The one thing missing from Windows 8 tablets announced so far: simplicity

This week at IFA in Berlin PC manufacturers have been showing off their shiny new Windows 8 tablets. Vendors are competing for who has the cleverest way of combining touch-screen, tablet, trackpad and keyboard into a single portable device. Here is the HP Envy:

image

or take a look at this PC Pro preview of the Toshiba Satellite U920T:

Ratchets stretch up and down the panel’s rear, with a central puck keeping the action light and smooth, and the screen flips up and back with a fluid action.

Sony has a Surf Slider, Dell XPS Duo slots into a keyboard dock.

I do understand the reason for all these gimmicks. Sometimes you want a tablet, sometimes you want a laptop, and the idea is to combine them into a hybrid device, just as Windows 8 itself lets you flip between Modern UI (formerly known as Metro) and Desktop.

At the same time though, there is a risk that these vendors are not learning from the past. Two things in particular:

  • The failure of Microsoft’s first Tablet PC. Most models had twist screens and keyboards and styluses. The styluses were prone to getting lost, the twist screens and keyboards were expensive, and tablets became premium-priced devices that were inconvenient to use. Faced with the choice between Tablet PCs and cheaper, simpler laptops, most customers chose laptops.
  • The success of Apple’s iPad. A keyboard is an optional extra, but most manage without it. The screen has a single button, there are a couple of switches and a volume control on the side, it has a dock connector, and that is it. Nor is it premium-priced, at least, not in the context of Apple’s range.

Looking at the effort Microsoft has put into the touch-friendly Modern UI it is obvious that Microsoft has made provision for tablet-only users. Start screen, big icons, easy install and removal of apps, most of the frequently used settings available without going to the Desktop. It is also obvious that Microsoft intends Windows to go further in this direction. Office 2013 just has OneNote MX in the Modern UI, but more is coming.

Where then are the devices that focus on the simplicity of a single slate, with a wireless keyboard on offer if needed, priced to compete sensibly with Apple and Android tablets?

Maybe there will be some of these; but the messaging coming out of IFA is all wrong and I predict that once again many customers will opt for “just a laptop” once again and for the same reasons as before.

This of course will do nothing to disrupt the tablet/iPad market.

One other thing. The IFA unveilings make Microsoft’s forthcoming Surface look better than ever. This does have an optional keyboard, but it is built into a touch cover, and from what I can tell Microsoft has successfully avoided rachets and gears.

If Surface succeeds and flipping hybrids fail, you can be sure there will be a ton of Surface-a-likes at the 2013 IFA.

Related posts:

  1. Where are the tablets for Windows 8 Consumer Preview?
  2. Just three Windows 8 on ARM tablets at launch? Not good for Microsoft
  3. Tablets, laptops, smartphones: which form factors will win?
  4. The closest I got to Windows on ARM at Microsoft BUILD 2011
  5. Running Windows on an Apple iPad

16 thoughts on “The one thing missing from Windows 8 tablets announced so far: simplicity

  1. Andy

    I completely agree. It’s like the OEM’s are going to repeat the same mistakes they all made with Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. Microsoft’s Surface is the only Windows 8 device to have a chance of taking on Apple and that chance is mainly dependent on being extremely competitive on price. If the Surface RT costs more than an iPad then who is really going to take a punt on an unproven OS and a barren waste ground of a Microsoft App store?

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    1. Mike S.

      Oops, forgot the rest. I think the OEMs haven’t learned a thing which is why Microsoft felt they had to come out with the Surface. Everyone says that Microsoft is stabbing their OEM partners in the back with this, I disagree. I think they knew the OEMs couldn’t be trusted to come out with good hardware designs (and so far have been proven right). MS is betting the company on the new direction they are taking with Windows 8 and they needed to make sure there was at least one machine out there that has a chance at providing a positive user experience.

      1. Tom

        The OEM “partners” deserve to be stabbed in the back.

        For the past ten years, they’ve been doing their best to ruin the Windows experience.

  3. Jim Wooley

    Having owned one of the convertible tablets with WinXP and Win7 and now using it with Win8, I can say that the main issues with the failure of early windows tablets were due to three factors: Price, clunky apps (from a touch perspective) and battery life. We’re still waiting to see how things pan out on the price and battery life perspective, but Win 8 and the Microsoft design guidelines definitely make the OS much easier to use and reduce the need for the keyboard. I do question how popular the tables with (non-)optional keyboards will be with the influx of ultrabooks coming on the scene. One thing’s for sure, this is going to be an expensive Christmas shopping season.

