You may have heard that Windows 8 tablets with 7 or 8 inch displays will come with a free copy of Microsoft Office 2013 Home & Student. Clearly Microsoft is trying to make Windows tablets more attractive to some users than Android or iOS devices.

But at the same time, it seems Microsoft doesn’t actually expect you to run desktop-style apps (like Office 2013) on small tablets.

Inventec Lyon tablet

In a speech at the Computex trade show in Taiwan this week, Microsoft’s Antoine Leblond talked about some of the things the company is doing to make Windows run better on tablets with screens smaller than 10 inches.

That includes tweaking the software with better support for portrait mode and for devices with thin screen bezels. But it also includes making it easier to access key functions in the “Modern” user interface without switching to the Desktop mode. OK, that makes sense, since “Modern” apps are designed to work with touchscreens and with devices a variety of screen sizes and resolutions.

But something about this quote still seems a bit odd when you consider the fact that Microsoft is including one of its most important desktop apps with small Windows tablets:

Now, one of the things that’s interesting about a small device like this is that it’s actually the kind of device where you really want to be able to stay inside what we call the modern experience. The desktop on a device that small is actually really, really hard to navigate. So things that force you to go into the desktop are really problematic.

To put that in context, Leblond is saying that Windows 8.1 has a new Settings app that lets you access most of the functions available in the traditional Control Panel. That’s not a bad thing.

But if Microsoft’s overall attitude is that nobody wants to use desktop-style apps on a small Windows PC, then why exactly is the company bundling the desktop version of Microsoft Office?

Also — why would anyone choose a Windows tablet over an iOS or Android device unless they wanted to run desktop apps? Right now there are millions of Windows apps that aren’t available with a Modern UI and which aren’t available for Android, iOS, BlackBerry, or any other operating system.

But if you expect users only to run touch-friendly apps from the Windows Store, then you’re positioning Windows 8.1 as a competitor to Android and iOS… and each platform already has a far richer app ecosystem. The only compelling reasons I can think of to choose Windows is support for desktop apps, and maybe support for running two or more “modern” apps in side-by-side windows.

via ZDNet

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15 replies on “Microsoft’s mixed messages on small tablets”

  1. Good article but in my opinion Windows for tablets and phones still has quite a lot of scope to grow. It would be great if they did because I would personally love it if we got these at work. Microsoft tablets are great for office productivity especially for those in small to medium scale enterprises. Here’s a good read on other office essentials like a projector.

  2. great to see the 2nd coming of UMPCs. i just hope that manufacturers will learn from the past & include a physical keyboard & some form of pointing device (trackpad or pointer). have been waiting for a mobile content creation device for the longest time…

  3. I want a FULL Windows 8 P.C. in my hands, not a Windows R.T. device.

    I love and support the Windows RunTime (”metro”/”Modern”) interface, but at present it lacks the applications to be considered ”a stand-alone” and ”mature” platform, Windows R.T. has a limited amount of apps, Windows 8 has MORE APPS THAN THE ENTIRE LINUX/ANDROID + APPLE ECOSYSTEMS COMBINED, Windows R.T. can’t even beat Blackberry, I can see why Windows 8 is better than Windows R.T.

    If Microsoft cares about both their own business and their consumers they should ship FULL Windows 8 7 inch Tablet-P.C.’s, Windows R.T. will have its hay-day but that is years away, Windows R.T. has less than 80.000 applications, Android has 800.000 and iO.S. has 1.100.000, Blackberry has 120.000, Windows Phone has 150.000 and Windows 8 has more than those combined, we can see the clear winner.

    Also the applications for the desktop have superior and unmatched quality from over 25 years of experience and maturing, Windows R.T. isn’t even 1 year on the market.

    Windows R.T. sucks (at present) and Windows 8 is awesome.

    1. Well Bay Trail is x86 ATOM and so will only run Windows 8… RT is only for ARM devices, so you have nothing to worry about there…

      Even though the app comparison is more than a little exaggerated… Most of the apps for either iOS or Android are old and mostly made for phones and not tablets. So the gap in number of apps is less in a practical sense of actual usage.

