Why Microsoft Just Won The Tablet Wars!

tablet

I figured that headline would get your attention.  You are probably thinking, “Who in their right mind would think that Microsoft is ahead of Apple and the various Android tablets when the market data says the exact opposite?”  I can explain it in five words:

Windows 8.1 on a tablet!

Now some of you are probably wondering why is that such a big deal, Windows tablets have been around since 2010.  Well not really: Based on size, weight, and battery life, every so called “tablet” that ran Windows 7 or 8 — up to and including Surface Pro which came out last February have basically been laptops with touch screens.

To me, and most of the buying public, tablets are defined by the original iPad: 9.6″ x 7.5″ x 0.5″ (24cm x 19cm x 1.3cm) weighing 1.5 lbs (0.7kg).  It’s the defining upper limit size for portable and mobile devices.

Until recently, “laptops with touch screens”, had to exceed those dimensions because the Intel class processors needed to run them required a larger cases.  That changed with the recent introduction of the Intel Atom quad core processor.

Up until now all “tablets” (both iOS and Android) ran on ARM processors primarily designed for smart phones, which are getting faster and more powerful and approaching PC speeds, but real computers run on Windows or OSX (or Ubuntu) which are not compatible with ARM architecture.  To find out why, ask someone who has a degree in Computer Science, but the answer for now is “they just can’t, OK?”

I hold in my hands a Dell Venue 8 Pro, sized 8.5″ x 5.12″ x 0.35″ (21.6cm x 13cm x 9mm) weighing 0.87 lbs (0.4kg), and it runs Windows 8.1.  Slightly bigger than the iPad Mini (7.87″ x 5.3″ x 0.28 at 0.69 lbs) and costing the same as an iPad Mini on sale, it is a real tablet.  The first small Windows 8 tablet (Acer Iconia W3) was rushed out this summer to poor reviews, but the newest ones from Dell, Toshiba, and Lenovo are getting better reviews.  Microsoft, Dell, Asus and Samsung have 10″ tablets comparable to the iPad, at about twice the price.

Why is this such a big deal?  Tablets have been around only since 2010, and have been huge sellers.  Up until now tablets have been upscaled smart phones, relying on “apps” designed for smart phones to supply the software to run on these tablets. Windows 8.1 tablets represents a new trend:  Downsized PCs that can run all PC software natively.  That is huge!  Microsoft agrees with my assessment, but the tech gurus still don’t seem too convinced.

Recently ZDNet ran lists of 10 advantages and 10 disadvantages of Windows 8.1 tablets.  The truth is there are a ton of advantages not listed, like file and printer sharing between your PC and your tablet.  That means easy wireless transfer of files from your PC to your tablet without any messy USB patch cords.  Meanwhile, on the disadvantage list, 3 of the 10 disadvantages are the same thing: the lack of a decent app store, and the other 7 are bogus.

App stores are controlled and censored by corporate know it alls.  I’d love to sell my visual novels on Google Play and Apple Apps, but they would reject them due to “adult material”.  I have a two year old Android tablet that will not run iTunes purchased videos because iTunes can only run on iPads.  Guess what? iTunes also runs on Windows!

The point is that if your tablet is a downsized PC, there is not much need for an app store because there is a huge uncensored library of software already available.  In fact I am predicting this is the beginning of the end of the whole “app store” model.

Apple’s response to the threat posed by “downsized PC” tablets was to release iOS7, a more robust OS that is still primarily designed for phone use.  I would be shocked if Apple did not already have a prototype of an iPad running OSX Mavericks sitting in their development lab right now.  I’ll even go out on a limb and predict just such a device will be released by Apple within a year.

It’s only a matter of time before smart phones themselves are running operating systems designed for work PCs as well.  Eventually these pocket sized PCs will be powerful enough that we do not even need a PC.  This tiny Dell that I have in my hand will connect wirelessly to bluetooth keyboards mouses and speaker systems, and monitors via Miracast.  Plug a USB hub to the micro USB slot and you can connect external hard drives and DVD drives.  Suddenly, I am running a complete desktop PC setup off of a tablet sized computer.

Can’t do that with an android or iOS tablet (well you can but there really isn’t a point to it.)  I said it before, tablets are good at retrieving content, but you need a PC to create content.  “Dummy” workstations that you plug your phone sized PC into will become the norm for your content creation needs, while the PC itself can go with you.

The difference between Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 RT are HUGE!!

On another matter.  Yes, I know I have said a lot of hateful things about Windows 8.  I still believe that Windows 7 is the superior OS on desktops and non-touchscreen laptops.  The touch screen friendly “start menu” happens to be great on a Windows 8.1 tablet, which is what it was designed for, but Microsoft should have made it optional.  My desktop remains Windows 7 and luckily the PC and the tablet get along well with each other.

