Why Windows 8 Is Not An iPad 3 Competitor

Earlier this week Microsoft released a consumer preview beta version of their new operating system, Windows 8. So far the response is pretty positive, especially when it comes to the Metro interface for touch/tablet use.

This inevitably led to a slew of posts warning that the iPad 3 (or iPad HD) should watch its back, because here comes Microsoft to finally tumble the iOS tower!

I’m gonna need people to step back and calm down with that talk.

I know this is all very exciting for all of you who’ve been loyal to Microsoft and the idea of the Tablet PC all these years. Zuul knows you need a reason to celebrate. But let’s think about that comparison for a minute.

Windows 8 UI

Windows 8 is an iPad 3 competitor? That’s like saying Ubuntu is a MacBook competitor. One is software, one is a complete hardware and software package. And yes, I get what people mean — that Win8 tablets will give the iPad 3 a run for its money — but that really depends on the tablet.

Let’s set aside Windows 8 as a viable tablet OS for a minute and look at the state of Windows tablets in general. For the past few years the news hasn’t been so great. A handful of Tablet PCs and convertible tablets have launched in the couple of years before and since the iPad’s launch, but none of them set the world on fire.

All of the slate models I can think of suffered from critical flaws like slow processors or ridiculous heat on the bottom. You couldn’t even get to what was wrong with Windows 7 as a tablet OS because you were too busy just trying to get programs to run on crappy hardware.

Archos 9 PCTablet

Remember the Archos 9 PCTablet? If you don't, you're lucky...

Tablet PC enthusiasts found this state of affairs confusing and frustrating because there is a long history of Windows tablets, yet somehow that didn’t translate to better products.

This is also the issue that plagued the first Android tablets to launch. Even before the iPad became real and not just a rumor it had competition in the form of the Camangi Webstation and a few other devices best forgotten. They were such poor examples of what a tablet could be you kind of wished Google would snatch Android from the open source jaws (almost).

Only when you have good hardware and software well designed or tweaked to work best with it do you get a good tablet. Apple excels at this because they control both. Microsoft can work closely with hardware partners to guide them to making the best choices, but I’m sure there will be less than awesome Windows 8 tablets just as there are less than awesome Windows 7 notebooks.

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So it’s not a question of Windows 8 being an iPad 3 killer. Win8 will potentially enable a Tablet PC that can excite consumers as much as the iPad did and still does.

That depends on whether consumers really buy Windows 8 as a tablet operating system. Microsoft and Windows are familiar brands and that goes a long way with many users, especially business users. The promise of a tablet interface mixed with a familiar desktop one is intriguing and will ease the fears of people who are wary of change.

(Related: Microsoft Removes Start Button on Windows 8 in Favor of Honeycomb-Like Multitasking)

What’s not clear is if Windows 8 can handle the dual personalities and dual functionalities and, frankly, the dual headspaces it wants to occupy smoothly.

In the video below comparing iOS 5 on the iPad and Windows 8, Josh of The Verge says he just doesn’t want to see the desktop bits of Windows 8 and sounds annoyed that they’re even there. Meanwhile, I don’t want to have anything to do with Win8 unless that desktop is an option because that’s where my real work will get done.

Let’s say that Windows 8 successfully bridges this divide and satisfies both the simple tablet users and the more complex productivity folks equally. And let’s say that a company like Lenovo releases a device that both works perfectly whether you’re in tablet mode or desktop mode (I’m thinking the IdeaPad Yoga is a good candidate here) and has all you could want, hardware-wise. How much do you think something like that would cost?

Well, the 14-inch Yoga will likely cost around $1,000. If Lenovo decides to make an 11.6-inch version to cater to folks who want an iPad-ish size I still wouldn’t count on seeing it for $499.

Lenovo Yoga IdeaPad ultrabook

Even if you posit a pure slate like the Samsung Series 7 Slate you’re still looking at over $1,000 with similar specs. ARM processors will bring down the price a lot, but then you’re going to lose the ability to run programs made for normal Windows, which is a big deal for some people.

(Related: Will Windows 8 Tablets Be Just As Crappy For Productivity As The iPad? | Windows on ARM Leaves Businesses Behind)

There are a ton of variables here. Not so much with the iPad 3.

None of this means that Windows 8 or tablets running the OS won’t succeed. I think they will. I hope they do. I personally cannot wait until I can have the Lenovo Yoga because I plan to hug it and squeeze it and call it George. I just don’t know that success for Windows 8 spells trouble for the iPad 3.

Samsung Series 7 Slate

Samsung Series 7 Slate Running Windows 7

For some users the idea of a tablet that is just as good for productivity as it is for entertainment and games is the holy grail, but millions of other people are plenty satisfied with their media consumption tablet (that, incidentally, never leaves the house). And while people who’ve been butting their head against a brick wall trying to make the iPad do more than the simplest of tasks may toss it aside for a Win8 tablet, I don’t expect a mass of people to do so.

I am willing to be surprised if that turns out not to be true. Is it possible that a company like Lenovo or Samsung could make a 10 or 11-inch Windows 8 tablet that costs just $499 and runs all the programs and apps and games you’d expect on hardware that doesn’t suck and also looks good?

If that sounds like a challenge, it is. Come on, y’all. Impress me.