      Mind they aren’t overlapping WP8 and RT yet, so app development is pretty strictly for tablets or in some cases even higher end devices. Meaning most of those apps will be more capable and more useful on average than Android and iOS apps.

      Though, like any new platform it will take awhile before developers get good at making apps for them…

      It’s still mostly just a matter of getting the most popular apps available in the Windows market that’s key for satisfying most users.

      While MS is also starting to leverage their XBox franchise to help improve the Modern UI appeal… Since they’re releasing a Halo game for both WP8 and Windows RT/8/Pro systems.

      It’ll be more in line of games like Torchlight, with an overhead view of the playing field but it’s a good start to get people more interested in these devices…

  4. What about hooking it up to an external monitor, mouse and keyboard? I can’t see using Office on a 8″ screen, but I could see using it if I can hook up the device to my monitor. Users that don’t require a powerful machine could still conceivably use this small tablet as their primary computer and I think that’s pretty cool.

    1. HDMI out is pretty standard and more and more devices will also support Miracast, which Windows 8.1 improves support for…

  5. I don’t care what Microsoft’s intents are as long as OEMs put out 7″-8″ Windows 8 tablets. Preferably with a thumb mouse in the bezel because he’s right about the desktop being hard to use with only a finger. I’d prefer a thumb mouse over an active stylus as well. MicroUSB charging of the tablet that can take an input of 2.5 W or more (of course more is better) is also a requirement for me.

    There’s a reason why my Nexus 7 is collecting dust. Maybe it’ll get some use when Ubuntu touch comes out and lets me drop into the desktop and run desktop software and execute terminal commands.

  6. It is quite easy to understand, they don’t have the resource to move all applications from non modern ui to the modern ui, but yet they want to take the market share, so they want to keep the customer to wait

    1. Yes. Microsoft is trying to convince Enterprise buyers to go for Windows tablets instead of iPads, and they need to show the buyers a checklist that has MS Office on their products and not on iPad.

      Microsoft Office for modern/metro/tablet does not exist yet. MS Office on tablets is not good enough to charge money for, so they give it away with their tablets. I think next year there will be a specific version of Office for modern/metro, and I think Microsoft will charge for that.

      1. There’s also dynamic range of usage to consider… Form factor isn’t as limiting if you can alter it when needed… such as plugging a tablet into a dock to then use it as a different form factor device…

        In this case we can realistically expect it to be fairly practical to just dock a Windows 8 tablet to then use it like a desktop and then unplug and use it as a tablet when on the go.

        Such flexibility isn’t really yet possible with the alternative mobile devices because they are primarily designed to function as mobile devices and little else.

        Asus for example is embracing this idea with the Transformer Book Trio they recently showed off… Like a hybrid it can switch between tablet and laptop usage but the dock is its own system and thus when plugged to a external screen can be used like a desktop and the tablet part can still be used separately, running android with a ATOM processor in the tablet half.

        Incidentally, MS has a patent on letting a system switch between processors when dealing with dock options. So future systems can potentially scale in performance as well as change form factors and that’s something that they never could really take advantage of before…

      2. I’m sure they will try to charge for it. Not sure if it will work and for how long. We have entered a terminal stage for the entire Microsoft business model now.

        Microsoft wants to charge real money for Office, even at edu pricing they clipped us for about $80/per. They were going to a training lab of Thinkpads so we paid. Can’t teach Office without Office, so what choice did we have, K? We also had to spring the extra $50 on each machine just to get the right to blow the crapware away and image clean, There was also probably about $35 for the Base Win7 license. Add it up, MIcrosoft cleared about $165 per seat from us. Did I mention we are a public library? They make more from a business, more still if you add in all the backend and Software Assurance, etc.

        Tablets are driving pricing into a final death spiral. The Nexus 7 established $199 as the baseline… last year; $149 is the new baseline this year. If you don’t think $99 will be the new baseline by $2015 (probably earlier) you just aren’t paying attention.

        Now even if Microsoft can come up with a OS than people would buy, even if they can make it run acceptably on the sort of hardware that will sell for $100-$200 in a year or so. Assume all that, if the box is going to retail for that where does Microsoft get their accustomed revenue per seat from? Do they expect businesses to still pony up a few hundred dollars to connect a device that costs half that to the corporate network and put Office on it? And if they can’t get that, who explains the drastic drop in revenue to the stockholders?

