Mobile // Mobile Devices
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7/17/2013
07:12 PM
Michael Endler
Michael Endler
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Windows 8 Tablets' Big Flaw: Hardware Compromise

Windows 8 tablets, available in a variety of shapes and sizes and at a range of prices, aren't selling briskly. Why? Hardware that doesn't strike the right balance.

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On Thursday, Microsoft will announce its fourth-quarter earnings, and Wall Street analysts expect the company to post year-over-year increases in both earnings and revenue. Such a performance would be impressive given that the PC market, a traditional source of Microsoft revenue, has continued to decline. But even if Microsoft exceeds expectations, the company will face pointed questions about not only CEO Steve Ballmer's restructuring plan but also the floundering flagship at the center of it all: Windows 8.

Windows 8 tablets are a sore spot. Microsoft owns the desktop space but trails Apple, Google and Samsung in the tablet market. With Windows 8's Modern UI, the company risked disrupting a generation of Windows users purely to enter the mobile scene, so the lack of progress is troubling.

Windows 8's unfamiliar interface and weak selection of mobile apps have absorbed most of the blame. It's become increasingly likely, however, that the devices are culpable, too.

In a sense, Steve Ballmer has admitted as much. In June, for example, he conceded that Windows 8 was hurt by the lack of touchscreen devices available at launch. This is a fair point, but touch-equipped Windows 8 models are available in all shapes and sizes now, and the OS is still a cellar dweller in overall market share.

[ Looking for reasons to embrace the latest version of Microsoft's operating system? Read Windows 8.1: 10 Surprise Benefits. ]

Ballmer's right about the devices being a problem. But the issue isn't their initial availability; it's that most of them aren't very good or too niche-oriented. The Acer Iconia W3, for instance, was announced in early June and released a few weeks later. The first of the vaunted 8-inch Windows 8 tablets, the device has been criticized not only for its poor screen but also its overall construction, which is heavy on plastics and light on sleekness.

For mobile Web browsing and email, it might be perfectly serviceable, but to anyone who has held a premium tablet, the device is clearly a cut below in design. And though some users might value access to Windows apps on such a small device, the Iconia's cheap screen isn't well-suited to Word, Excel, Photoshop or many of the other most popular programs.

The jury's still out on whether the $400 Iconia is selling, but it's not encouraging that an Acer spokesperson allegedly said that a lighter, thinner successor, perhaps with a better screen, is already in the works.

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Gadgety
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Gadgety,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/20/2013 | 7:03:09 PM
re: Windows 8 Tablets' Big Flaw: Hardware Compromise
I agree, the Helix is really close to excellent, although I'm holding until the Haswell version is out. It is expensive, as pointed out by Michael. Where I am it'll cost USD 2900. I've also heard there's nagging quality issues - perhaps not widespread, but I do not even want to know there's a remote chance of quailty issue at that price point - it has to be impeccable.
Gadgety
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Gadgety,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/20/2013 | 6:49:37 PM
re: Windows 8 Tablets' Big Flaw: Hardware Compromise
AustinIT "Most of the devices are geared for consumption and not creation." Exactly.

OldUberGoober "...a stupidly compromised OS (RT) that offers no advantages over the opposition" Well, the advantage is in the creation, while the disadvantage is in the consumption - it doesn't run legacy Windows programs, and it doesn't have a so called eco-system to tap into in terms of apps, like iPad or Android.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
7/19/2013 | 5:51:24 PM
re: Windows 8 Tablets' Big Flaw: Hardware Compromise
A major question is whether the overall business and government markets will even need Win 8 on tablets at all. Right now, there are already tens of millions of iPads in that space. Even without Office, sales are doing very well. So where is the advantage of Win 8 tablets? What do they have to offer that the tens of millions of workers don't already have?

This is a big question for Microsoft. If their major advantage, or what they may think of as their major advantage isn't proving to be a detriment to iOS and even Android sales to business and government, then what will be? Is there anything?