I still have much hatred for Windows “RT”, just as much as Windows CE a few years earlier.  Windows 8.1 RT is not Windows 8.1, be very careful if you are in the market for one of these tablets.  “RT” is a version of windows developed to run on the above mentioned ARM processors, but cannot run Windows programs designed for Intel architecture.  Result: you are stuck using an “app store” to get software.  Microsoft itself seems to be the only company still supporting “RT” and I am guessing the Surface 2 will be the second and last tablet to use it, though it still may show up on future Windows phones.  The more expensive Surface 2 PRO does not use RT.  So if you are in the market “Pro” is good, “RT” is bad.

On The Negative Side…

The biggest problem with a sudden focus from “big phones” to “small PCs” with tablets is that the accessories and software market isn’t ready yet.  Most of the games and other programs for PC are written with keyboard and mouse setups.  Older games want you to keep the original disk in the drive while you play, and in case you didn’t notice, there are no drives on tablets.  The USB port on my tablet isn’t very useful except to recharge my tablet, so a USB connected DVD player is probably a waste of money. Newer games want you to have a hefty graphics card in them to play, which the tablet has generic “Intel graphics” which are better than I had expected, but no match for my PC’s Nvidia graphics.

That means if you want to play games on the tablet you are limited to games that don’t require DVD drives or hefty graphics, which limits your choices considerably.  In other words, tablets aren’t good for PC gaming.

And if you do try to play games or other PC based programs, you will probably want to invest in a bluetooth keyboard and mouse to run programs designed for PCs.  I have been able to get Second Life to run and it is fairly smooth graphically, but the client isn’t designed for tablets, the on screen walk and turn icons are too tiny for finger touching, but once I turned on my Bluetooth Mouse it started working a lot better.

I tried playing Something’s In The Air on the tablet and made the mistake of running it in full screen mode. When it asked me to enter a name for my character, the pop-up keyboard would not pop-up. Bluetooth keyboard to the rescue this time, but I’m probably going to need to add a soft keyboard to the game to make it usable on tablets. (making an Android version is still on my to-do list)

There are a few games designed to be played on Windows Tablets available in the XBox store, and the previously mentioned Windows App Store but the pickings are currently slim.  I am still very happy that keyboard and mouse PC gaming is still very popular, and I hope it stays that way, but as Apple Apps and Google Play demonstrate, there is room for tablet based PC gaming too, but the big money is still on the “big phone” ARM based tablets, so that’s where all the tablet gaming development is going these days.  “Small PC” tablets are so very obviously the future of tablets, and it is only a matter of time the market will be addressed.

A few pro tips I have found:

Change the default settings on mp3 and mp4 files to play with Windows Media Player, or you will get spammed with ads whenever you play a song or video.
I manged to set up windows media player libraries using my NAS as a source, which is way better that installing PlugPlayer to access media on Android and iOS.
Install Java before installing iTunes, and it will work a lot better.
Set up shared folders on your PC and on your tablet for easy file swapping. If your wireless network is up to the challenge, you may not need to do this much, as the tablet can stream audio and video right off my PC without copying files over.

11 thoughts on “Why Microsoft Just Won The Tablet Wars!

  1. Wagner November 17, 2013 / 4:35 am

    “but real computers run on Windows or OSX (or Ubuntu) which are not compatible with ARM architecture”

    To be fair, Ubuntu actually will run just fine on ARM, as will nearly all the same software. The only real difficulty would be getting drivers for uncommon hardware, and things like hardware accelerated video working.

  2. wayward4nowRic Moore November 18, 2013 / 9:02 pm

    Windows running apps on a tablet is supposed to be a first?? Ubuntu already has Ubuntu running on a cellphone! Google Chrome = Linux Android = Linux. Windows is a Johnny Come Lately to this scene. Plus, they just suck IMHO, for my personal reasons. I happen to loathe Apple as well.

    But, you dance with who brung ya. Me, I dumped Windows back at 3.1.1 as I could not get separate IRQ’s for each com port, without paying some bozo, so I could run four modems at once back in the multiline BBS and AOL days. Linux fixed that toot sweet and for free. I installed to a second computer (also free) and added 4 more modems. So, Windows has been good to you and Linux has been good to me. Different strokes. I do hope you install Linux one day and have the OMG! moment! Ric

    p/s Just so you know, I got jerked with Ubuntu and am on the finishing touches of installing Debian. Sweet and no stinkin’ “Shopping Lens” running. It seems to be a touch faster as well.

