Surface Won’t Sell Windows 8...

10/18/2012 9:20:45 AM

It’s all about the apps says barry collins

My wishlist needed another expensive gadget about as much as New Zealand needed a space programme, but I’ve got my eye on a Windows 8 Pro Surface tablet. A slip-in-the-bag device that can be used to run full-fat Office apps, bash out sarcastic Tweets on my lap while watching Question Time, and play Football Manager? I’ll have one of those, subject to the actual device living up to its promise when it enters our Labs.

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Surface won’t sell Windows 8

Several commentators claim the Surface tablets are designed to give OEMs a much-needed kick up the posterior; that Microsoft going into battle with its partners is long- overdue punishment for years of tedious laptops with disobedient trackpads, which come preloaded with enough Crapware that you can read a Game of Thrones novel in between reboots. Certainly, six months after the first Ultrabooks arrived in the PC&TA Labs, we’ve yet to see anything that matches the elegance of the MacBook Airs [which we’ve reviewed this month over on p40 - Ed.].

Still, it’s a bit rich for Microsoft to imply the hardware makers can’t be trusted to make a decent tablet. Richer than Jimmy Carr, in fact. Remember this is the company that thought making Windows 7 “touch-friendly” involved little more than increasing the size of taskbar icons, forcing OEMs to develop touch UTs to sit on top of the operating system for touchscreen PCs. Is it any wonder that, in the two and a half years since the iPad was launched, none of the major manufacturers has bothered to release a consumer-grade Windows tablet?

Instead, they’ve got on with producing good tablet hardware for rival OSes. The Asus Transformer Pad Infinity and Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7- the latter of which wouldn’t look out of place with an Apple logo on the back - have proved that third-party manufacturers can deliver delicious tablet hardware when they set their minds to it. Now, finally, when they’re gearing up to splash their marketing budgets on Windows 8 tablets, they’re unexpectedly scooped by Microsoft, which unveils its own tablets months before the OS they’re running on has even been finished.

As audacious as the Surface launch is, Microsoft clearly isn’t about to “do an Apple” and reserve its own OS for its own hardware. This is why it’s forced to make silly concessions, such as promising OEMs they “will have cost and feature parity on Windows 8 and Windows RT”. How’s that going to work? Even if Microsoft performs accounting contortions that result in its hardware division being charged the same price as the likes of Dell for the Windows 8 licences, the money still flows back into Microsoft’s pockets. It’s still $75 better off per PC than the OEMs, unless it plans to donate the licence revenue to Save The Dolphins or something equally unlikely for them.

Description: As audacious as the Surface launch is, Microsoft clearly isn’t about to “do an Apple” and reserve its own OS for its own hardware.

As audacious as the Surface launch is, Microsoft clearly isn’t about to “do an Apple” and reserve its own OS for its own hardware.

Still, consumers aren’t going to lose any sleep over the OEMs’ bottom line. They’re going to buy the best tablet they can get their hands on, irrespective of the manufacturer. The big question is whether that tablet will be a Windows 8/RT one at all?

Many people remain deeply unconvinced by Windows 8, our own Jon Honeyball among them [and how - see page 114 for Jon’s take on the ‘7iouors”of Windows 8- Ed.]. But the factor that will make or break Windows 8 tablets isn’t whether the kickstand closes with the satisfactory thud of a Bentley’s door, or if its edges are smoother than Steve Ballmer’s pate. The defining factor will be its apps, and here Windows 8/RT currently leaves much to be desired.

Our round-up of Metro apps shows promise, especially from Microsoft’s own apps, but there isn’t a single app in the Windows Store currently for which I’d stick my grandmother on eBay. It’s early days: the Store hasn’t been fully launched and, crucially, the payment mechanism isn’t up and running. We can only hope developers are waiting until they can start charging, or will be able to reach a large enough audience for in-app advertising on free titles.

Would Microsoft have been better off spending the past nine months since Windows 8 was unveiled - let alone the past three years it’s reportedly spent prototyping Surface - developing a small portfolio of must-have apps for Windows 8? I think it would. There won’t be another public beta of Windows 8 before it launches later this year, so where are the Metro versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint? Why isn’t SkyDrive fully integrated into Windows 8 yet? Why do none of the Xbox Live games work at the time of writing?

If you’re going to start showing your hardware partners how to do their job properly, you’d better make sure that your own house is in order first.

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