Microsoft's Windows 8 on tablets with the right hardware specs has the potential to challenge Apple's iPad for the mobility crown, at least with power users.
Could Windows 8 prove the long-elusive iPad killer, at least where business buyers are concerned?
That's the question on the table after Microsoft unveiled
still more details of its next-generation operating system on the first day of
its BUILD conference.
Windows and Windows Live president Steven Sinofsky used his
Sept. 13 keynote to offer a demonstration of Windows 8 in action, arguing that
revolutions in consumer and business technology over the past three years make
the next-generation operating system a necessary upgrade from Windows 7.
Windows 8 is expected to arrive on the market sometime in 2012, although
Microsoft remains tight-lipped about an exact release date.
Windows 8 aims to not only continue Microsoft's dominance of
the traditional desktop space, but give Redmond an inroad into the tablet
market, currently dominated by Apple's iPad. During the two-hour opening
keynote, Sinofsky and a host of other Microsoft executives offered a deeper
dive into Windows 8's touch-centric, tablet-optimized interface: a customizable
set of colorful tiles that link to applications.
Windows 8 will also flip to a desktop mode more reminiscent
of previous Windows editions. According to Sinofsky, the next-generation
operating system will be "equally at home on ARM and x86."
In another nod to mobility, Windows 8 includes an app store,
which will list win32 apps in addition to the "Metro" apps designed for tablet
mode. The storefront looks altogether different than the app store for Windows
Phone, although it likewise emphasizes games and other categories designed to
appeal to consumers.
Sinofsky and company offered BUILD attendees a Samsung-built
tablet running a developer preview of Windows 8. The 11.6-inch device features
SDK apps, a "recovery environment," a dock to connect with a keyboard or dual
monitor, a 64GB SSD hard drive, 4GB of RAM, and one year's worth of AT&T 3G
connectivity. It's powered by an Intel chipset, and includes a microSD port.
That's a versatile list of hardware features. Combined with
Microsoft's determination to offer a "no compromises" operating system, and
interoperability with Windows 7 applications, a tablet with those specs could
attract power users who want a lot of flexibility and functionality squeezed
onto a tablet form-factor. During the demonstration, Sinofsky claimed that
Windows 8 demands less from a system-specifically, a Lenovo laptop-than Windows
7. If true, that also bodes well for Windows 8's ability to play on mobile
But that doesn't automatically make Windows 8 a slam-dunk as
an iPad killer. For one thing, both Samsung and Motorola released high-end tablets
running Android, loaded with lots of powerful features-and neither managed to
dent the iPad's market share in a significant way.
Second, Windows 8 will enter a tablet marketplace crowded
with some significant competitors, not only the iPad but also a host of Google
Android devices. On the business side of the equation, Research In Motion is
still pushing its BlackBerry-branded PlayBook tablet as the ideal solution for
knowledge workers on the run. With so many entrenched opponents, Microsoft will
need to make the case that a Windows 8 tablet offers a substantial value-add.
Based on the first day of BUILD and the postings from the
official "Building Windows 8" blog,
Microsoft's argument could focus on Windows 8's ability to be all things to all
users. Ability to connect to a keyboard and dual monitor, turning the tablet
into an impromptu workstation? Check. Compatibility with existing Windows apps?
Check. Connectivity with Windows' cloud? Check. Xbox Live integration? Check.
With the exception of the Xbox Live integration, those
features could appeal heavily to business users, already a key demographic for
Microsoft products. In turn, that could help Microsoft establish a substantive
beachhead in the business tablet market, already an area of interest for Apple
and other companies. That seems a far more likely scenario, at this early
stage, than Windows 8 coming out of the gate as a consumer iPad
The key question-and the one thing will determine whether
business users and consumers gravitate toward these upcoming Microsoft tablets
as a sort of all-in-one solution-is whether the company can actually deliver on
its promise that Windows 8 will offer a versatile, "no compromises" experience.
If that indeed proves the case, then maybe Apple will have something to worry
Nicholas Kolakowski on Twitter
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.