iPad iOS 5 & Android Honeycomb: opportunities for Windows 8

In a matter of days, Windows 8 will be unwrapped like a Christmas present in September. Unlike any Windows before it, a new touch-centric Start experience and the new application experiences it empowers is likely to take most of the spotlight.

Having owned a Toshiba Portege M400 Tablet PC, it’s easy to see where Microsoft got right and wrong with the tablet endeavor almost a decade ago. No doubts from what little we’ve seen of Windows 8 so far from the D9 demo and recent MSDN blog posts, this time it’s different and it’s serious.

With the iPad well established in the market of tablet computing and Android Honeycomb tablets like the Motorola Xoom making a small splash, Windows 8 is going to face immense competition from day one. Having said that, there are still a number of unfulfilled opportunities that Windows 8 can take advantage of, assuming it can get the basics right.

Live tiles

The simple grid of icons in the iOS homescreen is almost an icon in itself, but it only provides the basic functionality to manage and launch applications. On the other hand, Honeycomb’s homescreen allows for interactive widgets but the lack of consistency between them makes for a very jarring experience.

From what we’ve already seen of Windows 8, it will feature the same live tiles from Windows Phone 7. Live tiles can offer snippets of contextual information in a consistent format that can be updated without actually launching the application. Developers can also differentiate similar applications by exposing better live tiles.

Application diversity

Since Windows 8 is backwards compatible with Win32 applications, it will likely run the full suite of Windows applications that a large group of people and businesses depend on day-to-day. Although backwards compatibility has negative connotations, games, line-of-business and specialized applications are still important to a lot of people. iOS and Android mobile ports are useful, but sometimes you just need the full Photoshop, AutoCAD or Visual Studio experience.

Having an operating system on a single device that can cater to the best of both worlds independently means you only need one device instead of two to do both tablet computing and traditional PC computing.

Social integration

Only recently has Apple started building social integration into its core platform with iOS 5’s native Twitter functionality. Google on the other hand has much more pervasive integration of its services (search, Gmail, Picasa, YouTube, Google+) in Android Honeycomb, but in most cases these are still per-application experiences.

There are hints that Windows 8 will feature the same deep social integration in Windows Phone 7 which already features Windows Live, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. If Windows is able to surface friends, status updates and media universally in the operating system and make it easy to publish to social networks, it’ll make keeping in touch with friends and family that much easier.

Peripherals support

One of the weakest aspects of the iOS is the ability to interface with other standard devices and external storage which has encouraged a diverse range of Apple-exclusive accessories. One such accessory, the iPad Camera Connection Kit should be a feature built into every device to make managing simple tasks like browsing and sharing photos much more accessible. I’m confident Windows 8 devices will have built-in SD card readers and the ability to manipulate content on them.

Assuming one can also simply plug in any USB keyboard and mouse to a Windows 8 slate, it will be a powerful capability to have a simple touch experience on the go and a productive typing experience at the desk with the same device and operating system.

Hardware diversity

Microsoft has proven with Windows Phone 7’s chassis specifications that it can balance between consistency and differentiation in hardware. Should similar requirements exist for Windows 8 devices, it would make sense to see a range of PCs with specifications catered to different audiences such as variations in display sizes, screen technologies, speakers and battery life.

Since this is nowhere near an exhaustive list, it does highlight just a few aspects of Windows 8 that I think will have an advantage over iPad’s iOS and Android Honeycomb. Whatever the case may be, it’s going to be an interesting year for operating systems.

24 insightful thoughts

  1. I think the most important thing is best-in-class tablet apps. iOS runs a LOT of HQ Apps (Performance, UI/UX, Pricing) which will be very difficult to match (main issue with Android Tablets) by Windows 8.

    1. I think by the very nature of its design and development tools, Microsoft will soon enough have the same type of high quality, platform-defining apps. It will just take time, as did iOS.

  2. It’s been a long road, but I’m glad Microsoft has taken its time with the development of Windows 8. We’ve not seen much of anything yet (next week couldn’t come fast enough for me at this point) but the list you’ve created above shows they’ve made a lot of good, independently-constructed decisions. Rather than a lousy knee-jerk reaction to the iPad like Android is, Microsoft kept to their own path, learned some lessons from Windows Phone and now here we are. I’m stoked.

  3. One important aspect should be added: ClearType! I have used recent tablets and all of them have terrible font rendering. You usually look closer on a tablet than on a desktop monitor and the current pixel density isn’t great for that. Windows’ ClearType technology is the best font rendering mechanism. Let’s hope that Microsoft can make use of this for devices that will be used for reading even more often than desktops. But I’m skeptical, because hardware accelerated website rendering on IE9 lacks this extremely useful feature.

