Nearly two-thirds of knowledge workers (62%) who use or want to use tablets would prefer to do so with a keyboard, according to a new Forrester study.
For the study, Forrester surveyed 1,070 knowledge workers in North America and Europe. Some 35% of respondents said they would prefer a tablet that turns into a small laptop, while 27% said they would prefer a tablet that can be used with wireless keyboard accessories. Some 34% said they would prefer to use a tablet without a keyboard, and to switch to a computer for tasks that require heavy typing. Only 4% were unsure or had no preference.
But Forrester's study also reinforces how much tablets have begun to change the way people work. Some 35% of the study's respondents said their laptop use has declined since they began using tablets. As noted above, 35% also preferred laptop-like tablets. There's clearly a market for a do-it-all tablet that offers not only touch apps and mobility, but also access to legacy software.
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This finding echoes an earlier Forrester study, which found more workers were interested in Windows tablets than in iPads. But that study was conducted before Windows 8 was released. As the sales record has since indicated, buyers liked the idea of a Windows tablet much more than what Microsoft actually produced. In retrospect, it seems survey respondents actually wanted a tablet that provided all of the appeal of an iPad or Android device but that also featured the IT-friendliness and software compatibility of a Windows tablet. What they have not wanted is Windows 8.
In the more recent study, Forrest also reported that 80% of workers would prefer to use a PC, tablet and smartphone in conjunction. This implies, Forrester noted, that some users want both a laptop and a tablet with a keyboard. The subtext is discouraging for Microsoft. Thanks to features such as SkyDrive, Windows 8 should excel in multi-device workflows. Nonetheless, users haven't been interested.
It's also striking that only 35% of survey respondents want a laptop-like tablet. The respondents were all knowledge workers -- the group most beholden to keyboards. Interest among general users is almost certainly lower. IDC recently said it expects touchscreen models to account for only 10% to 15% of laptop sales, which reinforces the idea that hybrid devices cater to a limited audience. If Microsoft can't even succeed within the group to which Windows 8 should be most appealing, what hope does it have -- even with Windows 8.1 -- for success in the larger market?
Indeed, the Forrester study's biggest implication is that people value a tablet's user experience above all other factors. It's useful if a tablet can handle laptop-style content creation, but keyboards and access to legacy software seem to be less important than a device's UI and catalog of mobile apps.
Windows 8 devices embrace keyboards much more aggressively than iOS and Android products do. So, at face value, the data is encouraging for Microsoft, especially with Windows 8.1 arriving in October to clean up the OS's interface. But that doesn't mean Microsoft can expect a holiday season rebound.
Windows 8 offers many features users care about, just not the main feature: a captivating experience. If Windows 8.1 can't address this core flaw, it's hard to see Microsoft rebounding in the mass market.
According to IDC, Windows tablets accounted for only 4% of all tablet shipments in the most recent quarter. Even in the enterprise, iOS and Android devices make up 86% of tablets, according to Forrester's data. If users like the form factor of Windows 8 devices, why have sales been so poor?