        The problem, in a nutshell, is they currently make more from the sale of a low end desktop PC than any of the other contributers to the transaction. More than Intel/AMD, more than the harddrive vendor, more than the vender (Dell, etc.) and often about as much as the retailer’s markup. Now we have devices selling where the markup from the docks in China to the cash register is barely enough to cover Microsoft’s typical income. Even if they drive the other guys (Dell) out and put their label on all Windows RT devices, they still are looking at a drop in revenue, assuming they can come up with a product that can restore their monopoly market share.

        This is their nightmare scenario, that tablets will displace low end desktops on a widespread basis, and even if it doesn’t it will push prices down to tablet levels. If that happens they can only choose how to minimize the loss; winning isn’t even an option.

        1. Nexus 7 only set the low end pricing for low end tablets!

          You’re not going to get a high end tablet, even if it runs only Android and only has a ARM SoC for that low a pricing!

          Pricing for the high end tablets usually go about $400 or higher. Apple even still starts at $500 and then they add $100 for each doubling of drive capacity.

          Even the Nexus 7 charges $50 for a single doubling of drive capacity and it only costs the OEM about $8 for that extra drive space!

          So let’s not get into the illusion that pricing is really going down all that much for hardware when they’re also lowering what they give us and still charge a premium to get more decent specs!

          While lets also remember the scale of what’s being offered. Like the difference between a high end PC game and a mobile casual use game.

          Sure, you can get a mobile casual usage game for very little but the gaming experience it provides is several orders of magnitude less than you can expect from a high end PC game!

          So there’s still the get what you pay for factor involved here.

          Though, you can argue that low end solutions are starting to provide enough features and capabilities but until they provide as much then there’s still justification for the pricing difference.

          While many of these so called low end solution actually charge you in different ways that can potentially add up to even more than the high end options will cost you.

          Like in app purchases can quickly add up, in some cases even to hundreds or even thousands of dollars if you’re not careful!

          Companies like Google also make most of their profits from advertisement and similar marketing business. So there’s just a hidden cost with them rather than their offerings being true bargains.

          So let’s not over simplify how the markets work as that just confuses how these products and services really compare to each other…

        2. Microsoft has three major sources of income: Office, Windows, and Server software. So they start renting Office instead of selling it, and use Windows as a loss leader to keep their server business going strong. A lot of other companies would be happy to be in a “losing” position like that, but, as you imply, Microsoft is used to being in a much better position.

          Google will keep attacking though, especially with Google Apps and ChromeOS. It looks like Chromebooks are beginning to drive down the price of low end laptops, much like Android has driven down the price of low end tablets.

          1. No they wouldn’t. You or me would love to have half Microsoft’s business. Microsoft can’t survive it. Imagine Balmer going to a shareholder’s meeting and proposing what you just did. “Ten years from now we will be earning about 2/3 what we make now, our market share will be lower. But’s it’s all good, we will still be raking in serious coin.” He would be escorted from the building before the sun set by the new management. They must have growth, all public corporations must have growth. Microsoft stock has been stagnant for over a decade, how much longer will the large institutional investors be patient?

            And you are right, Android tablets are only the tip of the spear. Microsoft could claim $100 tax on every PC sold when they were $2K and nobody blinked an eye. The venders grumbled and began to scream as the average selling price went to $1K and now is probably closer to $500. Eventually Microsoft did relent, and license prices did drop, big OEMs like Dell only pay around $35-$40 for a basic license (actual numbers a closely guarded secret) but prices are still being pushed lower. So Windows revenue will never be as high as it is today. Office is under unrelenting price pressures and so are their server products. And nowhere does anyone see a new market they can push into to get new revenue.

            XBox barely makes money right now but they are about to go back to loss leader mode again to launch a new console. Their tablets and phones are going nowhere, and they have been trying phones for about a decade now. About the only growth area is patent trolling the Android ecosystem but you just have to figure they will eventually get tired of that and buy some Senators for patent reform.

          2. It will be interesting to see how things play out. I see your point, but I don’t expect Microsoft will be cut up and sold for parts. I suppose it could happen.

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