The Microsoft Surface Pro debuted earlier this month, and I think a lot of people are watching it as a bellwether — looking to see whether Windows tablets are going to succeed based on how well Microsoft’s tablet does.
To me, the success of the Windows tablet category is inevitable, no matter how well or poorly any single device does. This is a winning combination that is going to be around for the foreseeable future.
You have probably seen an editorial or two with provocative titles like “Is Windows Doomed?” predicting the decline of Microsoft’s operating system. These are more than a bit premature.
Yes, Windows has some problems. It’s definitely become horribly bloated over the years, and that’s causing issues for tablet makers. But it’s still the cornerstone of business in America and a lot of the world, and it’s the operating system that most people are familiar with.
Windows is a lot more powerful than the iOS and Android. There are disadvantages to that (it makes the operating system much more complicated, for one), but the advantages are clear. Lots of highly-useful software, is one. Photoshop Touch is a nice app, but it doesn’t have a tenth of the features of the Windows version, for example. And Windows supports far more peripherals. There’s no way to hook a scanner up to an iPad, or even a DVD drive.
It’s true, laptop sales have stagnated while tablet sales have taken off. I don’t see this as a sign that Windows is on its way out, but rather that consumers want tablets more than they want laptops. With the release of Windows 8, they don’t have to go to iOS or Android to get what they want.
Making Windows and the Windows ecosystem fully support touchscreens is the most difficult part of bringing this operating system to tablets, and it’s something that’s going to take time. Microsoft has made a good start with Windows 8, and smart developers have seen the writing on the wall and are touch-enabling their apps. The ones who don’t are going to become irrelevant.
It won’t happen immediately, but it’s all going to come together, and in a few years people are going to find it hard to believe anyone ever doubted that Windows tablets would be a success.
Just be clear, I’m talking about the full version of Windows, not Windows RT. I don’t have a lot of optimism for RT.
Software is only half the equation, though. It is going to take hardware makers a year or so to figure out what’s the best design for a Windows tablet. One they do, sales are going to surge, while laptop sales will plummet.
To me, tablets are simply better devices than laptops because they are more flexible — they can do all the things laptops can do, as well as things laptops can’t. But I’m not talking about stand-alone tablets. There’s one accessory that is critical for long-term success in a Windows laptop.
Don’t let the word “dock” confuse you — unlike some accessories that use that name, this isn’t tied to a desk, but can be carried along with the tablet. It brings extra features beyond just keyboard and trackpad, like more ports and additional battery capacity.
Without the keyboard dock, the tablet is much smaller and lighter. That’s not just more convenient when you’re carrying it from place to place, but it means the device useful for new things, like lying on the couch and reading for a few hours, or looking data on a showroom floor. Plus, there are lots of times the keyboard is in the way, like when watching video, making presentations, reading websites, or when playing touchscreen-oriented games.
If you think about it, unless you’re actually typing something long, the keyboard is -always- in the way. It doesn’t matter if you’re checking prices in a spreadsheet or Facebook, they keyboard isn’t necessary.
When it comes time to get some work done, though, the tablet can be plugged into the keyboard dock, and it basically becomes a laptop. You get the best of both worlds.
While I’m sure some companies will experiment with 7-inch Windows tablets, I don’t expect these to become popular. A 10-inch screen is a much better option for a device that’s used for both work and play, as most Windows tablets will be.
I’m not saying I think Windows tablets are going to become pre-immanent. They are inevitably going to cost more than ones running Android and iOS. It’s very unlikely we’ll ever see a Windows tablet for $200. That’s going to limit the number of units that are sold.
But companies are going to adopt them in wide numbers. So are the millions of fans of Windows who want a powerful computer that’s also portable. That will be enough to keep this class of devices around for many years.