Microsoft Tablet: Plan B?

By Doug Miller

With the recent launch of Windows 8 and Windows RT, it appears the jury is still out on how well these two new platforms will do in the tablet space. I have to say as an early x86-based Windows 8 tablet user there are definitely pros and cons of Windows 8. For example, while it is nice that you can run legacy Windows apps on Windows 8, running these on a tablet is not always the greatest experience since fat fingers don’t do as good a job with traditional Windows apps as a mouse and keyboard. Even Microsoft’s own Office 2013, which uses the old Windows user interface for Outlook, Word and Excel, feels awkward on a Windows 8 tablet.

Why not use Windows Phone 8 on tablets?

Could Microsoft have gone after the tablet market with a more touch-friendly strategy? As a fun exercise, I’d like to present an alternative that might have worked well. Rather than scale Windows – which works well with multiple windows, keyboards and mice – down to a tablet, why not scale the Windows Phone 8 operating system – which is a really solid touch-oriented OS – up to bigger tablet form factors?

This is not as crazy an idea as it might sound. Both Apple and Android started with touch-based phone operating systems and have successfully evolved these to scale up on tablets. Two of the key benefits for both the Android and iOS camps has been that developers were able to leverage their phone app investments on new tablet platforms and users were able to easily leverage their familiarity with their phone OS on new tablet devices. I was an early adopter of Android-based tablets, buying the first Samsung Galaxy Tab from Europe before it was even launched in the US. While some reviewers panned this first Android tablet as just a big phone, it actually worked really well for me and most of the apps I needed scaled very well to the new tablet form factor. Since then Google has evolved Android to be even more tablet-friendly. The same strategy could work for Windows Phone 8 on a tablet.

A great tablet OS?

What makes a really good tablet? In my experience, a good tablet needs the following: instant on, always connected, long battery life, quick response and performance, and great apps. It could be argued that compared to iPads and Android tablets, Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets are not in a leading position yet in any of these five areas. Yet, if you took the Windows Phone 8 OS and put it on an ARM-based, LTE-enabled 7-inch, 9-inch or even a Note-like 5.5-inch device you’d have a really interesting device.

Perhaps Samsung will do a Galaxy Tab
using the Windows Phone 8 OS?

First, you would be able to take advantage of long battery life that is the hallmark of ARM tablets. The Windows Phone OS already supports instant on and being a phone OS it knows how to do instant connectivity, sleep notifications and other things that Windows 8 is not really good at. Performance and response time has always been good on the Windows Phone OS. The tablet experience should be just as good. Another key point with Windows Phone 8 is it now supports larger screens. For example, the Nokia Lumia 920 has a screen resolution of 1280 x 768 pixels which is higher than the iPad Mini which has 1024 x 768 pixels. Finally, you would be able to run all Windows Phone apps on the platform. Yes, I know Windows Phone lags iOS and Android for sheer quantity of apps but there are a number of apps that run really well on Windows Phone 8 and many of the most popular apps are now available on the platform. Plus, if developers knew their Windows Phone apps would run on tablets as well with no modification, they would be more likely to invest in the platform rather than having to split their development resources supporting two quite different Microsoft touch operating systems and publishing apps in two different apps stores. As a bonus, you have a useable, official Microsoft Office solution that really is touch-friendly. As a person who loves my Windows phone, I would be first in line to buy one of these devices.

I’ve heard that I am not the only one who thinks this would have been a good idea. Apparently there was a contingent at Microsoft who also thought this was a great idea however, they lost out to Steven Sinofsky’s desire to push the “real” Windows OS down to tablets. Maybe, now with Sinofsky gone, Microsoft will revisit this and give it a try. Worst case, it doesn’t do any better than Windows RT but best case, it successfully gets Microsoft into the tablet game with a much more usable set of devices that both users and developers will love.

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