Windows 8 is Microsoft’s foray into the Apple dominated world of tablets, but on my first viewing at the IFA 2012 tech trade show, it doesn’t make a terribly convincing case.
It’s fashionable to beat up on Microsoft, particularly Windows 8, at present. And much as I’d like to buck that trend, my first serious glimpse at Windows tablets has done little to whet my appetite.
At IFA 2012 last week, Europe’s largest showcase of upcoming tech, Windows 8 was everywhere. There was lots of innovation, mainly involving varieties of tablet and laptop hybrids running Windows 8.
But untangling the mess that is Windows on tablets is hard – let me explain why.
Windows 8 or Windows RT – kind of the same, but not really
It mainly stems from Microsoft’s decision to sell two different types of Windows for tablets. There’s bog-standard Windows 8, the same OS that’ll find its way to laptops and PCs the world over come the end of the October. With it you get the tablet experience – once dubbed ‘Metro’ by Microsoft but now known ‘simply’ as ‘Modern Style UI’ due to a legal dispute – in addition to the full Windows 8 experience with all the programs you’re used to using.
Then there’s Windows RT – a pared down version that’s focused purely on the tablet experience, but with a limited standard desktop and a modified version of Microsoft Office 2013 installed. It can only run dedicated tablet apps, not the full Windows programs supported by Windows 8, with the exception of Office 2013, of course.
While the two are broadly similar, the end result is fundamentally different. Windows 8 tablets won’t be cheap – most of the ones we saw were pitching a circa £1,000 price point. They’re aiming at a ‘best of both worlds’ scenario, but to me they’re falling into the exact same trap as the Windows XP tablet PCs of yesteryear. Too heavy, too expensive – the quintessential jack of all trades and master of none.
Windows RT is a more interesting proposition, but it’s fraught with problems of its own.
Windows RT and great expectations (missed)
In principle Windows RT tablets are in iPad territory. Most will be priced similarly and use the same kind of technology as found in the iPad and Android tablets. Clearly they’re at a disadvantage in coming to the party so late, but Microsoft is banking on the allure Office 2013 being pre-installed to draw people in. It’s not much of a selling point.
There are so many problems here that I don’t know where to start. First of all, Office on Windows RT isn’t a proper tablet app – it runs in the standard desktop mode. It has a ‘touch mode’ but it falls a long way short of a genuine tablet experience. Having spent some time using it at the show, it seemed an apologetic attempt at Office for tablets. It won’t even be ready for launch – Windows RT tablets will come with a preview version until early 2013.
How anyone’s supposed to buy into Windows RT when one of its key features is in such a state is anyone’s guess. Moreover, because it’s not a proper tablet app, it necessitates having a desktop mode – about as welcome a feature on a pure tablet as the next-door neighbour’s dog fouling your prize winning lawn.
The biggest problem, however, is simply the confusion the different versions of Windows will generate among consumers. People wandering into their local PC World won’t immediately appreciate the difference between Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets, aside the large difference in price. And simply having Windows in the name conjures certain expectations, ones Windows RT is unlikely to meet.
And this could result in customers getting frustrated with a product that doesn’t work like they expected it to, and they’ve got plenty of options to jump ship to… Android tablets and iPads.