ASUS’s Windows 7 slate is deja vu of PC industry’s past failures with tablets

A day ahead of the center-stage Microsoft keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2011, ASUS announced at its own press conference several tablet devices, specifically one of which runs Windows 7. Granted Windows-powered slates are all the hype, this doesn’t seem like the right way to go about it.

It wasn’t that long ago the PC industry wandered down this path before – loading a desktop operating system onto a slate form factor. In fact, they even tried it twice – first with Tablet PCs, then Ultra Mobile PCs. Although all of these things sold (maybe quite a few), none of them took off quite like the iPad has. Even with the experience behind the PC industry, OEMs seems to be making the same mistakes again.

For the same reasons Apple didn’t build the iPad with OS X, OEMs need to admit Windows 7 is not “good enough”. Although Microsoft has made significant improvements to touch usability in Windows 7 over previous versions, notably the first – Windows XP Tablet Edition, it is not a tablet OS at the fundamentals. No amount of slick form factor, third-party shell overlays or touch-friendly application bundles will fix that.

Hopefully during this week, Microsoft will show off (and lead their OEMs partners) how it’s suppose to be done. There’s an undeniable amount of rumors Steve Ballmer will announce a version of Windows to power devices that are more competitive against the iPad.

One can only hope it’s something more than just an ARM port of Windows.

Disclosure: I am attending CES 2011 as a guest of Microsoft Australia.

29 insightful thoughts

  1. You hit the nail on its head. Win7 does not make a great tablet OS, Win Phone 7 might, but we’ll have to wait and see. You also need the app ecosystem/marketplace. I guess ASUS, HP, Dell, and others believe they can still make money with a crappy product. In the meantime, I think we’ll see a lot more Android tablets and ipads being sold.

  2. I have to disagree. iOS is in many ways a version of Mac OS X. At least both systems share a lot of technologies. On the other side Windows 7 can already provide a very good TV experience with its integrated Media Center. Why shouldn’t it be possible for Microsoft to introduce a new, simplified version of Windows 7 with a “Surface” UI? A combination of already available technologies like Media Center, Zune and the Surface Touch Pack compatible to Windows Phone apps? The Surface UI could be mandatory as long as the Slate/Tablet isn’t connected to a dock with a mouse and a keyboard attached to it. Applications like Office, Windows Live Photo Gallery or Messenger could get cheap/free add-ons that provide a Silverlight powered Surface UI. This would let you start writing a document on your couch and finish it at your desk when you connect your Slate to a dock and turn it into an all-in-one PC.

    1. iOS might be based on OS X but it’s nothing like OSX. Just as a few examples there’s no multi-user login, no application window model, no Dock, no system toolbar and very little of the UI controls are the same.

  3. Long, basically you’re saying Win32 is unsuitable for tablets? ie that Microsoft needs a new subsystem for Windows tablets, not just a Win32 (and explorer) skin?

    If so is there any benefit to using NT over CE? I mean NT itself could be unsuitable for tablets – the kernel/executive has baked in a lot of extraneous multi-user and PC eco-system stuff. Does MinWin allow for componentisation to the extent this can be removed?

    1. Not Win32 the API specifically, but the desktop, Explorer shell, multiple application model, UI controls, session management, security and application management are all inappropriate for a tablet device.

      1. :) But if the whole application model and the UI controls are no good, then what’s the point of even keeping GDI/USER around? – blow off Win32 entirely. If native code app development is still supported, for developer familiarity, re-implement the same API in your new subsystem for what you do want to keep (say most of the ADVAPI stuff, for example).

        Session management etc is baked into NT. Hence why I question whether NT is even the right path to go down…

  4. I have an EXOPC, running Windows 7, and I have to say it works very well. I do not see the issue so many have said will exist with a Windows slate. Everyone I have shown it off to, say they would have bought the EXOPC if they had known about it.

  5. “One can only hope it’s something more than just an ARM port of Windows.”

    Amen.

    At this stage, I’m not sure what would make me happy. If Microsoft announced Zune HD and a tablet running on Windows Phone 7 with a 20 hour battery life I would fall out of my chair. Nearly anything else will probably be meh.

