Can Windows 8 Touch Apple's iPad Market?
By Alex KIDMAN
There's an expectant air around Windows 8, and especially Microsoft's efforts to make an operating system that's actually touch friendly, as distinct from the many touch-enabled versions of Windows that it's delivered to date. Sure, even as far back as Windows XP there were "touch" versions of Windows, but to put it frankly, they sucked.
They were woeful to use, and while there's a small market of those with particular physical needs where a keyboard just doesn't cut it, that's a small market. The only way Microsoft was going to take the wider market (and especially those parts of the wider market that have moved from Windows laptops over to tablets running Android or iOS) was to get serious about touch, and that's what it's done with Windows 8, by way of what it's worked out about touch via Windows Phone 7.
So far, so good; anyone who's spent a bit of time with the preview code has come away impressed with how Microsoft's reworked the Windows world into a touch-friendly one, although equally as many bemoan the demotion of the classic Windows desktop.
Still, it's clear that the one big stumbling block for Android tablets hasn't been the hardware -- there have been many technically excellent Android tablets -- it's been the underlying app ecosystem. That's been Apple's ace in the hole for some time, as the iPad app experience, even with the somewhat bloated state of the iTunes app store, is the one to beat. Microsoft's got the wealth of Windows apps that already exist plus whatever they can get from developers working on the interface once known as Metro to counter the iPad juggernaut. Microsoft may be able to pull that off; I've got to admit I'm curious to see how well I could marry something like a Surface tablet to my daily working needs, given the ability to multitask, run regular applications and (admittedly) drop down to the desktop and underlying folder structure with ease.
But there's still one other part of the puzzle to contend with, and that's hardware.
So far there's been mutterings from the likes of Lenovo and HP, but no announced release plans. Other OEMs have been less than enthusiastic about Microsoft's Surface initiative, and it remains to be seen whether Surface is exactly the kick that Windows 8 on a tablet needs, or a diversion that'll stop other companies from seriously investing in Windows 8 tablet devices.
History shows that if Microsoft gets keen on an idea, it's got the cash to spend to make it happen (see: Xbox), or at least to burn in an amusing fashion (see: WebTV). Still, in order to take on the iPad, you're going to need some spiffy looking hardware. The first Android tablets really weren't anything that spectacular, although we're now seeing some genuinely interesting hardware in that space some years on. If Microsoft wants to succeed in the touch space by taking on the iPad, it's going to need some excellent hardware -- and fast. Not just Surface, which is likely to do as much to muddy the profit waters for other OEMs, but a choice of tablets at a range of price points. Whether that'll happen to a level that'll make everyone, from vendors to consumers happy will be vital in determining where Windows 8 sits in the wider tablet market.
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