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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.

Midsize tablets such as the Surface Pro are compromised as well. The device is engaging in tablet mode, limited more by the Windows Store's meager selection than any aspect of the hardware. But in laptop mode it's a different story. The 10.6-inch screen is already on the small end for software like Microsoft Office; the screen's high resolution exacerbates matters by making desktop icons appear smaller than normal.

The Surface Pro's kickstand is great for propping it up to type notes during a meeting or for setting up shop in a café. But some mobile users also need to be productive while crammed into trains and other places where there aren't flat, stable tabletops. For these needs, a traditional laptop handily beats the Surface Pro. Like the Iconia, in other words, the Surface Pro isn't a balanced package.

For pockets of users, Windows 8 tablets are revolutionary all-in-one devices. But for many people the tradeoffs appear to outweigh the appeal. For all the unique capabilities the Surface Pro brings, it's easy to see why many users see Microsoft's tablet as less than the sum of its features.

Challenges like these are pervasive throughout the Windows 8 landscape. Legacy applications are one of Windows 8's advantages, but it's hard to manufacture an 8-inch device that takes advantage of this positive. It's likewise difficult to sell devices at the low prices consumers want while also providing quality and making a profit. Meanwhile, bigger tablets and convertible ultrabooks are more versatile -- but also much more expensive and they still have ergonomic quirks.

At the high end, Microsoft is contending largely with Apple's laptops, which have weathered the PC downturn relatively well. At the low end, Windows 8 is competing not only with wildly popular Android and iOS devices but also emerging alternatives such as the Chromebook. These competing products can't do all the things that Windows 8 can do, yet Windows 8's so-called advantages haven't resonated with any segment of the larger market. And that's the problem so far with Windows 8 tablets: They're too compromised to appeal to more than niche users.

If different devices targeted different pockets of users, a niche approach might work in an aggregate sense. But based on Windows 8's market share, this hasn't happened. Windows 8 tablets need more apps, but they also need form factors and components that don't subvert the OS's appeals.

Research firm Forrester has said for months that enterprise employees are interested in Windows 8 tablets. In an interview conducted before Microsoft announced its reorganization, Forrester analyst David Johnson said this is still the case. So even if the Surface Pro and other devices haven't capitalized on this interest, there's still potential.

Windows 8.1's interface tweaks constitute one piece of Microsoft's tablet puzzle. Intel's Haswell and Bay Trail chips form another piece, as they should result in Windows 8 tablets that are not only thinner and lighter but also boast improved graphics rendering and battery life.

But the puzzle will be incomplete without more-appealing, cost-friendly and functional hardware. The extent to which Microsoft and its partners meet this challenge could determine whether Windows 8 tablets can outgrow niche status.

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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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