A Windows 8 tablet offers hope as potent iPad foe

With Windows 8 now on a clearer path to release, expect the big device makers to try to crash the raucous Apple party with Microsoft leading the way. And who knows? Microsoft may even steer buyers away from a next-generation 9-inch Kindle Fire.

A Windows 8 Metro screen showing Microsoft Office 15 applications. Having a full version of Office on a tablet may be Microsoft's trump card.
A Windows 8 Metro screen showing Microsoft Office 15 applications. Having a full version of Office on a tablet may be Microsoft's trump card. Microsoft

With Windows 8 now on a clearer path to release, expect the big device makers to try to crash the raucous Apple party with Microsoft leading the way.

Whither Android? So far, the only Android tablet supplier to come close to busting up the nonstop iPad festivities is Amazon.

That's high irony. Amazon is hardly a hardware company. And certainly a far cry from the likes of Motorola, Dell, Sony, Toshiba, Samsung, and Asus. All of which have failed to come up with a blockbuster Android alternative to the iPad. (Samsung and Asus have had limited success, but nothing that rivals the iPad in numbers.)

Here's what Deutsche Bank's Chris Whitmore said this week in a research note below a heading entitled "No iPad-killer in this bunch."

Analyst unsure about Android: "In the past 12 months, the tablet market has been flooded with a slew of Android-based devices; none of which have matched the success of the iPad. From a hardware perspective, it is clear most offerings are 'me-too' with little to no differentiation."

Whitmore continues. "We continue to believe these Android-based 'iPad-killers' will fall short. Many [device makers] seem to agree and are shifting their efforts on Win8 based tablets, which should ship in 2H12 (second half 2012)."

And this week that shift gained some velocity when Microsoft provided more clarity about Windows 8 on ARM in fairly exacting detail.

Waiting for a Windows 8 tablet: Personally, I'm anxious to get my hands on a Win 8 tablet from, say, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Sony, or Samsung. Why? My experience (going on two months now) with the Motorola-Verizon XyBoard 10.1 (aka, Xoom 2) running Android 3.2 has been less than satisfying (though I do love Motorola's thin, lightweight design). In short, Android on my XyBoard doesn't have the reliability of iOS on my iPad 2.

The default Android browser often fails at doing really basic things like rendering Web pages quickly and opening mobile Web pages on some sites (forcing the browser to default to "desktop" seems to help). Other browsers like Opera Mobile are fast but have other shortcomings. Seem trivial? When you use the Web a lot like I do it's not (and I could go on, but that's for another post on another day).

Maybe I'm whining but here's the rub: I don't have these problems on the iPad. And I get the uneasy feeling that Motorola and/or Verizon don't have the laserlike focus that Apple has on product support. And Google's highly fragmented approach to upgrading Android (who knows when my XyBoard will get Android 4.0?) only makes things worse.

Maybe Microsoft brand + smooth user experience can offer a good iPad alternative: And this is where Microsoft has a shot at making things better. If Hewlett-Packard, for instance, can deliver a smooth (the catchall word to describe what Apple provides and Android lacks) experience on a Windows 8 tablet, plus access to a full version of Microsoft Office and Windows' file system to boot, that would be enough to give consumers pause when considering an iPad.

And Microsoft can use its most lethal weapon (Office) to turn the tablet into more of a creation/productivity device. The iPad (or any tablet for that matter) is still largely a passive experience.

Discipline is needed too. Microsoft has plenty of experience with making sure the user experience is relatively stable across different brands. In fact, some heavy-handed, authoritarian oversight never hurts when it comes to making sure the experience is smooth (Apple comes to mind).

Who knows, Microsoft may even steer buyers away from a next-generation 9-inch Kindle Fire while pulling consumers out of the long iPad lines.

If the price is right, that is. Needless to say, if Windows 8 tablets are not price competitive with the iPad, all bets are off.

 

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