    On application diversity: I’m not sure if this is right what you said. It seems that the ARM version of Windows 8 will not support Win32 applications. But most tablets will be ARM-bases systems. So Photoshop and current games may not work on your tablet, no matter how powerful it will be and how many mice you plug in. So, even that Windows 8 will be on many different devices, you end up of having two incompatible worlds for millions of applications.

  4. You’re talking about Win32 backward compatibility. Readers should be aware that this will only be possible while using x86 or x64 CPU based devices.
    Anything using ARM will not run legacy software.

    1. This is a good point. Legacy apps might not really see any Windows 8. A few points on the other side though:

      1. The fact that the APIs will be largely the same (if not exactly the same), will allow very simple porting (just recompile)
      2. Visual Studio can be used pretty much the same way if MS does some sort of remote debugger over USB. This way, you toolchain / workflow doesn’t really change = more dev savings.
      3. Even “legacy” apps can maybe be pulled forward if they are open source and users are interested.

      I think the 1st and 2nd points are really what make this more interesting than Android, or more importantly iOS (since Apple has the same Desktop OS vs tablet OS scenario that Google doesn’t really suffer from).

      Can’t wait for BUILD.

      1. I guess .NET applications will run on ARM-based Windows 8 devices.

        And I hope WP 7.1 apps will run there too, although they probably won’t help the platform much.

  5. If it wasn’t for the 32-bit only netbooks that we have been seeing in the past two years or so, Microsoft should’ve made Windows 8 exclusively 64-bit and that would make it the biggest change in Windows since when Windows 95 was launched exclusively as a 32-bit Windows OS.

  6. I think it’s obvious that neither you nor Microsoft really get what the Apple Tablet is really about.

    Once you watch a 3 year old interact with an iPad you know why the simplicity of the OS has found many more lovers than haters.

    Microsoft’s biggest uphill battle will be finding the same mix of integrated environment and solid apps. Add to it that Apple isn’t sitting idle: tech like iCloud and AirPlay will only serve to further tie users to the Apple ecosystem.

    Given how little traction they have seen with the Windows 7 phones and the relatively low number of crowed pulling apps being released for it I think Microsoft has a very long and steep road ahead. The only thing they have going for them is that they have very deep pockets.

    This may well be a case of the Walkman repeated. Yes many people made portable cassette tape players but only sony made the Walkman.

    1. They’re not Apple, nobody is, and trying to straight up ape them is ridiculous. What Microsoft is doing may not work but it is different. It also reflects what a lot of people think tablets are which are PC’s.

    2. LOL Come on Tom. Even if you’re an apple fanboy you must understand that Windows outsells iPads 10 to 1. The end of this year MS said that Windows 7 will be running on a 1/3 of all computers in the entire world. Yes Apple did a great job with iPad for what it is.. a consumption device. The world is a bit more complicated than 3yr olds playing with iPads. Some people need LOB apps, some people need real productivity/collaboration apps, some people like playing console quality games, some people need development enviroments… iPad fatal flaw is it’s based on a mobile OS, not a full OS, so it eliminates all of the above scenarios. Yes, some people do not need a full OS. Yes, some people will want to have different devices for different experiences. Similar to smartphones, people find value with not having to carry multiple devices to do same thing a smartphone can do (take pictures, PDA, make calls, gps etc…). It would be great to have one device that can be used as a consumption device at the end of a long day and it be the same device that I can do actual work on. I personally think the ASUS transformer got the form factor right! A tablet that can dock into a laptop! ”One OS to rule them all”
      Not to nitpick, but I’m sooooooooo tired of people using the WP7 is a failure argument because it’s not as big as iOS and/or Android. WP7 hasn’t even been out a year yet! How much marketshare did Apple or Google grab in thier first year in the market? Apple target when then released the original IPhone was rich 1% marketshare in year. Nobody likes to remember that Google’s G1 sold less than 100k devices a month. That less than 1.2 million in the first year, yet today they own 40% marketshare. As bad as people like to make WP7 sound, even looking at the conservative estimates it’s sold more than 1.2 million devices in its inaugural year. Either or WP7 is a poor comparison for what MS will have to do in the computer space as MS currently owns 95% of the market worldwide. Do you really think that whatever Microsoft releases will not retain the same percentage? That people will all of a sudden stop buying Windows and will by an iPad? Really!! iPad is predicated to sell 40 million devices this year… Windows 7 is predicated to hit 400 million licenses by year end.. yes the iPad growth is significantly larger, but get real, its only 10% of the PC market (which ironically will be more than OSX share – no wonder why Apple is pushing for a post-PC era!!! Lol). With Ice Cream sandwich, Playbook and whatever other mobile OS used on tablets, I’d imagine that Apples shares will decrease – similar to what happened in the smartphone space… while people STILL continue to buy PCs. And the real kicker is, if you happen to buy a PC because you know you need productivity in your life because you’re in school, or you have a job and WIndows 8 automatically has a built in OS designed for touch. Do you really think people will buy a Windows 8 machine AND a tablet??? If not.. Apple, Google, Blackberry etc… are all in serious trouble.. Once a year goes by and 300 million windows 8 machines are sold, we’ll see if people still want just a consumption device. My guess is people won’t, not in any real numbers, but time will tell! BUILD can’t get here soon enough :) Tom, this is not a personal attack against you. I’m sure you’re nice enough person. This is just my two cents.