  4. Bob

    Previous Windows Tablets failed because they were too expensive and Windows was not optimized for touch or even stylus. Not too mention the battery life was not good.
    This won’t be the case for the next generation of hybrid devices.
    I can’t believe someone would rather lug around a laptop and tablet when a hybrid does both. There’s a button to undock the tablet. The Tablets themselves also only have one Windows “Home” button. It’s not rocket science.

  5. Guy

    I think Microsoft learned that the line between “partner” and “competitor” is razor thin. HP had every intention of replacing Office when they bought WebOS and Palm. And just look at the “partnership” between Apple and Samsung.
    I think Microsoft, with Surface, is doing what’s best for Microsoft and Windows 8, as they should be.

  6. Varuna

    I do not agree to this.
    Take the HP envy x2 (pictured) in this article. The tablet in it self is simple and beautiful. Not more clunks or less simple than the Apple or Android ones.

    The keyboard dock is an EXTRA. This is just bundled.

    Someone buying the Android ASUS transformer might say: “I’m going to have to buy something EXTRA to use the complete features of this tablet”

    Now imagine this on Windows 8 which is as much as a refresh, still the windows desktop explorer windows. The quote above is settled by the fact that the dock is bundled if you need it or not.

    Ofcourse the initial perspective is that yes you have the clucks, the latches and the mechanical bits that remove the simplicity, but all in all I think the tablet alone is as simple as it gets.

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  8. FromOZ

    It’s fun to watch Microsoft squirming and wriggling like a worm on a hook. There must be some sort of karma in this — Microsoft certainly deserves it.

    As for Windows 8 — I can’t stop laughing every time I see it. When I give each new pre-release a try it reminds me of the shuddering discomfort of fingernails screeching across a blackboard. Of course I’m trying it on a Parallels virtual machine on a Mac, I wouldn’t be buying a Windows machine. For computing, where I have a choice, I left the Windows world a long time ago — thank goodness.

    1. Joe

      LOL! Another worthless troll post on the internet by a sycophantic fanboy. People like you are a dime a dozen and I’ll bet good money that you have never seen Windows 8 running in person, much less used it. You reek of trolling.

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  10. Joe

    “If the Surface RT costs more than an iPad then who is really going to take a punt on an unproven OS and a barren waste ground of a Microsoft App store?”

    LOL! Are you high? Since when is Windows unproven? Even if it’s a dud like Vista, it’s going to sell 300-400 million copies. Vista has sold almost 400 million and it was considered a flop. How many companies would kill for that kind of flop? Apple has never sold close to 100 million copies of OS X.

    As for for barren wasteland, how long do you think that is going to be the case? WP reached 100,000 apps in less than half the time it took Android, and it was far more unproven than Windows ever could be. Windows 8 app store will grow far faster than Windows Phone. Microsoft has tons and tons of developers and tons and tons of money to pay them. I realize I’m probably wasting my breath on an Apple sycophant, but I’d suggest you educate yourself a bit.

  11. theasymmetricalkid

    I have no idea where these complaints are coming from.

    Firstly, the iPad fails as a universal productivity tool because it’s touch screen keyboard is quite frankly ridiculous, not surprisingly I’ve mainly seen iPads being used for child entertainment, media centres, or in niche areas where you really don’t need a keyboard such as music.

    Secondly, the ASUS Transformer, for instance, can be both a Tablet and a laptop. Unlike the iPad the attachable keyboard protects the screen and makes transportation so much easier and safer … of course you could just pay to have a case, or screen protector … wasted money when you could have a keyboard that provides extra features!

    Sure there are going to be price point issues, but for anyone looking for a device that can replace their laptop and work as a toy then this format is it.

    I would suggest that Apple having woken people up to the tablet form factor, now have a problem, technology has moved on and the device can now be productively useful, unfortunately for them it needs something a little better than a flaky touch screen keyboard to achieve this.

    If Apple aren’t careful they’ll end up in a niche market servicing users have no need of a keyboard who prefer paying for perceived quality.

    If one company knows about dead end niche markets it’s got to be Apple, if they hadn’t crawled out of the last one they wouldn’t be making the billions they are today.

    You can bet on it that once these devices start selling, and they will, Apple will start supplying a useful clip on keyboard.

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