iPad 3 Faces Biggest Test: Windows 8

Apple will likely release the iPad 3 March 7. While the company has managed to dominate the tablet space, it could face a huge threat in Microsoft's Windows 8.

Apple€™s iPad has dominated the consumer tablet market since its inception, but that hasn€™t stopped any number of competitors from taking their own runs at the crown. For the past several months, tablet after tablet€”usually running Google Android, with occasional exceptions such as webOS€”has entered the arena as an ostensible €œiPad killer€ only to suffer through anemic sales and lukewarm reviews.

Apple is hosting an event March 7 where it will almost certainly debut the iPad 3. €œWe have something you really have to see. And touch,€ reads the invitation sent to the media, which includes an image of a finger touching the calendar app on an iPad screen. Over the past few months, rumors have focused on the next-generation tablet€™s possible features, including a high-resolution screen (in a Feb. 9 article, AllThingsD pegged the resolution at 2,048 by 1,536), as well as a more powerful processor and camera.

Those features might gain the iPad franchise an extra competitive advantage over the lightweight tablets in the space, but Apple faces a much larger challenge on the tablet horizon: Windows 8.

On Feb. 29, Microsoft offered up the Consumer Preview (or beta) of Windows 8, which will arrive sometime later in 2012. The Consumer Preview can be found in a special area on Microsoft€™s Website; the beta€™s ISO files (for those who wish to install it on another partition or virtual machine are also available. In a bid to spread the Windows franchise onto tablets in addition to traditional PCs, Windows 8€™s start screen is composed of a set of colorful (and touchable) tiles linked to applications, with the €œold style€ desktop interface accessible via a single click or finger tap.

That alone might not make Windows 8 a viable iPad competitor, but Microsoft has more up its sleeve than a sleek user-interface redesign. For months, Microsoft executives have insisted that their new operating system will provide a robust, €œno compromises€ experience. Power users will have access to the usual features they expect from Windows. The Windows Store will offer a wide variety of apps. Cloud-related features include cloud storage, the ability to roam all settings, and communicate with email and contacts from a Windows Phone smartphone or Windows PC.

With those features in place, Windows 8 tablets could prove attractive to business users and consumers who like the familiarity of the Windows brand. But Microsoft will still have to deal with Apple€™s significant lead in the space.

Follow Nicholas Kolakowski on Twitter