This is Part 1 out of my 3 part series on “Microsoft + Tablets” where I analyze what direction Microsoft has gone with Windows on tablet device.
If you’ve followed the Microsoft + Tablet saga, for the past few years you’d probably have realize as far as mainstream adoption has gone, success has been practically nil. Now there might been some success in more professional markets, like business, healthcare, education and such, but even then it’s somewhat doubtful the penetration Windows tablets have had in those sectors.
Why has there failed to be mainstream success?
Here are many of the main reasons I think based on most past Windows tablets:
1. Poor battery life – The battery life in the past has ranged from 5 hours or less in real time use. It’s somewhat unacceptable for a device that’s suppose to feel more lightweight in comparison to a laptop, and for on-the-go purposes.
2. Generally bad performance – Maybe I’m a bit too harsh, but the performance has always seemed worse on tablet-type computers. I could remember recalling numerous videos where the touch response seemed to lag a lot, and how slow the computer seemed to respond. Like I said, for a more mobile computer, tablets should not have so much discernable lag.
3. Heavy or bulky form factors – In the past, tablets have seemed very bulky and heavy. I’m just generalizing, but I’m guessing they were mostly in the 4-7 lbs. range. The screen sizes were mostly somewhere between 10”-13” inches, but the bezels along the sides added to the tablets being more cumbersome. As a result, these Windows tablets were not ideal for the market they were aiming for.
4. Lack of touch ‘experience’ – Windows has done a very great job of support touch and handwriting for tablets, but as far as the actual experience goes, it’s somewhat of a disappointment. This is purely psychological, but given that touch input is still an input being worked on for mainstream adoption in Windows, one would generally expect a somewhat greater experience with something more ‘futuristic’ or even ‘magical’.
In real life of course, Windows operates almost practically the same through touch. Yes, there are many modifications to make touch experience workable, but it still feels bolted on rather than truly being a part of the OS. Users aren’t getting a richer experience like they dreamed that touch might bring to Windows. There aren’t cool and smooth animations or gestures like the iPad does when users interact with touch. It just feel the same old Windows, and it’s hard to justify spending extra for something that is almost the same.
Not to mention that 3rd party software could use more touch-friendliness. Outside the safety of the Windows environment and 1st-rate programs from Microsoft, more 3rd party programs seem pretty clunky to use through touch. Small buttons bunched up close, excessive need to ‘hover’ over elements for further options, no multi-touch gestures supported, and all that make touch support pretty flimsy.
5. Price – Tablets have usually been expensive, because the technology needed was way ahead of its time, and thus expensive. Examples:
Tablets need expensive IPS or AFFS+ panels; not those cheap TN panels with narrow viewing angles. They’ve only recently become affordable.
Only ULV or LV processors made sense for a tablet, because AMD and Intel chips were inefficient and power hogs, and there’s not much space to cram a large heatsink and battery. Again, they’ve just finally got to the point of affordability.
Resisitive screens were practically the only choice, which reduced the display quality and weren’t as comfortable to use as a capacitive.
As a result, tablets needed to come with active digitizers, only made by Wacom and its monopoly. Thanks to the smartphone boom, capacitive has become mainstream and N-trig helped reduced the digitizer price.
Since everything was already becoming expensive, it was further marketed more towards business use, and thus needed even more higher quality parts to even seem the least bit competitive (like a magnesium case).
Smartphones have fueled the way to make a somewhat miniaturized tablet, and with better adoption (thanks in part to lower-cost carrier contract plans), these parts have made it more affordable to mass produce and thus cheaper for the end consumer. [thanks Frank for the commentary]
6. Virtually zero retail presence – When was the last time you could recall going into an electronics store, and testing out a fully working Windows tablet? Probably a handful of occasions or even none. I can’t even recall any one moment in time, and certainly not nowadays. Mainstream adoption really works through good retail; if it’s not even in the stores to play with, how will most people even think of wanting to buy it? It’s kinda sad, because Windows tablets would be very ideal (considering OneNote comes with it) for college students or super organized people to use as a digital writing tablet and more. You’ll see plenty of iPads or iPad accessories unfortunately. I’ve even seen iPads plus portable keyboards used in lectures at my college.
7. Virtually zero advertising – As much as I can’t recall a retail presence, I can pretty much bet that I’ve never seen a real Windows tablet advertised before. Maybe I’m wrong, but if there was, they did a really horrible job where I can’t even remember. I can’t recall TV ads, product placement, radio, print, or any type of advertising associated with a Windows tablet. Not much more needs to be said about that.
Those are virtually all the key points as to why most people have not invested into Windows tablets on a personal basis. I know there are definitely some people that are very happy with the specific Windows tablets they’ve bought, and extol the usefulness Windows on tablets can be, but they are a very minute minority and I think even they admit the current usefulness is limited. Here are some fixes or things Microsoft unfortunately depended on in hopes that the shortcomings I mentioned weren’t too much for most people:
1. UMPC (aka Project Origami) – Ultra Mobile PC. This was Microsoft’s term for super lightweight tablets running Windows. Very much more compact than regular tablets, and cramming a lot of features similar to phones onto a device as portable as a Sony PSP. There was even a special software layer created directly from Microsoft as a way to consume media and do light web browsing, but overall it seemed clunky to use.
It still failed, especially given they were very pricey. The most adored UMPC from the press was the OQO Model 2+ that did look very sleek and ran Vista, but would set you around $1,300 for such a tiny computer. Microsoft still has an outdated site about UMPC.
2. Relying on touch layers from OEMs – Another mistake was to rely on OEMs to make decent touch layers for users to use outside the regular Windows ecosystem. Given the track record of most OEMs putting junkware onto computers, I wasn’t surprised how most OEM solutions were of course clunky, laggy, or just plain poor to use. The only good one it seems is HP’s TouchSmart, but even that has noticeable lag. Not to mention the layers were very closed.
There’s probably more, but I don’t see the need to go too in-depth in the murky past. You pretty much get the big picture I hope.
Check out Part 2, “Windows Tablets as of the present”.