When Microsoft introduces its new Windows 8 tablet on Monday, June 18 at a media briefing in Los Angeles, the device it presents will be a technology preview device, not a finished product, said Craig Mathias, principal analyst for Farpoint Group.
The new device will run Windows RT, which is a version of Windows 8 that is stored in CMOS on the device and will also include, among other things, a version of Microsoft Office.
Mathias said that there may be several different Windows 8 tablets at the introduction, and that he expects them to be more business-oriented than the Apple iPad. The iPad really isnt a business device, Mathias, said. Microsoft will approach this from a business direction.
The real question is whether or not the new tablet will be as easy to use as an iPad and whether or not it will be perceived by customers as being as good or better in value when compared with the iPad. To accomplish this, Microsoft will have to create a tablet that is at least as thin and preferably thinner than the New iPad. It will also have to have a user interface that is as intuitive as the iPads and as responsive.
In addition, the Microsoft tablet will need to have features that the iPad doesnt have and cant get, but that users want. And Microsoft has to deliver all of this at a competitive price. It needs to be in the $395 to $495 price range, Mathias said.
This is not a big stretch for Microsoft, Mathias said. Microsoft obviously understands the business market and they have the server side nailed down. One advantage that a Microsoft Windows tablet would have would be the ability to connect to standard servers, print on standard network printers, and interact as a network client.
It would seem that the Windows 8 tablet format is already pretty well-established by Microsoft and OEM partners. Tablet maker PaceBlade was showing a Windows 8 tablet at CeBIT in March and the Windows 8 interface, even that early pre-release version, was smooth, responsive and intuitive. In fact, when I used it at the PaceBlade stand at CeBIT, it already seemed like a product ready for work, rather than a technology demonstration. Windows 8 lent itself so well to the tablet form factor that it just seemed natural.
If youve used a Windows Phone, then you have a sense for what its like. But the larger screen and higher resolution on a tablet make the Metro interface much easier to use than it is even on the Windows Phone.
Extra Ports and Office Are Essential
However, Microsoft will have to do even more than that to provide a realistic alternative to the iPad. It has to do things that no iPad can do, and that means, among other things, run Microsoft Office.
A few months ago, there was a flurry of rumors that Microsoft was getting ready to release Microsoft Office for the iPad. Those rumors were at best premature and more likely simply wrong. But if Microsoft was planning to deliver a tablet in which Office was a major differentiating factor that would explain why an iPad version never appeared. If there is a feature that users want and cant get on a tablet, its Office, and those other Office-like apps you can get on the iPad just arent the same thing.
A few other things that Microsoft can deliver that users really want and cant get at all, or at least cant get easily in an iPad, are ports. A couple of USB ports, a Secure Digital (SD) card port and a High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) port built into the tablet would give users yet another factor in favor of Microsoft. This isnt to suggest that they will make all the difference, however. A number of current Android tablets have these ports, and that hasnt made them hot sellers.
But coupling those ports with Microsoft Office and the ability to use standard servers and printers on the network could make a huge difference. While the iPad can make use of printers, the choice seems to be limited to only a few WiFi printers. Connecting to a network server isnt something thats easily available. The Windows 8 tablet that I used could already do those things.
Ultimately, however, if Microsoft builds its own tablet, there are two other things it needs to do. The first is to do it right. If they wish to be successful they can be, Mathias said. But they sometimes mess it up with incomplete implementation. Microsoft has had mixed success in this area. The Zune music player failed to compete with Apples iPod, partially because it didnt offer much that was unique and it was expensive. On the other hand, the Xbox video game console has been a huge success, although Microsoft had to be willing to soak up years of losses to make it that way.
At this point, Microsoft holds the key to success. If the company is willing to put the product design and engineering into producing an exceptional tablet at a reasonable price, even if that means losing money initially, then its tablet has a good chance of holding its own with the iPad. But if they dont get the marketing equation right, then theyre doomed.