I understand that there might be some in that space that will prefer a Win 8 tablet, but what are those numbers? Millions a quarter? Hundreds of thousands per quarter? Either way, those are small numbers. Even a 10.6" Surface has a screen that's really too small for comfortable classic OS and software use. Remember convertibles? Even with much bigger screens, of between 13-15", they were still considered to be too small for practical use.

It's very possible that Win 8 tablets will never be more than a niche because of this no matter how good the hardware becomes.
AustinIT
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AustinIT,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/19/2013 | 4:32:53 PM
re: Windows 8 Tablets' Big Flaw: Hardware Compromise
Is is pretty clear that MS has some catching up to do with this hybrid approach to be all things to all people with their new OS. What we are seeing are the dynamics being played out over how to bridge the many divides that define how a computing device can satisfy the needs of business, consumer, BYOD, and IT management all in one OS/device. None of the current offerings do it all. Not from Apple, Android, nor Microsoft. We are also seeing how huge an impact that mobile and small form factor are having on the market. Most of the devices are geared for consumption and not creation. If MS and it's partners can get it right with 8.1, Haswell, and just the right mix of hardware, then we may see a different trajectory that all this takes. Sit tight, this is going to be an interesting second half.
UberGoober
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UberGoober,
User Rank: Strategist
7/19/2013 | 2:35:13 PM
re: Windows 8 Tablets' Big Flaw: Hardware Compromise
Given a choice between a stupidly compromised OS (RT) that offers no advantages over the opposition and a resource hog (Real Win8), both with an unpopular UI, where's the win? While they will run Windows apps in a compromised way, x86/64 tablets running Win8 aren't going to have most of the advantages that make tablets popular, and the improvements they get will be mirrored in iPad and Android tablets as well.

Reminds me of a couple of bits of history. Micro$oft sold their Unix license to SCO and when they needed a real OS to replace DOS pride got in the way and they spent a billion bucks writing NT, when $50 million would have made Unix a better and easier OS than NT ever was; they could do that because they were the 900 pound gorilla on the desktop. From the darker depths of history, for a year or two back in the '70s it was pretty clear that bubble memory that was going to replace DRAM as soon as they got it improved just a little. It got better, but DRAM got better even faster, and now no one has even heard of it.

It is not 100% clear to me which model this will follow, but I strongly suspect Win8 will be treated like Vista and generally ignored by business, even on tablets, except in a few verticals. M$ just doesn't have the muscle they used to; there are too many decent alternatives.
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
7/19/2013 | 12:00:09 PM
re: Windows 8 Tablets' Big Flaw: Hardware Compromise
And don't forget the ridiculously short battery life of the Surface. 4 hours is just not enough, not even for casual home use.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
7/18/2013 | 6:01:53 PM
re: Windows 8 Tablets' Big Flaw: Hardware Compromise
The Helix has some fans; Seton Hall, for instance, is deploying it to students. Its screen is a little bigger than the Surface's, and its dockable keyboard, though less portable than the Surface's, is nicer and more ergonomically functional. It's a good tablet.

But the Helix also costs a fortune, and for some users, it's still going to compliment, rather than replace, a larger PC. I think that qualifies it as a niche product. I don't think Lenovo is wrong, per se, to price it as they have; I just think its cost-design-function ratios are too imbalanced for it to achieve breakout success on, say, the level of the MacBook Air, a comparably priced device.
JoeHIS
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JoeHIS,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/18/2013 | 5:47:23 PM
re: Windows 8 Tablets' Big Flaw: Hardware Compromise
You need to consider all the devices available! I recently acquired the Lenovo Helix tablet, and it is the best of both worlds! Great keyboard and tablet works like an ultrabook and tablet. Yes, the screen is on the small side, but now I don't have to carry my heavier laptop and Android tablet, and since it's Windows 8 Pro, all my documents are compatible. I think this is the way laptops will go in the future.
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