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Spillikins 137. Windows 8 for Tablets: Obvious Flop

On one hand there were more than enough events for this issue of Spillikins, but on the other hand I spent the entire week discussing the fate of different tablets on Android, which will appear later this year and offer quality upgrade of the current characteristics. The rate of development for tablets is pretty staggering today as companies compete for this market sparing no investment. Perhaps that is why my attention was attracted by a desire of Microsoft to get a foothold in this market niche, so I had to dedicate a large section of the issue to explain why the software giant is unlikely to succeed. This topic is very important and worth paying attention to. For the computer market the last IDF2011 was crucial as well. Intel once again said it is waiting for ultra portable laptops destined to dominate the market. Frankly speaking we have heard it all before. Interestingly, Intel and Google have agreed to optimize Android for x86 architecture. This piece of news requires some consideration, but lacking information I will refrain from playing guessing games. It could be either something great or an ordinary flop. People quick to speculate already made an assumption that Intel will benefit from access to Android to beat ARM. It is not really so as for Google ARM architecture will be main one for the next few years, while Intel will be on standby with x86 used not in smartphones, but in different devices. Let's discuss the tablets first.

Contents:

  1. Windows 8 and Tablets: A 10 Year Journey
  2. HTC Enhances The Sound of Smartphones

Windows 8 and Tablets: A 10 Year Journey

In 2001 Microsoft released a set of specifications for Microsoft Tablet PC providing the description of tablets. For such devices the company developed a version of Windows XP (Tablet PC Edition) to work with touchscreens. From 2002 new devices started to appear for this OS and their total number to date exceeds a hundred models, but I'm sure you do not know much about them. These models are not popular due to a variety of reasons. When a rotating touchscreen was added to a standard laptop the resulting solution became far from successful and Microsoft suffered along with hardware manufacturers. Who needs a touchscreen if there is a keyboard, touch pad or an external mouse? There was not enough demand on the market for such devices. The photo below shows the ubiquitous tablet of the type - Lenovo X61. Lack of differences (weight, form factor) with conventional laptops and quite a high price made these models unpopular.

The evolution of the first Tablet PC from Microsoft when a touchscreen module became removable was received as something exotic. If you do not need a keyboard disconnect it and work only with the touchscreen. You can take it with you if you wish. History repeated itself again and these products did not attract buyers. Why? Once again consumers did not need such devices and they did not understand their benefits, which were absent anyway. Choosing between a laptop and a similar "tablet", the choice was always for the laptop.

With the advent of Apple iPad market stirred up and all manufacturers without exception started creating their answer to iPad. Only Google was a real contender to compete with Apple as it decided that a new niche in the market is ideal for Android. Even Google was in a hurry and could not come up with an adequate response to the iPad. Today, Google offers numbers if not quality. On the side of Google are several dozens of tablets manufacturers, more than a hundred models in different price categories and advertising budgets, which collectively beat Apple. iPad still commands better sales, is in short supply and the demand is only growing. Below is a link to the piece on the Android market share with appropriate explanations.

Microsoft also wanted to be in the market of tablets. In January 2010 Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft stood on the stage of the Congress Hall at CES and tragically demonstrated the tablet, which the company promised to release soon along with its partners. His speech was dedicated to the future, because the product itself was not available yet. Ballmer grief was understandable, because the tablets in the form envisaged then did not appear. Once again we saw tablets on Windows 7, which were released by terrorists to permanently scare away from Microsoft all owners of such devices. I do not understand how you can use the tablet built on the philosophy from 2001.

My next point is very important. Do not look at individual features and software, just pay attention to tablets on the market today. Microsoft suffers from systemic errors associated with the way the company sees the device, its practical application and advantages. Microsoft is aware of the building blocks behind the success of Apple tablets, but concentrates on separate elements instead of a general system. Below are some basic and gross system errors, which have to be corrected before Microsoft can start dreaming about the success of its tablets.

  1. The tablet is a full-fledged computer. This misconception is nice for a company that controls most of the operating systems market for PCs. The point is that the PC market is rapidly shrinking at the expense of quickly expanding tablet segment, which will surpass PC sales in all niches (desktops, notebooks and laptops) soon. It will happen in the coming years. No company in the world can go against this tide. Misconceptions stem from Microsoft's philosophy to give tablets users exactly the same experience as that of the desktops. Users of tablets running Windows 7 are familiar with horrors when this approach is used in fundamentally different devices. Let me briefly list the differences absence of an immediate launch of the tablet (as opposed to tablets on iOS / Android), stringent hardware requirements, which leads to the use of standard components, heavy weight, size, and so on featuring low productivity compared with conventional laptops, where size and weight are not limited to such an extent. In part to address this issue, the company creates and ARM version of Windows 8, but this step seems dubious, since the requirements of Windows have always been higher than in other systems. In return for less operation time and larger device users will only manage to run standard applications. At the same time such a tablet will not work as fast as the average laptop. For example, it is almost impossible to use Windows 7 tablets, because the user experience is absolutely negative.