    The thing that is most frustrating for me is that the iPad really isn’t as amazing I as expected, but it’s the best we’ve got — by far. I really, really want Windows 7 to “just work” in tablet form. Guess what? It doesn’t.

    The only hope I have left is that this SSDD tabet was shown BEFORE the keynote. Maybe this means they actually managed to keep some sort of skunk works project under wraps for a year. I might shed a tear if that happens.

    Unfortunately, my money is on Ballmer showing up with a stylus.

  6. I would support Tino’s opinion, really hopes Microsoft OEM partner considering UMPC (includes developing such 3rd party software) based on Windows Embedded and Surface lite edition. I believe that would be a fatastic sleek appearance & performance for every PC user to experience.

  7. I’m hoping on it that we will see partners almost-ready prototypes of CE7 Tablet devices. (Not sure on the UI could be partner based or MS WP7 based with some changes so that mobile apps run etc.)

  8. The core OS is not important here. A stripped down Windows core would be fine.
    The biggest issue is the application ecosystem. Nothing from the desktop Windows world could be adequately executed on a tablet style device and this even includes Office. Everything must be redone to fit the finger driven paradigm and, unfortunately, Microsoft does not seem to have an integrated solution/vision where a single application store would thrive. The WP7 store is growing fast but stupid decisions on the Windows front will hinder it. Developers don’t like to build apps for two distinct platforms and it will unfortunately be the case in the Windows land.
    The tablet strategy should have gone through the WP7 OS. Or, ultimately, a decent WP7 emulator on the new tablet OS. We’ll see…

    1. This.

      I’m not sure if anyone has used Office on WP7 but it is amazing. Certainly I don’t want to use it for authoring large documents, but it works great for reviewing and simple edits. It is the killer app for WP7.

      Why is it amazing? Because it was written to work specifically on this device.

      P.S. The WP7 version of Excel syncing with Skydrive would make all of my cloud dreams come true.

    2. I believe that Silverlight is the answer to those application model concerns. It started as a browser plug-in for rich internet applications but it now seems to be more of the center of a new application model for every Microsoft platform including Windows, Windows Phone, Xbox and the cloud.

  9. What exactly is so bad about widows using touch?
    Navigating the os, writing or drawing with a stylus allows better control. There is no particular reason that one should one’s finger rather than a stylus to navigate or edit an excel spreadsheet.
    I think the issue is simply one of processor power vs battery life.
    Of course making the UI a little more touch friendly where it makes sense would be useful, but aiming to enable every function to be executes with a forefinger seems may be inappropriate.

  10. There is nothing wrong with the UI of Windows for a tablet but the disk footprint, battery life, startup time etc are unacceptable. Creating a third app ecosystem now that we have NT and WP7 would be a nightmare. I don’t want another set of apps incompatible with my PC and Phone.

  11. It is amazing how many people still think using windows on a tablet is going to work. Really amazing. They have been trying for 10 years and apple sells more ipads in a month than pc tablets have sold over that 10 years but somehow people still think this will fly. The market has spoken and does not want a full OS on a tablet. If for no other reason than terrible battery life. Powerful desktop apps run like shit on a tablet on a typical tablet processor or you can put something more powerful in there and you’ll find that that the thing has no hope of lasting more than a couple hours on a charge.

    Aside from that though – what a tablet OS allows devs to do is develop for the UX of the device and ultimately that will lead to better and better apps. I hear a lot of people yammer on about how they are a “power user’ and need the full OS – blissfully unaware at how powerful a device the iPad really is. I’m a designer who has been using tablet PC since 2001 and the brutal truth is that my iPad using colleagues are able to do cooler things than I ever was using apps elegantly built for the UX. I have been holding our hope for a wp7 tablet but it looks like Ballmer is determined to drive his delusional belief in windows on everything like a stake into the heart of MS’s future.

  12. interesting….I am actually looking forward to the device. I am running IE9 beta and have all the sites I want on my taskbar, kinda like apps. This kind of setup will work perfectly for me on a Windows 7 slate. It’ll be a nice device to have on the couch and take out with me, I wouldn’t use it as a primary device. I hope there are some cool HTML 5 touch apps that I can use with it.

