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The new 2-in-1 Windows 8 tablets look great, but will a 64-bit iPad be Apple's trump card?

by Ben Bajarin

September 15 2013

Ben Bajarin is Director of the Consumer Technology Practice at Creative Strategies, a strategy consulting firm in Silicon Valley.


This holiday quarter, consumers and business buyers will have more tablets to choose from than ever and Apple's iPad will surely face its stiffest competition. 
 

And while too many choices can be confusing, it is the variety of offerings from Android and Windows-based tablets that are the greatest challenge to the iPad.

Last week's Intel IDF developers conference showed a strong commitment by the chipmaker and its hardware partners to deliver a new generation of tablets.

2-in-1 Windows 8 tablets are tailor made for business

As I've written previously here, Intel and its partners have faced a number of challenges around touch availability, flawed designs for tablets and hybrids, etc.  Much of that critique is no longer valid. Touch availability is now much more prevalent, we're seeing nearly all the new tablets and what Intel calls 2-in-1 devices (tablets with keyboards) from OEMs coming to market with touch screens. Costs have also come down, allowing for some excellent and affordable 2-in-1 devices.

Many great tablet designs, many with solid keyboard attachments have been announced and many more are coming before the holiday season. This is great for the Windows environment as these are the foundations needed to help Windows gain traction and attract more developers.

What is interesting about where we are today, however, is that Windows RT is all but dead. I'm not saying RT devices won't come out, but I am saying the platform will not be advanced in any meaningful way.(I remain convinced that Microsoft should have made Windows Phone software the basis of their tablet platform.)

Which brings to light the key point that most of this new crop of tablets will be running Intel's processors, which means they all have backward compatibility with legacy Windows software.  For many Windows customers who run legacy software this is a big deal and the main reason they have shunned the more limited ARM-based Windows RT models.

(Using or planning to buy a Windows 8 device? Sign up for the free TabTimes for Windows newsletter for news, reviews, apps, insights and advice)

A new generation of iPad

It's hard to compete against the iPad. It is the undisputed tablet king and I believe it's about to get that much better.

If you followed Apple's iPhone announcement from last week you may have noticed that they announced two key features of the high end version of the iPhone, the iPhone 5s. Those two features were a fingerprint scanner and a new chip called the A7 which is the world's first 64-bit ARM processor in a mobile device.

Now people will argue and debate as to whether it makes sense to have a 64-bit processor in a smartphone, but I think the value of 64-bit in the iPad is a lot clearer and stands to give Apple a competitive advantage.

It's so interesting that Apple will bring this new A7 to the iPad (I'd be very surprised if they didn't), because they have been mainly used in desktop, workstations and servers. A 64-bit iPad will enter new boundaries when it comes to the type of software it can run.

Developers will be able to create new classes of software not yet possible on the iPad when it runs the A7. Gaming and more graphically and computationally complex apps will benefit as well and expect to see new apps that take advantage of the extra processing power.

Software developers were slow to start adopting 64-bit in desktop applications, but I expect iOS developers to start reaping the benefits quickly. Apple has already included developer tools to make it easy for developers to start taking advantage of the new 64-bit architecture.I don't usually make a big deal about performance or specs, but this one I think is a big deal.

Many, including myself, have long argued the iPad can be far more than a consumption device and also be used for meaningful creative and productive tasks,  Well, when it runs a 64-bit processor there will no longer be any doubt.

Look for Apple to drive its security advantage

The other big edition was the fingerprint sensor. We may not see commercial applications for this right away, but it is logical to presume that they will come.

This gives the iPad a differentiated advantage with regard to security in many consumer and enterprise environments. We will see if Apple brings the fingerprint sensor to one or both iPads. But the upside with this technology is significant.

iOS 7 is another big driver that will, in my opinion, drive the advantage gap of the iPad even further. iOS 7 brings a fundamentally brand new experience to the iPad and iPhone.   

One thing I will say for sure is that tablet buyers have many good options going into this holiday season. I only hope that too much choice will not make it harder to decide.

(For iPad news, trends, apps and reviews, sign up for the free TabTimes for iPad newsletter)

Ben Bajarin is Director of the Consumer Technology Practice at Creative Strategies, a strategy consulting firm in Silicon Valley.
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