A bumpy road for Windows 8 tablets
I’ve been using a number of newly released Windows 8 tablets/hybrid PCs. Some are Windows RT and some are Windows 8. Like many Version 1.0 releases from Microsoft, I am taking my initial experiences with a grain of salt.
It is far from perfect and not free of issues and bugs. It’s impossible to expect any product when it’s first launched to be perfect and, of course, software and hardware updates will address any initial issues over time.
That being said, my fear is that both the core consumer base and even many professionals who believe in the long-term promise of Windows 8 may be less forgiving than myself after their initial experience.
What I mean by this is that for the first time the same operating system can yield a quality experience from one piece of hardware and a poor experience on another. I’ve used Windows 8 on some hardware and it is great and I have used Windows 8 on other hardware and it is very poor.
Hardware manufacturers are challenged because this is the first OS release that is designed to support many different modes of computing. Microsoft built Windows 8 to be the platform to help them address more touch centric devices like tablets.
Manufacturers are building computers that do things the market has never seen before
But because Windows 8 is not just built for touch (although it offers a much better experience through touch), many hardware manufacturers are building computers that do things the market has never seen before. In some ways this is good and in others it presents monumental challenges.
What is good is that we are seeing innovation around PC hardware like we have never seen before. We are seeing devices like the Dell XPS 12 that can be used as a notebook or a tablet by simply flipping the screen from within the bezel.
We see devices like the Asus Taichi, which offers two LCD screens mounted back to back so you can use the product as a tablet or notebook, but also lets people across from you see your dual screen while in notebook mode.
Another great example is the Lenovo Yoga, whose LCD can flip from notebook mode all the way to the back to then be used in tablet mode. Or fold almost in half and prop up on the table or desk to be used in collaborative mode.
All of this innovation is being driven by the robust platform of Windows 8. However, with this much varying of form factor differences, as well as platform differences in Windows 8 and Windows RT, my concern is that interested buyers will get confused and in a worst case scenario hold off their purchases even longer.
I’ve used some of the devices I mentioned longer than others but what I find fascinating is that there are some varying degrees of experience with Windows 8 that varies from device to device.
Some devices are snappier than others. Some have better web browsing experiences than others, particularly in portrait mode. Touch works better on some products and not others. All these things add up to usability inconsistencies that I have not encountered with another platform.
Obviously the impending updates to software could fix some of these issues, but my concern is that if consumers find some of these will fundamentally impact their experience and may sour to Windows 8, which is bad for the platform and the ecosystem.
Right now consumers will go to a Microsoft store or a big box retailer and check out the wide range of devices and form factors. Because many are so new, consumers will need to spend time with them in the store learning about their advantages and disadvantages. There has never been a retail environment the likes of what we will see with all Windows 8 and RT devices. My fear is that confusion will lead to lethargy and the industry will suffer.
With all the design fragmentation we are seeing, the key to choosing which Windows 8 tablet is right for you is to understand what trade-offs you are willing to make and which features are the most valuable to you.
Some of these devices will be better at notebook use cases than others. Some will be better at tablet use cases than others. The key will be finding hardware that fits the usage models you find most valuable.
At least the PC and tablet industry is no longer a sea of sameness. Now let’s just hope shoppers can navigate the new waters.