very hard bar for the competition when it comes to pricing, and Windows OEMs will have to at least match it, but more likely have to beat it by a lot in order to sell well. Granted, compared to the lower-priced competitors like Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook, the iPad is “high-end”, at a starting price of $500 it is competing with lower-end PCs! Somehow, OEMs will have to figure out a good compete strategy and price their tablets right.
If these things are priced like “full PCs”, i.e. at around $700, they will fail.
Apps, apps, apps
Yes, WOA tablets are going to be “full Windows PCs” in some ways, but frankly, most tablet users get a tablet to *avoid* the full PC experience. As a result, the usage tends to be app-centric, except for some casual web browsing. Twitter? App. Email? App. Map? App. Restaurant lookup and reviews? App. I could go on and on.
Windows 8 and the WinRT-related development is effectively a v1 initiative, much like Windows Phone 7 was in 2010. Hence, the Windows Store will definitely need to be seeded with key apps, but more importantly, Microsoft will have to keep the big name and indie developers interested so all the “cool” apps are also available on Windows 8 and not just limited to the iPad.
How interested will the developers be in Windows 8 to care about it and build their apps for it? We have seen with the iPad that there is no doubt high quality apps are necessary for the success of the devices. I am not referring to the quantity of apps available, I am referring to the quality. From a recent Windows Phone 8 leak it seems like many (all?) of the existing Windows Phone 7 apps will work on Windows Phone 8, and Windows Phone 8 apps will work on Windows 8 with much of the code intact. So, there is hope that Windows 8 will get many of the existing Windows Phone apps “ported” over, which would be a nice start.
A final note, even though I have referred to WOA tablets in this article, Intel has also promised thin-and-light tablets (“no fan”!) based on their SoC architecture. All the points made above apply to OEMs building Intel/AMD tablets as well.
Microsoft has done something it has not done in the past – despite not building the hardware themselves, they have created a hardware certification specification Windows 8 devices (Rafael Rivera had a good summary of the requirements here). This, coupled with the Metro design principles which will help in improving the general quality and look-and-feel of WinRT apps, should make the Windows 8 tablet experience better than anything Windows OEMs have made available in the past.
Questions is, how much better?
Windows Logo from Microsoft website
Kal El tablet: From The Verge