It's the hardware, stupid

While we continue to see the OEMs attempt to build around Windows 8, it becomes clear why Microsoft needed to throw its own hat in the ring with the surface. The latest attempt from Lenovo, the Thinkpad Twist evokes memories of the old tablet PCs of yesteryear, complete with tacked on stylus support for an OS not built for touch.

In 2012...

Windows 8 is not without its fair share of popcorn eating detractors, waiting for it's inevitable failure come October 26 and the huge defections to... something. A nifty video from The Verge has been used as undeniable evidence, but it has been pointed out that Office is running on the OS of the past. This modern interface is the OS of the future, akin to comparing 3.1 to DOS.

To the detractors, the rebuttal here is that it is a hybrid OS, the best of both worlds. You get Windows of old plus a new and improved interface which works with touch very well... mouse and keyboard not as well. Let's be clear though, this is a migration to the Metro environment for good - the plan being that desktop Windows is relegated to command line interface status. The only issue is that the Metro environment, much like iOS doesn't yet do everything the full desktop does. Expect Microsoft to plug these holes with future updates and the Office 'MX' suite.

Tabletops and Frankentablets

So bearing in mind my argument, that we're on a migration path to full Metro, look at the following:

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This really drives the point home, because while holding on to the future, you just can't let go of the past. The past is that thing round the backside of the device, hampering the touch experience because it makes the tablet thicker and heavier and slightly weird to grip. While 12 years ago, Microsoft was trying to 'tack on' touch to a non touch experience, OEMs are currently tacking on touch to distinctly laptop like devices.

Tablet first (build in, not built in)

Has any OEM done a Windows 8 experience justice? A few are almost there (ASUS in particular), but there is one who I think nailed it. No surprise here, it's Microsoft with the Surface.

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This is a Windows 8 tablet done right. It's touch first as it should be. I have my reservations about some aspects of it as a tablet, like the screen resolution which will no doubt be improved on version two and the typing experience on something so thin, but this definitely looks like the right direction:

  1. the tablet gets to be thin and light
  2. the keyboard is optional and doesn't add too much to the device
  3. the stand is concealed

Of course, it is limited as a laptop, mainly due to the screen size, but I don't see why a tablet device can't exist in an accessories ecosystem akin to Apple's iPhone and iPod touch. To this end, I would like to see Microsoft introduce an (optional) port design and location for use with accessories like docking stations, usable with any Windows 8 tablet which includes it. In the era of motor-like analogies think of the tablet as a motorcycle and the accessories as a sidecar. Meanwhile, the OEMs are falling over themselves trying to make a smart car.

Docking in, more reflections...

In the not too distant future, the tablet will be the device we take everywhere. Both Apple and Microsoft (and Google to some extent) are trying to get there in their own ways and we must appreciate the amount of effort and time spent doing so (as fans of tech first, partisan fan-people second). I have a few ideas regarding accessories and such. Despite being somewhat of a futurist here, I'll admit the keyboard and mouse are still needed. So welcome to the keyboard and mouse ecosystem. Two technologies (and ideas) to follow:

Docking stations definitely don't seem like the coolest thing in the world, but I do think it's a salable idea if it can be made to work for people. Dock into an ASUS like keyboard attachment (they really should have patented that) or dock into your home setup. Make it seamless. Take your tablet everywhere and 'dock in' when needed - supported at work, available at home, and at cafes etc.

Airplay mirroring looks to be a big card Apple is holding. Being able to use some Airplay-esque magic to feed to an external display while using bluetooth to connect to a wireless keyboard and mouse when at home would be a great proposition - providing it's implemented well. Make the set-up automagic (e.g. via use of a docking station) and you have a keynote worthy demonstration of the future of computing.

To wrap up:

My ideas above really rely on great implementation which I haven't expanded on for the sake of brevity. My gut feeling is we'll get there eventually. My issue is with the fact that OEMs don't seem to understand how to actually design good tablets for Windows 8. Sony makes decent tablets for Android, yet tabletops for Windows. I don't believe it's a concerted effort to make Windows 8 fail, but in latching the new with the old, Microsoft may have made a power play, but have lost out on the clean break you get with a tablet OS. OEMs aren't designing from the ground up - they think we're still in the era of Windows. While the name is the same, the devices can't be.