Respected futurologist Robert Scoble
Microsoft’s Windows 8 tablet launch is expected to be one of the biggest tech news stories of 2012 – Microsoft will finally take a proper stab at an iPad generation tablet. But according to futurologist Robert Scoble, success is "not guaranteed".
When the Windows 8 tablet launches – and the rumours suggest the release will be around mid-year – it will have little in common with the older tablet PCs that Microsoft and others tried and failed to turn into a lucrative market.
A Windows 8 preview suggested a fluid new interface called Metro, which Microsoft’s head of Windows Experience Julie Larson-Green described as, "Fast, fluid and dynamic, the experience has been transformed while keeping the power, flexibility and connectivity of Windows intact."
The firm also looks to be playing it safe, opting to allow support for a mouse and keyboard as well as touch, presumably in order to offer backwards compatibility for the hundreds of thousands of existing Windows apps out there.
"Although the new user interface is designed and optimised for touch, it works equally well with a mouse and keyboard," said Larson-Green. "Our approach means no compromises – you get to use whatever kind of device you prefer, with peripherals you choose, to run the apps you love. This is sure to inspire a new generation of hardware and software development, improving the experience for PC users around the world."
Samsung, HP, Dell, ASUS and perhaps even Nokia are expected to come out with tablets based on the forthcoming Windows 8. It’s anticipated there will be versions running Intel, ARM and AMD chips, though it’s also been reported that the ARM versions will support Metro apps but not older Windows apps.
But what chance will Microsoft’s hardware partners have against not just the Apple iPad, but also the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Tab, Kindle Fire, BlackBerry PlayBook et al?
Speaking at a recent roundtable in London, respected futurologist and Rackspace technology evangelist Robert Scoble – formerly a blogger for Microsoft – said, "Windows 8 will be a big, big story [in 2012]. Will Microsoft have a successful tablet? It’s not guaranteed."
Scoble continued, "It’s going to be a very different machine, and there will be people taking a close look at battery life, pricing, and how many apps there are that are made for touch or a stylus. The Windows 8 prototypes I have tried feel good on the surface, but I’ve not seen the apps yet."
"Does Microsoft have a chance?" Scoble asked. "Amazon is a tough one. They have a $200 tablet [the kindle fire]. How will [Microsoft and its hardware partners] make money in the face of such stiff price competition? Why do I need a $400 Windows tablet?"
Scoble also mused on the potential impact on the iPad. "At the high end Apple is still likely to have a double-resolution screen," he said. "Will that enable it to resist the pricing pressure in the tablet market?"
Scoble noted though that another potential problem for Microsoft could be a lack of applications optimized for touch rather than keyboard and mouse, a problem not suffered by the iPad. "The start-ups I talk to are writing apps for iOS and Android," Scoble said. "A lot are doing Android ‘cos the numbers are there, and you’d be mad not to do apps for the iPhone and iPad. For some developers writing apps exclusively for iOS is attractive because if you don’t write apps for other platforms, Apple will feature you [higher] in the App Store."
There are lots of unknowns concerning the forthcoming Windows 8 tablets, so it’s tough to make any firm predictions. But the general impression left by Scoble’s assertions is that Windows tablets might – just might – be too limited to compete successfully with the iPad, and too expensive to compete with the Kindle Fire. But if Windows 8 tablet success is not guaranteed, neither is failure. Not yet, at any rate.
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