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Windows 8 and the Surface have been poked and prodded by the media and tech experts at an event in New York City, and now consumers are getting their first taste.
Microsoft’s foray into the wild world of tablets is overshadowed by the scale of ambition behind Windows 8. Reviews have been widely mixed. David Pogue over at The New York Times criticizes the OS for trying to bridge that nebulous realm between touch and personal computing. He says, “You know what would have been perfect? Keeping the two operating systems separate.”
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When Apple CEO Tim Cook was asked about the Surface on the company’s earnings call, he said: “What we’re reading is that it’s a fairly compromised, confusing product. One of the toughest things you do when making a product is to make hard trade offs. That’s what we’ve done with the iPad, and the resulting user experience is incredible.” But it’s also possible the man is biased.
Tom Warren at The Verge has a different view, going so far as to say, “Picking up a tablet PC with Windows 8 makes an iPad feel immediately out of date. The ability to run two apps alongside each other allows this to be more than a consumption device, with full keyboard and mouse support and a desktop operating system hiding in the background.” He adds, “Windows 8 is a beautiful operating system,” but acknowledges that the fight is by no means over.
One huge part of that fight will be developers, as the Windows 8 “Tile World” requires new — beautiful — apps to be developed. Like Research in Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM), Microsoft may find itself offering hefty incentives to developers while it plays catch up with the Apple and Android app stores.
Microsoft did take some flack from other players in the PC industry over the development of the Surface. Acer reportedly said that the surface would have “a huge negative impact for the [PC] ecosystem and other brands.” This is sort of an awkward argument, given that Apple and Android tablets have been doing a pretty good job obliterating sales numbers while the PC wobbles.
Other big-ticket PC makers are not as worried. Surface aside, a successful Windows 8 could help push up floundering sales numbers. Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE:AMD) is collaborating with Windows and players like Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ). The dynamic between the traditional PC and tablets is obviously changing, but those at the top of the game don’t have all their eggs in one basket.
The question is not what the technological ecosystem is going to look like, it’s what the user-experience ecosystem is going to look like. Technology will change, and usually very, very rapidly. From the PC, to the laptop, to the smartphone, to the tablet — the future may hold Google glasses, projection devices — speculation can run wild. What will underpin and define all of these technologies is how a company manages and curates the user experience. This is something Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) by and large recognizes, pushing software more emphatically than hardware.
This is also what Microsoft is trying to do with Windows 8. The company is trying to create a product, an experience, that transcends the hardware. Windows wants to be the platform you can take anywhere. You and your digital ecosystem exist independently from the devices, the devices are just a point of access. That’s not to say that having a hand in the hardware itself is a bad idea — keeping up with a trend, or defining one, is clearly lucrative. With a bold, new software launch, the Surface serves as a home base for the platform. It’s not too wild to imagine a future in which Samsung builds a Windows 8 tablet.
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