[credit provider=”Ellis Hamburger, Business Insider”]
Later this year, Microsoft and its hardware partners are expectecd to put out the first Windows 8 tablets.By then, the iPad will have been around for more than two years with basically zero competition.
Nobody outside the tech industry thinks “tablet.” They think “iPad.”
So how will Microsoft and its hardware partners convince you to pass on an iPad and buy a Windows tablet instead? What possible advantages will it have?
Will it run old apps? Probably not — for a tablet to be competitive with the iPad on battery life, it’s probably going to have to use an ARM processor (unless Intel comes up with some serious magic between now and the end of 2012). Windows 8 on ARM won’t run apps built for Intel-based PCs. In other words, all those apps you already own — Office 2010, Photoshop, whatever — won’t work.
Will it have a bunch of new or exclusive apps? Doubtful. Microsoft pushing developers to make apps for the new “Metro” interface, which was designed with touch screens in mind. But it’s using the overall PC installed base — 500 million Windows 7 licenses sold! — as bait.
The thing is, nobody knows how many Windows 8 machines will have touch screens. And without a touch screen, the Metro interface doesn’t add much value. (Seriously — why would you want to use a pointer and mouse or touchpad on an interface with big blocky squares and menus that were designed for fingers? That sounds insanely frustrating.)
In other words, developers have little reason to develop for Metro until they know it’s going to take off. And Metro won’t take off unless it’s got a great selection of apps, like the iPad. That’s a tough vicious circle to break.
Microsoft might be able to break that cycle with Office — if it doesn’t bring Office to the iPad first.
Will the hardware be amazingly great? Maybe. But it could just as easily be horrible.
That’s because Microsoft only controls the software, which it has to rely on its hardware partners to make sure the overall experience is great.
For example, Microsoft posted this morning about supporting sensors — internal pieces like a compass and accelerometer. These are necessary for Windows 8 tablets to do things that we take for granted in the iPad like figuring out whether you’re holding it in portrait or landscape mode.
Here’s the key part:
Designing a sensor fusion system is relatively easy if you’re designing a single device. But Windows runs on many kinds of PCs in many form factors, using hardware components from many different manufacturers. We needed to provide a solution that enabled the entire ecosystem of Windows hardware partners to participate.
The first step was to provide a baseline of performance for sensor packages that would work with Windows’ sensor fusion solution. Using Windows certification guidelines, we provided specifications for sensor performance. To help hardware companies verify that their solutions were compatible with Windows, we built a number of tests, which we provide with the Windows Certification kit.
Thinking about all the crummy third-party software that’s been approved under past Windows logo programs, my stomach sank when I read this. How rigorous will those tests be? Who’s going to enforce them?
Microsoft wants a big marquee of partners making Windows 8 tablets at launch. Is Microsoft really going to say “no” to a big potential launch partner like HP if the sensors aren’t exactly perfectly as good as the iPad?
But let’s say everything goes exactly according to Microsoft’s most optimistic plans — great apps, great hardware, no bugs or glaring flaws in Windows 8 itself.
That’s not good enough.
The iPad is to tablets like Google is to search — it defines the market. To get people to choose a competitor, it has to be significantly better.
Microsoft has spent seven years and countless billions trying to make users choose Bing over Google. It’s gotten up to about 15% share, or 30% if you count Yahoo (although I’d wager most Yahoo users don’t even know or care that it’s powered by Microsoft’s search engine now — they’re there for the Yahoo brand).
With the iPad already eating 17% of the PC market, which still provides a huge part of Microsoft’s profits and revenue, Microsoft doesn’t have that much time.