Apple shipped its new iPad on March 16. Predictably, it was a smash hit, as the company said it sold more than 3 million of the devices during the first weekend. Microsoft, meanwhile, is planning its first serious entry into the media tablet market this fall when it will introduce Windows on Arm (WoA) tablets. The question for those who have yet to jump on the Apple bandwagon is whether to opt for the new iPad now, or to wait until Windows 8 tablets are available, most likely starting in October.
A feature-by-feature comparison of the two platforms is tricky, given that new iPad is a real, shipping product, while WoA systems have yet to arrive. (We've left the more conventional, Intel-based Windows 8 tablets out of the equation to keep things, er, apples to Apples.) The performance of Windows 8 tablets will depend greatly on how hardware makers like Nokia, Lenovo, Asus, and others, implement Microsoft's specifications.
Still, there's a lot we already know about Windows 8 and the hardware components on which it will run, so there is some basis for comparison, even if it's a bit speculative at this point. Here's a look at some key features on both new iPad and Windows 8 tablets, and how they compare with each other.
New iPad: Apple's latest tablet starts at $499 for a 16-GB, Wi-Fi only model, and ranges all the way up to $829 for a 64-GB model with Wi-Fi and 4G connectivity.
Windows 8 tablets: This is an unknown at this point, but if Microsoft's strategy around Windows Phone is any indication, expect the company and its partners, particularly Nokia, to be highly aggressive on price. Nokia introduced a solid Windows Phone, the Lumia 710, and it's now free with a contract on T-Mobile. Microsoft has shown it's willing to sacrifice margin for market share in areas where it's lagging. Tablets will be one of them.
Considerations: High prices doomed previous Windows tablets efforts, like HP's $699 Slate 2. But WoA tablets will most likely be sold under the mobile phone model, with manufacturers and carriers subsidizing hardware. So odds are there will be Windows 8 tablets that match or beat the new iPad when it comes to price.
New iPad: No surprises here. New iPad uses the familiar, icon-based iOS 5 home screen. It's also rich with utiltities, like Notification Center, that push content, such as alerts about email and social media messages, to the top of the screen. There's also plenty of one-touch links to services like Twitter, Newsstand, and iMessage.
[ Want to see the guts of the new iPad? Click on New iPad Teardown: Inside Apple's Tablet. ]
Windows 8 tablets: Windows 8 tablets won't look like any other tablet on the market. They'll all feature Microsoft's touch-friendly Metro interface, inherited from Windows Phone 7. The hallmark of Metro is Live Tiles, blocks that provide message notifications and single-click access to preselected apps and services.
Considerations: The choice between iOS's icons or Windows 8 Metro is purely subjective. But one thing is for certain--Metro is not another me-too mobile GUI and users seem to either love it or hate it. That makes the decision to go with a completely new type of interface a high-risk, high-reward move for Microsoft.
3. DISPLAY SIZE
New iPad: 9.7-inches is the standard size for all iPads, including new iPad. That's about the sweet spot for most tablets. Some, like the 10.1-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, check in a bit larger, while others, like Amazon's Kindle Fire or RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook, go for compactness with a 7-inch display.
Windows 8 tablets: Microsoft has geared Windows 8 to support numerous display sizes on tablets, as it expects its ecosystem of hardware partners to produce devices in a range of sizes. It's possible, however, that the initial WoA tablets will veer toward the larger end of the spectrum. A prototype publicly shown by Nvidia appears to be at least 10 inches, and in a blog post this week Microsoft noted that "Common sizes for Windows 8" start at 10.1 inches and range to 12 inches.
Considerations: By emphasizing size over portability, Microsoft appears to want to position WoA tablets as no-compromise devices for media consumption and productivity. But the difference between a 10.1-inch Windows 8 tablet and 9.7-inch iPad is pretty marginal.
4. DISPLAY RESOLUTION
New iPad: The most noticeable difference between iPad 2 and new iPad is that the latter has inherited the Retina Display technology from the iPhone. Through a combination of high resolution (2048 pixels by 1536 pixels, at 264 ppi), and technologies like oleophobic coating and in-plane switching, Apple has created a tablet display that is unrivaled.
Windows 8 tablets: Microsoft has said Windows 8 will support multiple display resolutions on tablets, up to and even slightly beyond that of Retina Display. For instance, the company has confirmed that Windows 8 will support a display of at least 2560 pixels by 1440 pixels, at 291 ppi, on a 10.1-inch tablet.
Considerations: Windows 8 may be able to match the new iPad in terms of sheer numbers, but the beauty of Apple products has never been about the stats, it's about how it all comes together. New iPad is no different, and Microsoft and its partners face a tough challenge to produce displays that match the crispness and vibrancy of Retina Display.