- Topics Mentioned
- Operating System(s):
- Windows 8
In this two-part story, we will be looking at how Microsoft aims to challenge Apple’s tablet with the iPad, and secure the enterprise field with upcoming Windows 8 tablets. The article will be focusing on businesses productivity and how tablets could play a huge role in this market in the coming years. However, Microsoft has many challenges it has to overcome and these will also be mentioned. They include important aspects, such as app compatibility and hardware constraints.
Microsoft is no stranger to tablets. Apple did not invent the concept of a tablet device from the ground up in 2010 when the original iPad was released. The framework for the modern tablet really came from Microsoft. The company has tried to push the tablet PC concept since 2000. According to Trans Meta Zone, Bill Gates officially introduced the “tablet PC” during the Comdex Fall 2000 Keynote address. It was a device that came with a stylus and was to revolutionize computing. However, the idea of a tablet is even older than the push by Microsoft. Huffington Post traces their origin all the way back to 1964.
Despite tablets existing in one shape or another before 2010, that was the year Apple made them relevant to the mass market with the iPad. The earlier Microsoft tablets were not geared for the mass consumption market like the iPad; and underutilized even in enterprise. This was mostly due to their unfriendly interface for touch input. Windows 7 tablets have mostly been relevant to only a few sectors of the enterprise market. Employees of fields like cable TV, car insurance companies, and some sectors of IT support them because of their portability and application support. Employees are able to use these Windows 7-based tablet PCs, for instance in a warehouse with a stylus attached while moving around. IT professionals can use them while fixing a network error in a mobile environment, like on a college campus. Car insurance employees can use them while standing up and inspecting damages, noting the costs directly with a stylus.
Windows tablets were generally always made to be used with a stylus. It wasn’t until Apple released the iPad that the idea of a multi-touch tablet really came about. Multi-touch displays were mostly relevant to smartphones and not tablets. Despite making some strides in enterprise and professional fields with tablets previously, Microsoft, like Google, has never been able to capture a market segment like Apple has done with the iPad. The iPad has been such a success — and Microsoft has been so quiet in the tablet support since the iPad was released — that even professional industries have been moving toward Apple in the mobile-device market. Examples include various restaurants, schools, and airlines using iPads instead of tablets running Windows 7.
United Airlines has fully integrated iPads for its flight crews. They are used instead of pen and paper for chart keeping and instructional manuals, according to PadGadget. What does this mean for Microsoft? Yes, rugged tablets are often used in warehouses or by insurance employees. And yes, they mostly all happen to run Windows 7. However, other industries, ripe for Microsoft’s appeal, are moving toward the iPad instead. Here are some current setbacks and potential challenges Microsoft is facing and must overcome.
Lack of Standardized Application Compatibility
Microsoft could have just put their mobile (Windows Phone 7) OS onto tablets while making Windows 8 exclusive to PCs. In essence, they could have done what Apple is doing with iOS. Make it virtually identical across mobile devices — from tablets to smartphones — and different from their PC OS. However, various executives at Microsoft have expressed that the company feels a tablet could handle much more than just a stripped-down operating system in a mobile platform. Microsoft executives think that tablets could really become robust productivity machines. By standardizing the OS across devices, rather than having a separate mobile OS and a separate PC OS, the company is not making compromises for end-users.
“Their approach is to take the PC OS and bring it to the tablet which is opposite of what Apple is doing,” said Jason Maynard, an analyst with Wells Fargo Securities in a CNET report. “Sometimes when you have a hammer, everything looks like nail.”
By making Windows 8 compliant across multiple devices, from tablets to netbooks, Microsoft is eliminating fragmentation problems that have plagued enterprise users with the iPad. Users familiar with Windows should feel at home using tablets as they do desktop PCs. However, like Apple, Microsoft may still have a productivity problem due to app incompatibility. Apps may have to be recreated, or created in two versions, in order for tablets to take advantage of them.
It has been reported that ARM-based Windows 8 tablets may not run Windows 7 desktop applications via the Metro interface (I will go into this interface further below). However, PCs will run them from the desktop. According to LA Times, “On PCs, Windows 8 will run all Windows 7 applications, according to the company. But Windows 7 applications may not run on Windows 8 tablets built with ARM processors.” Microsoft is rumored to be preparing an app store for Metro-based apps. How compatible non-Metro apps will be on tablets remains to be seen.
Another more recent report from Microsoft’s Build Windows conference (for developers) confirms that not just Windows 7 applications, but even newer Windows 8 applications, may not be compatible across platforms. The apps may have to be totally re-designed for ARM-based tablets, and standard Windows applications may not even work on tablets.
According to Extremetech, “Speaking at the Build Windows conference, and then later reiterating it during Microsoft’s Financial Analyst Meeting, Steve Sinofsky — the President of Windows — confirmed that ARM-powered Windows 8 tablets will not run the vast, multi-billion-strong arsenal of existing x86 applications.”
This probably means, like Apple, Microsoft will force all tablet software developers to create separate apps than the ones made for Windows desktop. Microsoft Office, for instance, may be totally different on a tablet than on a desktop PC.
Possible Hardware Constraints
Windows 7 is Microsoft’s last-released operating system. It is an OS that some tablet manufacturers have been using in their products, like the famous “rugged tablets,” popular for warehouse usage due to their thick designs. However, Windows 7 tablets are often criticized for weak battery life, hard to navigate menus, and an OS that really was not designed for tablets at all. They are not something the IT industry has embraced as a whole, nor are they devices that appeal to the mass consumer market.
What Microsoft has to do is create a platform for enterprise to embrace in devices, which are complimentary to PCs. Tablets could become these devices and replace or compliment notebooks. As more forms of hardware become established in enterprise, or other markets, Microsoft will profit from Windows licensing and software distribution.
According to various reports, Microsoft is actually tweaking Windows 8 for hardware manufacturers to be able to take full advantage of it. Windows 8 tablets will be utilizing ARM chips, according to various reports. This is the same chip design that powers many tablets on the market today and is the leading tablet platform. Even Apple’s A5 (and A4) SoC (system-on-a-chip) utilized for the iPad 2 uses an ARM processor.
“Microsoft has been working with hardware makers to ensure that Windows 8 can run on ARM chips,” CNET reports . “The ARM system-on-a-chip architecture means that devices themselves can be thinner and lighter. That should open the door to some slim and attractive tablets running the operating system.”
Tablets running Windows 8 will be a lot more notebook-like than the iPad. They will probably be similar to certain Android tablets like the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, in the sense that they will have attached keyboards, docs, and a variety of ports as part of their package. This may make them more cumbersome for the average user who has multiple machines anyway. However, for the enterprise professional who wants to carry their workstation everywhere, these tablets may offer just what they need. They can make them just as productive on the go as if they were sitting right in their office.
“For one thing, Windows 8 on a tablet isn’t limited to a touchscreen. It works with a mouse, a keyboard and a stylus as well as your fingertips, according to a report from the LA Times. “The test tablets, handed out by Microsoft, are quick and responsive and offer true PC-like specs in a tablet body.”
Battery life has also been reported to be weaker than what the iPad and Android tablets provide, according to a report from PCPro. “Our early tests – albeit using far from finished code – suggests Windows 8 is going to lag far behind Android and iOS tablets when it comes to battery life,” PCPro reports.
What does this all mean? Microsoft certainly has a lot to do to convince enterprise to use tablets if Windows 8 tablets won’t have software compatible with the desktop apps right out of the box. However, the company has addressed many weak points of Windows 7 tablets, like the touch-unfriendly interface of Windows 7 being replaced with the Metro interface. We will go into this interface in part II. We will also discuss other software issues and security.