      1. Guest, while it may be frustrating, there will always be armchair analysts who completely ignore history and actual sale numbers in order to make some point they wish were the case.

    3. Apple is the king of simplicity. But in the real life, you need both: Simplicity and power.

      It makes no sense to copy Apple. For Microsoft it would be the road to hell. With Windows 8, Microsoft is seriously trying to give us the best of both worlds (like Hannah Montana… er… not the best comparison, perhaps). Is it possible? I’m not sure. But it’s worth to try.

  7. I know that backward comparability & performance are very crucial selling points for future Windows Slates but, to me, battery life is the single most important issue. I travel extensively & having a tablet that dies after 2-5 hrs just doesn’t cut it anymore, especially since these slates tend to have integrated batteries. Lets hope MSFT get it right this time.
    To give credit where it is due, Apple, by using a mobile OS & shoehorning in a massive battery, have managed to get up to 12hrs of battery life which MSFT can’t begin to match yet. Here’s hoping…

    1. @Ocelotty,

      You hit the nail on the head. I believe until Microsoft offers a solution that includes fully integrated hardware and software we will continue to see mediocre solutions. That’s what made the Xbox so attractive to so many people. PC gaming without the hardware headaches… oh and that little Game called Halo of course.

      Just look a lot of the Windows Phone 7 devices. I have a number of friends with HTC Windows 7 Phones and I personally have owned a couple of Windows Mobile phone. They are all very fancy when you first get them. But just a few months down the track you start having problems. Greatly reduced battery live, keyboard issues, Rom updates that never arrive. Hell, I never received one Windows Mobile Update for my HTC phone despite it being promised to many times.

      I know they make a truck load of money from their OEM programs and Windows is their cash cow. But why would it harm them to offer a tablet solution where they designed both OS and Hardware?

      1. Your concerns are valid. Therefore, with Windows 8, just like Windows Phone 7, forces OEMs to adhere to Microsoft’s strict guidelines.

        And with ARM support, battery life is an non-issue.

      2. I think they will nail battery life. I am typing this on my Iconia w500, and with Win7 I already get surprisingly good battery life. With win8 not even loading the desktop and running only in immersive mode, i would guess the magical 10 hour mark would be quite achievable, especially on ARM. With SSDs and x86 SoC, the battery story looks hopeful.

  8. Again people don’t get it. The tablet is not supposed to replace a PC. Far from it. It’s supposed to work in conjunction with it. Microsoft (many people here) obviously see a tablet as just another PC without a phyiscal keyboard. That’s fine but just understand it as such it won’t be able to compete in the tablet market. Heck, Microsoft tried the tablet PC route several years ago and it didn’t work. So why would it work this time around?

    I am actually wondering how many people that keep arguing the PC tablet route have actually used an Android or iOS tablet for an extended period of time.

    1. I hope you’re right Phil, but only time will tell & I need a decent Win Tablet with good battery life for work. However my concern is that the old X86 architecture programs even under Hyper V virtualization will chew the battery life even for Arm processors. Fingers are definitely crossed.

    2. Not far from the future, the size of PC is the same size as the slimnest phone right now. Take a look Samsung on Galaxy Note that has 1.45 Ghz dual core. Compared to a Netbook with 1.2 GHz single core which runs Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium and Microsoft Office 2010, the Samsung Galaxy Note having far far better processor. So why someone has to buy a samsung galaxy note and a PC while samsung galaxy note can replace the need of PC by installing PC software into it?

  9. maybe the time is not yet right for a full-feature tablet but in future I really dont think that tablets will be much different from the versatility of a full-feature pc.

    im getting a little annoyed of the trend “simple is better”. I feel quite limited in todays OS. I would very much appreciate if microsoft did it right with windows 8.

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