  13. Well, you could argue all day about how much you can salvage from Windows 7 — I hope we can at least keep the kernel and the filesystem? :-) — to offer something competitive to the iPad. But I wouldn’t dismiss the ARM port of Windows as being unhelpful. People talk about iOS all day, but so much of the beauty of the iPad is in the hardware — including that A4 processor. So the first step is getting a competitive hardware foundation in place, meaning a slim 2-pound device with NO FAN, almost NO PERCEPTIBLE HEAT, and 10-hour battery life, with hardware-accelerated graphics, etc. Can it be done with a Core i3, or whatever ULV Intel has in the pipeline for 2011? If Microsoft came to the conclusion, “No, it can’t,” then the ARM port becomes absolutely essential.

    The hardware is the foundation. It won’t matter what the shell/UI/UX is if it weighs 4 pounds and has a 2-hour battery.

    But instead of just aiming for something as good as the iPad, I hope Microsoft would be taking advantage of their huge lead in handwriting recognition, voice recognition, Xbox, Kinect, etc. to offer something more compelling than the iPad. If they aim for where Apple is now, Apple will have moved on by then.

  14. It is disheartening that even a site such as this has bought into Job’s “stylus = fail” and “full os = fail” arguments.

    I was never interested in the iPad for some very basic reasons: no digitizer, no native filesystem support, no native Office support, closed eco-system.

    Yes, I want to write on my slate. While touch is great for consuming content it is lousy for creating content.

    Historically the real issue with Windows based tablet PCs was the price. You were stuck spending an extra 1500 for a device simply for the ability to use a stylus.

    This new crop of TabletPCs are priced right and are fully functional.

    I am tired of all the naysayers who have not actually used these devices.

    My HP Slate 500 has a 5+ hour battery life, is 100% silent, and has both touch and active digitizer support (yes, palm rejection works). I can watch HD video and even with the Atom CPU apps such as Office, Skype, Chrome and IE, and all my everyday apps, run just fine.

    The core OS is fully touch enabled, it is some of the apps running on the OS that are touch deficient.

    Word, Outlook, OneNote, Visio, all work just fine with touch. While Chrome is not touch friendly IE and Firefox is. Yes, some applications just are not touch friendly, but many more are.

    Everyone who has seen my Slate has recognized the benefit of a pen/stylus based device over the iPad. Not one has ever stated “thats gonna fail”.

    So why can’t the mainstream media and the blogosphere do the same? Or are they so deeply entrenched in the Apple is all that matters mentality to think for themselves?

    1. I didn’t say stylus = fail or full OS = fail. It’s just been tried and done before, and people don’t like it as much as they do the iPad.

      Regardless of your opinion about Apple as a company, but when one device sells as well as they do, the market is speaking with their wallets. It would be silly for the PC industry to ignore that and be persistent with their own ideals.

  15. I am certain that their are scenarios that a stylus enables that are fantastic. Diagrams and handwriting are two that many people love. The problem is that when people see a stylus, they automatically assume you need it to navigate the OS. That’s a decade of dealing with Tablet PC and Windows Mobile.

    As far as full-OS, I don’t think anyone really thinks “full OS” = fail. I take that back, Apple fanatics really don’t know any better. Regardless, what they can look at is iPad battery life = 10+ hours and HP Slate battery life = 5+.

    While I agree that Apple cracked the tablet market largely on the backs of their naive flock, they also made an important discovery. People are using iPads as media consumption devices NOT for content creation. It’s an important differentiation. If you really want to create content then iPads don’t hold a candle to Windows tablets. Period. Not even close. So far though, it doesn’t seem like that’s what people are interested in.

  16. Who paid for your airfare and accommodation for CES Long, and why is this not disclosed? Every other publication which was sponsored for the CES is declaring who paid for them to attend. Fair is fair.

  17. Thanks for doing that, Long, For your information you can’t just “assume” that people know, that is the whole purpose of disclosure. It is about making the sponsorship explicitly clear under every story or post that is written from an event. That is why all newspapers carry disclosure for events like this. It is why all blogs should as well. The public should always know if a writer received sponsorship such as airfares and accommodation.

  18. Windows 7 is a fine finger OS, have any of you used the iPad? The click points are tiny, the only thing different is the swipping here and there…

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