  3. Johnny Canuck November 22, 2013 / 11:02 pm

    Microsoft could have won the tablet war much sooner: Does anyone remember devices like the Samsung Q1 with Windows XP Tablet Edition? They simply were ahead of its time back in 2005 and IMHO simply failed due to the lack of battery power (compared to the quite high prices). I guess Intel is to be blamed for not offering efficient CPUs and mobile chipsets back then.

    Windows 8.1 might be a good tablet OS. But not a “one-size-fits-all” solution. By tabletizing the whole Windows UI with Windows 8 and forcing it even on mouse-operated desktop PCs, Microsoft repeated its mistakes introduced with Vista: Not listening to its customers but taking the sledgehammer approach. I guess MS missed a chance to really fix the criticised issues with Windows 8.1: Classic desktop and Modern UI still do not fit seamlessly. Windows 8.1 is not the same to Windows 8 what Windows 7 was to Vista. Even worse, the approach to tie the user account to an Microsoft online account was worsen in 8.1: Microsoft obviously wants to force its users to buy in the overpriced MS store. I’m glad that the bogus RT concept sort of fails, since MS is so desperate that they cheat by omitting the “RT”: Surface 2 RT are simply called “Surface 2”. Otherwise no one would buy RT crap. And the ones who buy an Surface 2 (without Pro) will do so most likely by accident: Having a look at http://www.microsoft.com/surface/en-ca/products/surface-2 , would you be able to notice that it actually is an RT device on which you can only install store-based apps?

    I do not have a problem with Google Play, Apple iTunes Appstore and Windows Store as long as I’m not forced to use them and still have a choice what to run on my device and what not. So hopefully neither Apple nor Google nor Microsoft will ever dominate the tablet market beyond a 80% share and establish a closed store ecosystem: When it is not possible to craft, install and run own software on a device, it’s not a real PC any longer!

    • arianeb November 23, 2013 / 5:46 am

      I agree with you. Now that I have had a chance to play with Windows 8.1 “Start Menu” interface, I am growing to hate it. Programs are split between “Start Menu” interface and “Desktop” interface, and I find myself switching back and forth. Every “Start Menu” program keeps running in the background, and you jump from program to program by pointing to the left edge and sliding right. The problem is there is no way to shut them down easily, no “red x” in the corner. so you have to finger slide a few times before you finally get where you want. I assume it is due to patents that keeps the Windows 8.1 start menu from having the super handy “back” “menu” “home” and “search” buttons like Android. They would come in very handy.

      I finally put “Task Manager” on the start menu, so I could shut the extraneous apps down. The “live tiles” are no better than Windows 7 “gadgets”, except “gadgets” can run on the desktop screen so you don’t have to open another screen to see them.

      The one thing I like about the Windows 8.1 “start menu” apps is the app version of Internet Explorer 11. It is an awesome thing of beauty and makes the mobile version of Google Chrome look like crap. I love the way tabs are handled and favorites are handled, and most of the time the entire window is used to display your web page.

      Since it is the most used program, the “left slide right” method of switching between desktop and IE is super easy. I’m still tinkering, but I have a feeling my “Start Menu” is only going to end up with two live tiles: IE11 and “Desktop”. Don’t really need anything else.

      This is how Windows 9 should operate: 1. Go back to the Windows 7 start menu. 2. Return “live tiles” to desktop gadgets. 3. Keep the “flip page” approach to switching between desktop and the app version of IE11, giving people the ability to add more flip pages for other programs they use often (Office for example), but make them easy to remove as well. 4. Keep the quick boot and run in background features of Windows 8, with the traditional and business productivity friendly interface of Windows 7.

      • Roger W May 17, 2014 / 10:19 pm

        ALT-TAB and ALT-F4.

        Now you can switch and close apps using just your kyboard

  4. wayward4now February 3, 2014 / 7:25 am

    Ah! If only we could get you to dabble with Linux. (sighs)🙂 Ric

  5. Edward November 30, 2014 / 8:56 pm

    I’ve been playing with a windows tablet now for a couple of months. The interface seems to have been created be amateurs. Rather than develop something that is works in the limited world that tablets have they seemed to have slapped a graphic interface over the old OS without ever working on the general way it abuses the computer’s resources. I find that for most practical purposes, I’m back to the desktop and running just the way I would on a normal PC. So it is back to an OS that continues to have all of the problems it always had and MS never cares to fix. When I look at what Ubuntu is trying to do I get a lot more excited, but there I’m frustrated by the delay. In a way this is one of this strange decisions that MS have made over the years, not focused on their real problems but on trying to sell a bad idea.