    The tablet is not a full-fledged computer, but has quite different goals. This is a mobile device, so battery life, instant start and the presence of standard functionality come to the fore. On the other hand it does not work with heavy desktop applications. Microsoft created a clone of the desktop operating system and they believe that minor superficial additions can yield an alternative for any OS originally developed for mobile devices. This is misleading, since it will not be able to compete with the original mobile solutions in terms of energy consumption or ergonomics.

  2. Users need to run desktop applications on tablets. This argument is often mentioned by Microsoft and users influenced by the company propaganda. In fact, this point stems from an erroneous world view and ideology we talked about in the first paragraph. For example, why do we need Adobe Photoshop in tablets? For some readers Adobe Photoshop and AutoCad among other things are vital. Surprisingly, these comments tend to come from younger people who do not work in these apps often enough. They value not the daily work in these applications, but the very possibility of running them on a particular device. It is akin to the sport of running Doom on different devices with small screens. It is impossible to play, but the mere fact of theoretical capability is fascinating for such people. Ignoring this demographic we still have numerous users who want to use on tablets such familiar apps as MS Outlook, MS Office and so on. This group is big enough to pay attention to.

    There is a conflict of interests within the Microsoft though. The paradigm of applications on device was interesting ten years ago, but now all companies are trying to move to the cloud computing. We witnessed countless presentations devoted to cloud applications and how easy it is when all your files and applications are in the cloud, in other words outside the device. Do you see the contradiction here? I clearly distinguish it. On one hand, Microsoft is rapidly shifting their most popular products to the cloud, while it offers the concept of apps run on tablets. Two of these approaches contradict each other.

    Of course, the tablet should contain the bare minimum of programs, such as an e-mail client, text editor for notes, video player and so on. But there is no need to copy desktop applications. It must be a lightweight version, which has been proven by the experience of Apple and Android. The vast majority of consumers are satisfied with the functionality of these programs.

    Remember that tablets from different companies have programs to work with MS Office. If for some reason it is not enough then you can work with MS Office 365, which is developed by Microsoft and requires only an Internet connection. This will be enough for most users. I hope that this example proves that the value of local programs for tablets running Windows is greatly exaggerated and you cannot take this argument seriously. Once again, we should not dwell on specific apps as it is possible that you need something special for your tablet, which is not provided by other manufacturers. I have serious doubts about it though.

  3. Microsoft has got a lot of developers and the simplicity of app developing for MS tablets is a huge advantage. . This statement is as old as Adam and has been out of date for a long time now. Back in times of Windows Mobile the number of apps for this platform was spectacular and it was number one right until Apple iPhone. Everything changed very quickly and developers moved to the new iPhone platform. And the problem is not just in the number of applications but also in their quality. There are lots of different apps for Windows Phone 7 but they have fewer features than same apps by same developers for other platforms. Naturally, porting apps takes time but Apple offers the best mobile platform right now swiftly followed by Android and all the other platforms are far behind them. The desktop experience of Microsoft cannot help the company. For example, Russian Alawar is one of the top five mobile developers in the world this company did not even have a mobile division a few years ago and they were making money mainly on PC games. Today Alawar considers iOS and Android as top priority platforms while cutting on their PC gaming investments. And all developers like Alawar prefer the Apple platform.

  4. Tablet hardware performance must be comparable to laptops. I honestly dont know what came first: the chicken or the egg. But in this case, first there were Microsoft Table specs that became the grounds for the whole ecosystem because Microsoft had to use what they already had. How would you like to wait 25-30 seconds till your tablet boots? This fact alone denies a lot of tablet applications and the 30 seconds of boot time on a tablet with laptop hardware is a serious strain on the battery and will require extra-large batteries. People rarely make photos on tablets but they do and it will be very inconvenient on a Windows tablet when its off. There are many possible scenarios but this ecosystem does not allow an instant start of the tablet or applications on it. Developers do not adapt their apps specifically for Microsoft tablets and it means that system requirements will be same as for laptops dead end. Hardware must be on a par with laptops or desktop PCs or applications wont work. The system crutches Microsoft is using now cannot change the situation third party apps must be developed specifically for tablets its a different ecosystem.

  5. The hardware is up to manufacturers Microsoft is only responsible for the operating system. This idea was born a long time ago and up until there was no competition on the tablet market this approach worked for Apple. Google also uses it and, at first glance, it works for them too. But it wont work for Microsoft. Why? Because Google relies on partners who produce phones for Android and expand their tablet product families by using similar hardware (chip sets, memory they choose only screens and the body). Thus the production costs of an Android tablet are considerably lower than that of a Microsoft tablet. Apple uses a similar to Googles approach.

