Apple makes a lot of money selling touchscreen tablets, smartphones, and portable media devices. In fact, the company now makes more money from iOS products than it does from pricey laptop and desktop computers running OS X.
So when you look at the latest versions of OS X which offer support for full-screen apps and gesture-based controls, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the company could merge OS X and iOS one day and launch notebooks or desktop computers with touchscreen displays, or maybe even convertible tablet-style notebooks.
But if Apple CEO Tim Cook’s comments during yesterday’s earnings call are anything to go by, you shouldn’t hold your breath.
Microsoft Windows 8 will run on notebooks, tablets, and other devices — and Intel and Microsoft are both encouraging PC makers to release products that blur the lines. That includes ultrabooks with touchscreen displays and convertible models that can be used a a notebook or a tablet.
But Tim Cook says there are trade-offs involved in that sort of hybrid device and that “you can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those things are probably not going to be pleasing to the user.”
Microsoft’s head of corporate communications responded that the appropriate comparison is a toaster/oven… a device that’s rather popular.
The different approaches shouldn’t surprise anyone that’s been watching the two companies for a long time. While the iPad is the most successful tablet device to date, Microsoft has been making software for tablets for well over a decade.
Some of the earliest tablets were convertibles, and you can still find a number of Windows 7 computers with screens that can be folded down over the keyboard and used in tablet mode.
Those early tablet designs tend to be expensive though, and require high-end hardware including active digitizers and digital pens to work properly. Windows 8 could address that issue by offering a much more touch-friendly Metro style user interface so that PC makers can add touch capabilities to any device simply by adding a capacitive touch panel.
It’s likely a number of factors prevented convertible tablets from taking over the market years ago. High prices, inadequate software, and reliance on a digital pen that’s easy to lose or misplace could have all played a role. But the biggest difference between the convertibles of yesteryear and the touchscreen Windows devices expected to hit the streets later this year is that Microsoft, Intel, and many hardware partners appear ready to go all in.
I suspect we’ll see a bigger push for Windows tablets in 2012 and 2013 than we’ve ever seen before, as Microsoft and big name PC makers try to make sure we don’t actually enter a “post PC” world. That means you’ll likely see touch-capable devices from most major PC vendors and they probably won’t be cost much more than non-touch devices.
On the other hand, I’m still not sold on the Metro style user interface for traditional PC tasks. It often takes more clicks to find an app using the new Windows Start Screen than with a good old fashioned start menu. Maybe it just takes some getting used to — I remember being disenchanted with the Windows XP user interface when it replaced Windows 98.
As for Apple… company executives have a habit of saying they’re not going to release products… right up until the moment they do. So I wouldn’t be surprised if we do see a touchscreen notebook or a hybrid tablet-style notebook from Apple one day. But I would be surprised if that day to come anytime this year.