  6. Mihai Voicu Drebot January 27, 2015 / 10:09 am

    I don’t get the whole Win 8.1 hate from desktop users. Yes, the default settings are better fit for tablets. It takes 2 minutes to search and change them, and you will never again see the Metro/Modern/Whatever UI on the desktop. I have been using it for some time now and am very happy with it. No blue screens, no crushes, nothing. It still works just as fast as day one.

    I just bought a Win 8.1 tablet. It is small (8′), has just 1 GB of ram, 32 GB storage, so it is really a seriously under-powered PC. That is, it’s about as powerful as my 6 or 7 years laptop, but 8.1 runs much smoother on it than XP runs on that laptop (because i don’t generally use the laptop, there were no updates, no cleanups, no maintenance on it for years, so it is bogged down bad).

    Yes, desktop apps are generally difficult to use with touch. Touch optimized apps from the store are however just fine, and there are enough of them to cover the regular tablet use (watch video, listen to some music, and so on. Consuming information rather than producing. Even the popular mobile games are there, and if not, you might find them in the Chrome store as flash games).

    Add a USB hub (got one for about 5 euros), and you have keyboard, mouse, USB headphones, USB memory stick, whatever. They all work just fine. You might want to be more careful than I was, and buy a powered USB hub. However, the peripherals i need work just fine. Couple them with the micro HDMI output, and i can use this as a desktop in my living room. No need for a Apple TV, Chrome Cast, or a myriad of other devices to play content on the tv, or even do some productive work. This should be obvious, but worth mentioning – the wireless printer is working just like from the desktop, so printing is no problem. Again, at this point i have keyboard, mouse, big screen, plenty of storage. So with the exception of a big tower, i have a full PC experience. The one downside for now is that while i have the USB port in use by the hub, there is no charging, so i can only use this setup for 3-5 hours.

    This does not replace my desktop setup, that has multiple monitors, surround sound, mid range graphics, an I5 processor, 8 GB of ram and so on. But when I don’t need all that power, it works great.

    Last, but certainly not least, did I mention the tablet price? 116 euro ($130). There are cheaper Android tablets, and they might be just what some of us need. As for iOS, for me there is no reason i would want that on a tablet(or phone, but that is another story). As luck would have it, i own an iPad mini. I was forced to buy it a while ago. I used it plenty so i know what it has to offer. I plan now to sell it and buy a more powerful Windows tablet with the same money i can get for a second hand, low end, old version, limited usage Apple device. Actually, I’m happy there are people that want to buy that sort of thing.

    I just bought a Win 8.1 tablet. It is small (8′), has just 1 GB of ram, 32 GB storage, so it is really a seriously under-powered PC. That is, it’s about as powerful as my 6 or 7 years laptop, but 8.1 runs much smoother on it than XP runs on that laptop (because i don’t generally use the laptop, there were no updates, no cleanups, no maintenance on it for years, so it is bogged down bad).

    Yes, desktop apps are generally difficult to use with touch. Touch optimized apps from the store are however just fine, and there are enough of them to cover the regular tablet use (watch video, listen to some music, and so on. Consuming information rather than producing. Even the popular mobile games are there, and if not, you might find them in the Chrome store as flash games).

    Add a USB hub (got one for about 5 euros), and you have keyboard, mouse, USB headphones, USB memory stick, whatever. They all work just fine. You might want to be more careful than I was, and buy a powered USB hub. However, the peripherals i need work just fine. Couple them with the micro HDMI output, and i can use this as a desktop in my living room. No need for a Apple TV, Chrome Cast, or a myriad of other devices to play content on the tv, or even do some productive work. This should be obvious, but worth mentioning – the wireless printer is working just like from the desktop, so printing is no problem. Again, at this point i have keyboard, mouse, big screen, plenty of storage. So with the exception of a big tower, i have a full PC experience. The one downside for now is that while i have the USB port in use by the hub, there is no charging, so i can only use this setup for 3-5 hours.

    This does not replace my desktop setup, that has multiple monitors, surround sound, mid range graphics, an I5 processor, 8 GB of ram and so on. But when I don’t need all that power, it works great.

    Last, but certainly not least, did I mention the tablet price? 116 euro ($130). There are cheaper Android tablets, and they might be just what some of us need. As for iOS, for me there is no reason i would want that on a tablet(or phone, but that is another story).

    P.S.
    As luck would have it, i own an iPad mini. I was forced to buy it a while ago. I used it plenty so i know what it has to offer. I plan now to sell it and buy a more powerful Windows tablet with the same money i can get for a second hand, low end, old version, limited usage Apple device. Actually, I’m happy there are people that want to buy that sort of thing.

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