    The modern market requires the OS developer to determine hardware requirements and send specifications to the partners. There is a list of specs for Windows Phone 7 but Microsoft did not dare to release requirements for tablets. The reason is, there are many different hardware sets that can be used for Microsoft tablets. At first, this seems to be a good thing as it allows hardware diversity and there will be no archetypical Microsoft tablet with same expectations for any tablet. When you buy an Apple or Android tablet you more or less know what you can get out of them while Microsoft tablets are a lottery. There is no unified performance, battery life etc.

  6. , Computer hardware sales channels, not carriers. This is another piece of proof that Microsoft does not yet know how to work with this market. Unlike Google, Microsoft is more oriented to computer retail. For most countries in the world this is a dead lock the market niche is too small. Subsidizing of carriers has proven that carriers are capable of posing a serious competition to computer retail. When you buy a subsidized tablet you pay 30-70% less than the actual retail price. And you get a data transfer tariff plan you will use with the tablet (or PC, its not important plans are similar). Microsoft tablets at full price will not be able to compete with carrier subsidized Android tablets. This is the first part of the story the second being the production costs of Microsoft tablets which are higher than Apple or Android costs. The parts are more expensive and it becomes another negative factor for Microsofts presence on this market.

I could go on with whats wrong with Microsofts plans but it does not matter. I think I have already outlined the main issues and Microsoft cannot succeed on the tablet market without changing their approaches. They deny the current market rules and have problems with product positioning.

As long as there are fans in Microsoft tablets we cannot speak about their mobility.

Now lets talk about whats new in the tablets mode and how its different from the desktop version. Firstly, we have the lock screen feature in this state the tablet displays new message notifications, missed events etc.

The start screen look like the one in Windows Phone 7 the differences, however, concern file management and Internet Explorer work. There arent really that many changes to say the tablet version is really unique and stands apart from the desktop version.

I want to conclude this part by saying that Windows 8 for laptops and desktop PCs will be very popular I have no doubts about that. We all have about opinions about Microsoft but their desktop operating systems have always been commercially successful. Even Vista, branded a failure by many, still made quite a profit. It failed only at creating a positive image and this is a different story.

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HTC Enhances The Sound of Smartphones

You may know that in terms of the sound quality Android smartphones fall behind Apple who has a ginormous experience with iPods. HTC understands that and make sound quality a top priority direction for development for their devices alongside with cameras and their proprietary Sense UI. So sound quality is now their number three priority for the next few years.

Just at look at these utBeats by Dr. Dre that will be bundled with HTC Sensation XE. This phone will be an exact copy of the regular Sensation apart from the sound quality which, as the company claims, will be spectacular.

The called the new technology used in this phone Beats Audio. It was announced back in August about the cooperation of HTC and Beats Electronics and this product is the first fruit of their work. I cannot say I was impressed by it I am quite skeptical about it and I think its better to underestimate something than give undeserved compliments.

Until recently Beats Audio hardware has been used only in a number of HP laptops. In my opinion, such a limited popularity is caused by the fact that HP also focused advertising attention on the famous headphones which the company is famous for. As a matter of fact most people know the company name only because of Dr. Dre headphones. I could find any info on the sound technologies applied in the products as the companys website is just a promo ad. I think if there were some hardware changes HTC would be the first to announce it and not limit their ads with mentioning of a special sound profile enabled when Dr. Dre headphones are connected. What we have here is an example of how a popular smartphone manufacturer cooperates with a famous headphones manufacturer in order to make their products more attractive to buyers. Its good that you get decent headphones out-of-box but its not enough to make the device sound better you need to improve the hardware as well. I think we should regard this product as the first step towards improving the situation and I support such initiatives. However, if the changes will be limited to the bundled pair of headphones together with promises that they will suffice I will not buy that.

Besides the headphones the new model has also received a faster CPU (now with 1.5GHz clock), bigger battery (1730mAh), slightly different body paint (see the pictures).

The sales are scheduled to start in October. In retail it will cost 70 more which is not much for these headphones. Dr. Dre Tour probably are better than these since they cost twice more but we all know only too well price does not always stand for quality. I wonder whether Beats Electronics are ok with bundling smartphones with expensive headphones I think we will be able to check that by comparing the Sensation XE bundle headphones with regular Tour. I expect the latter to best the bundled ones.

Do you want to talk about this? Please, go to our Forum and let your opinion be known to the author and everybody else.

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Related links

Spillikins 134. The King's Quit Long Live The King Steve Jobs

Spillikins 135. San Fran + Bar + Apple employee = Lost iPhone?

Spillikins 136. Patent Wars Legal Maneuvers of Apple and HTC

Eldar Murtazin (eldar@mobile-review.com)
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Translated by Maxim Antonenko (maxantonenko@ukr.net), Robert Mugattarov (mugattarov@gmail.com)

Published — 20 September 2011

Have something to add?! Write us... eldar@mobile-review.com

 

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