Emily Tan
Sep 16, 2011

How will Windows 8 impact the tablet market?

GLOBAL: The tech world is buzzing with the pre-release of tablet-centric Windows 8, that looks poised to challenge Apple and Google's duopoly of the tablet market. But will Windows 8 steal a chunk of the tablet pie for Microsoft? The short answer is, no one really knows.

The Windows 8 start screen
The Windows 8 start screen

Developers have their hands on a pre-release version of Windows 8, which was released during Microsoft’s developer conference on Tuesday, and analyst and online opinion seem divided on the new operating system’s chances of success.

One factor that could work both for or against Windows 8 is Microsoft’s decision to stick to its guns and not follow Apple's footsteps on its tablet interface. Unlike Apple which has conceived a user interface designed around casual use, Microsoft plans to move the complete Windows operating system from the PC to the tablet.

Users can opt between the look-and-feel of Microsoft’s mobile phone operating system, Windows Phone 7 with its Metro Design interface, or switch back to the classic Windows interface. The operating system is designed to be touch-screen centric, but users can opt to use a mouse and keyboard if they choose.

Even analysts from the same firm don’t quite see eye-to-eye on Microsoft’s decision. Over on CNN, IDC analyst Al Hilwa approved. "It looks like Microsoft is finally on the right track, writing the evolution of the Windows PC on its own terms," he said.

Meanwhile, Bob O’Donnell, an analyst at IDC, noted that Microsoft has been selling software used in tablets and slates for 10 years with limited success. According to IDC data, only about 1.4 million Windows-based tablets, slates and convertible laptops were sold in 2010, compared with 14.8 million iPads sold in the same year.

On CNET, Wells Fargo Securities analyst Jason Maynard commented that Microsoft’s decision to take the PC operating system and bring it to the tablet was rather single-minded. "Sometimes when you have a hammer, everything looks like nail."

While Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft — a research firm which only tracks the software giant — fears that Microsoft may be overreaching with this approach. “Some will look at this and think of the old Saturday Night Live skit.... 'It's a floor wax and a dessert topping'," Miller told Computerworld.

Two things most analysts agree on seem to be that Microsoft is rather late to the game with this and that Windows 8’s success hinges on the participation of app developers.

While analyst Jack Gold, with J.Gold Associates, believes that while developers who already support the Windows platform will be interested in being able to build an app and have it play across multiple platforms, timing is an issue. “Windows 8 tablets are at least a year away and in the meantime, no app vender is going to be able to just sit back and wait,” he said. “They have to answer for the popularity of iPad and Android."

The tablet world is so app-centric at present that the success of Windows 8 will depend on the revenue it is able to drive through Microsoft’s app store, said principal analyst at Ovum, Richard Edwards. 

Microsoft can’t afford to lose this gambit though, he added. “We believe that making a success of the Windows Store will be a big challenge for Microsoft, but failure is not an option, as the company desperately needs to generate a new revenue stream as sales in other areas of its business decline.”

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