Photo: Illustration: Ellis Hamburger
Microsoft let developers and the public take a look at Windows 8, which will work on both tablets and PCs. The software is beautiful and technically very impressive in many ways but it is taking the wrong approach to compete with the iPad and other tablets that are disruptive to Microsoft’s legacy PC business. The key idea behind Windows 8 is that it will be the same OS on tablets and PCs, except with different skins and tweaks for each.
Here’s why this is wrong:
- Tablets are a different form factor and interface paradigm from the PC, so software made from the ground up for tablets is always going to be superior to software made for both. The idea behind a tablet/PC OS is that it’s more powerful: Microsoft showed off Windows 8 tablets running advanced software like Photoshop and Excel. But this is the wrong way to look at this. Image editing software that’s built from the ground up for tablets is going to be better for tablets.
- Tablet software is DISRUPTIVE to PC software, which is what Microsoft does. The key point of disruptive products is that they are in many ways technically inferior to the products they replace and yet grab market share because they’re better in one or a few key respects. For tablets, this is ease of use. Photo editing software for tablets is always going to be less powerful than Photoshop but it’s probably going to be more intuitive, built from the ground up for a touch interface where users can manipulate things with their fingers. Apple’s GarageBand music app for the iPad is much less powerful than other music apps. But it’s also much more intuitive and a pleasure to use. By showing off how Windows 8 tablets are going to have more “powerful” software than iOS tablets, Microsoft is stuck in the classic innovator’s dilemma: it’s doubling down on the features of its offering that are getting disrupted instead of trying to disrupt the disruptors.
PCs are still much more powerful than tablets for doing specific tasks like writing, spreadsheets and heavy-duty professional work. But tablets are disruptive to the PC paradigm by making interaction with software more simple and intuitive, at the expense of “power-features” that most users don’t want or need anyway. (Has your grandmother ever complained that her PC doesn’t have enough advanced features?) And if they are with iPads at $500, they’re only going to be more so with Android tablets at $200, which will be the reality by the time Windows 8 ships.
Right now tablets are mostly great for media consumption (which is already most of what people do on computers), but as tablet software improves, tablets will become more convenient and better for more and more use cases and, in classic disruptive fashion, relegate the PC to specialised tasks, just like the PC did to the mainframe in the 1970s and 1980s.
Tablets are the future of computing. This means that tablet-specific software will win. Instead of doubling down on its PC business and trying to PC-ify tablets, Microsoft should double down on tablet-first software.
This post was published as part of BI Research, a new industry intelligence service from Business Insider. BI Research provides real-time research and analysis on the technology industry. The service is currently in beta and is free. To learn more and sign up, please click here.
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