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.
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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