The tablet interface of Windows 8 that Microsoft demonstrated this week looks great, and developers and reviewers are pretty excited about the test version that the company is giving away.But there are still way too many unanswered questions to know whether Windows 8 will be a hit with tablets, and stop the iPad from stealing more Windows market share.
As analyst Mike Cherry from Directions on Microsoft put it, “Metro has always looked good. But pretty don’t last. There has to be something there.”
Here are some of the things we still don’t know:
- When will it be released? Probably no earlier than next fall.
- Would a developer with a great idea for a tablet app target Windows 8 today? Not if they wanted to have actual sales for the next year. (Can you imagine pitching to startup a VC and saying “we have this great idea for a Windows 8 tablet app….”? That pitch wouldn’t get very far.)
- Will corporate customers make any plans for Windows 8? Again, it’s too far away. Meanwhile, the iPad will continue making inroads into the enterprise.
- Will hardware makers deliver Windows 8 tablets that match the iPad in terms of battery life, lack of noise, and size? The Windows 8 tablet that Microsoft gave away at Build wasn’t really an iPad competitor at all — it was an Intel-based tablet PC with a touch screen…and a fan. (John Gruber made quite a lot of fun of this, comparing it to a couple of car commercials in which people use gas-powered gadgets — Nissan and Renault.)
- Why will Windows on ARM tablets be any better than any other software on ARM tablets? The reason Apple and other tablet makers use ARM chips is because they require less power and less cooling. Windows 8 will run on ARM chips, too. But Microsoft’s biggest advantage with Windows is the fact that it’s got millions of legacy applications. Those legacy apps won’t run on ARM-based machines. So in terms of actual tablets as we think of them today, Microsoft and its developers are starting from scratch.
- Will Office be available on the tablet UI? Microsoft wouldn’t commit, saying only that it’s considering it.
- What will Apple, Amazon, and other tablet makers do in the meantime? They won’t stand still. Windows 8 tablets won’t be competing against the iPad 2 and first-generation Amazon Kindle colour tablet. They’ll be competing against the next, better versions of these products.
There’s a lot to like about how Microsoft is thinking about the future of computing. The emphasis on touch — even outside a tablet, like with touch-enabled monitors — is smart. (Ask any habitual iPad user how often they absent-mindedly teach out to touch their other computers now to try and pinch or zoom text — only to be rudely reminded that old-fashioned computers don’t have touch screens.)
There’s also little doubt that Windows 8 will sell a lot of copies, as the PC market isn’t completely drying up.
But as far as Microsoft conquering the tablet market? We’ll have to wait and see.
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