This week Microsoft unveiled their latest iteration of Windows – Windows 8. This version of the PC OS places its major focus into two distinct areas: Gaming and Touch. As the title suggests, this particular rant will focus on Touch.
Going through my RSS feeds yesterday and today I noticed a common theme among the tech blogs and magazines (particularly the Apple orientated) – that Windows 8 misses the mark, that Microsoft fails to understand what people want and that Windows 8 tablets are doomed to failure.
What a colourful, Apple-fanboy painted picture, painted in the chosen medium of faeces. All for an OS that is not even released, has barely been demoed, and that no real devices have been made for.
The fact is, Windows 8 is not iOS. And more importantly, why does it need to be? Just because Apple has taken a particular path with its product strategy doesn’t mean that every other company should follow in its footsteps and be compared against it as the underdog. In fact the complete opposite should happen. Apple already exists, their strategy already exists, and said strategy has already proven successful … for Apple. But why do we need the same strategy, the same ideas, and the same suite of products with a different coat of paint?
The simple answer is we don’t. What I want from Windows 8 is what I already get from Windows 7 – just more of the good, and less of the bad.
Touch, which for the first time was natively supported in Windows 7, is now refined in 8. Natural swiping actions act as a mechanism for scrolling. We have a swipe to unlock login screen, and we have the Metro UI inspired tile interface, with resizeable tiles used to quickly launch our favourite applications and run them side by side. And most importantly, we get to use the same applications we used in previous versions of Windows. I get to use real Microsoft Word, I can use Chrome as my browser, I can run Steam, I can run Propellerhead’s Reason and Record. Not cut down applications, but the real deal. And all without the need to repurchase said applications (provided you have multiple licenses for those applications that require it).
Apple’s strategy was successful, because Apple is Apple. They are expert at winding up a media circus to hype their products to the point where you must have those products (even if the majority of purchasers don’t know why they want them). They are clever at creating a small focused catalogue of products categorised in power by their physical size (the old bigger is better philosophy). And they crave creating user experiences focused on simplicity at the expense of features. And that’s their strength.
Microsoft on the other hand have their own strengths. World dominance in the form of a massive installed user base, a catalogue of applications that is larger and more expansive than Apple could ever dream of, and a huge chain of manufacturers behind them capable of providing an unparalleled level of choice.
See, some people don’t want cut down applications on their mobile device. Power users in particular find the current smartphone space frustrating, because they can’t use what they want without restrictions (even to a lesser extent with Android). This isn’t a big loss for phones, as many people just use them to communicate anyway – even iPhone owners.
But the tablet world is distinctly different. Tablets have the potential to be a portable computer you can take anywhere. The resolution on tablets is so large, why do we need to have a cut down interface? Why can’t I use full PC applications that I already know how to use on my tablet? My biggest complaint when the iPad was announced was why Apple didn’t make it run a cut down version of OSX, giving you the ability to use applications you already use on the desktop and are familiar with. Revisiting this complaint now, I realise this isn’t because Apple wasn’t capable of doing so. It’s solely because this doesn’t fit Apple’s strategy. Yes battery life and other minor factors come into play, but it all comes back to Apple’s love for separated product lines, because this maximises profits. Why have Apple fans buy applications for one system – when they can have them buy apps for two or even three devices.
But keeping the tablet and PC worlds together fits Microsoft perfectly, because it taps into a strength they already have – that massive software catalogue. Why build a tablet device or catalogue of tablet devices that simply mimic the iPad? What could that possibly achieve? Apart from a thrashing by the media, not a whole lot. Windows Phone 7 is having a hard enough time gaining developer support, adding another device to go through the same pains does not make good business sense and would again be suicide for Microsoft.
Creating a tablet interface that the OS can hand the user over to when touch is detected makes far more sense – giving people the simplicity of touch with the power of a full PC is just the kind of game plan Microsoft needs to play in its re-entry to the tablet space. People need to get over it and accept that this may just be what the world needs. Because it certainly doesn’t need another iPad.