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This Week in Tablets: Microsoft may have timed Windows 8 perfectly

Also inside: The Daily appears to falter…and Microsoft posts its first-ever quarterly loss.

All things considered, things went pretty well for Microsoft this week.

In five days, the company announced an October 26 release date for Windows 8, staged a well-liked demonstration of Office 2013 (aka Office 15), and generated favourable buzz for its virtual keyboard.

The battle, it has been joined.

Certain circles (read: nerdy me) have a great phrase that sums this moment up: It, as they say, is on like Donkey Kong.

(For the record, I want to state that I’m pretty sure Doug Lombardi, Valve Software’s marketing director, coined the phrase back in 1997 or 1998. We were working together at CNET at the time, and the moment he said it—during a Tekken tournament—everyone around him cracked up. I started hearing right after that).

(Also: It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “It’s on like Diddy Kong racing,” or any other Donkey Kong variant if you feel like you’ve used the original phrase too often in a short period of time. Like three times in 60 minutes).

So, what are we learning from all this buzz over Windows 8, Office 2013, the Surface Tablet, and Microsoft in general?

I smell a list coming.

1. Some non-Surface tablets will probably be available when Windows 8 debuts

The fact that Microsoft VP Kirk Koenigsbauer used a Samsung Windows 8 tablet to do some of the Office 15 demonstration appears to confirm that some third-party tablets will in fact be available at the time Windows 8 launches.

2. We’re all more frustrated with virtual keyboards than we care to admit

When the tech world gets happy because a Microsoft employee posts about common sense UI design for Windows 8’s keyboard, it is clear that none of us are happy with them; iOS, Android, or otherwise. Raise your hand if you’re frustrated more than three times a day with your touch text input.

(Raises hand).

There’s lots of upside here. Physical keyboards aside, the next OS provider that makes a quantum leap on the keyboard will gain a leg-up on the competition.

3. There is still no sign of how the marketing campaigns around Windows 8 will play

This is more in the category of What We Don’t Know than What We Know, but it’s important. Thus far, Microsoft has played it very vanilla with its presentations and videos. We still have no idea what kind of positioning and marketing campaign Microsoft’s ad agencies—Starcom MediaVest for the US and Universal McCann for the rest of the world—will come up with for Windows 8 as well as the Surface tablet itself.

4. Microsoft is betting big on touch as the future of all interfaces

The more I see of Windows 8 and Office 2013, which releases on October 26 (public preview here), the more I can’t believe Microsoft is doing this.

It’s not bad or good, but the notion that Microsoft appears to be shifting its entire focus to touch is absolutely amazing, and a sure sign of the times. Three years ago, I could never have imagined this happening.

You could argue that, ultimately, touch is just an extension of using a mouse. You would be wrong.

5. It is better to be outright late versus just kind of late

Mostly as a result of its own shortcomings, Microsoft has been forced to learn how to compete from a trailing, underdog position. Successful or not, it’s learned a thing or two about doing this.

The Xbox 360 is the best example of success. When Microsoft entered the gaming console market in 2001, Sony held what felt like an overwhelmingly dominant position. 11 years later, the Xbox 360 has sold more units worldwide than the PlayStation 3.

Internet Explorer has been a mixed bag. Microsoft was able to quickly establish a beachhead for its Internet Explorer browser back in the late 1990s, although some would argue the company cheated its way in. And, given the browser’s market share challenges over the last decade, I wouldn’t call it a success.

Zune was a disaster, although you could argue that the Zune legacy was important because it led to Windows Phone (also not successful, although hanging in), Windows 8, and the Surface tablet.

The bigger point is that, in most cases, by the time Microsoft entered a competitive market, it did so late enough that a dominant, incumbent product was already being embraced by consumers. More importantly, the inevitable rooting against the incumbent had already begun, thereby creating an opportunity for Microsoft to capitalise on being an underdog.

Being late doesn’t always work out for Microsoft. The new Windows Phone, for example, was so late, that Android was able to play the underdog before Microsoft could.

Thankfully, the underdog mentality also comes with a short memory. How else to explain how the maker of an operating system so unstable it has its own acronym—the BSOD—could ever be trusted again?

(I have a theory. The fact that Microsoft’s and Windows’ reputations haven’t been nearly as tarnished as they should be is a testament to two things: The fact that for many years, there simply weren’t any other options for computing, work or otherwise; And the reality that for many users, real computing didn’t exist until high-speed Internet did, by which point, Windows XP had become pretty stable.)

What’s interesting is that, had Microsoft rushed into a Windows 8 release and/or a Win8 tablet release like everyone called for, the company might never have stumbled upon the Surface device.

The bottom line: Numerous tablet forecasts indicate that the vast majority of us will buy and own a tablet over the next five years. These same forecasts also indicate a steep ramp-up period starting around now. Right when Microsoft is about to saturate the market with what I expect will be a blitzkrieg of a marketing campaign around Windows 8.

6. This Windows 8 launch will determine Microsoft’s fate

All of the above said, if you need proof that this release is the most important in Microsoft’s history, consider this: In the same week where Microsoft made so many Windows 8 announcements, the company also posted a quarterly earnings loss for the first time ever.

This week’s winner: Microsoft

Despite the quarterly earnings, things are looking up for Microsoft, which continues to receive favourable coverage of Windows 8. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: It feels like the Redmond giant is beginning to get it together.

Even Ballmer is on point—I swear I could hear Eye of the Tiger in the background of his comments that Microsoft would take the battle to Apple. (BTW, the Eye of the Tiger video has to be one of the biggest disconnects between movies and real-life in history. How did this get made?)

Runner-up here: Barnes & Noble, which has promised never-before-seen screen technology for its next 7in Nook announcement.

We’ll see what this means soon, but as part owner of B&N, Microsoft has to be feeling confident in its investment.

Loser of the week: The Daily

Even though executives are refuting rumours that News Corp. is considering killing off The Daily, it’s clear that all is not well at Rupert Murdoch’s $30 million foray into tablet publishing.

The runner up here is Intel. Despite solid earnings and reports that over 20 tablets and 140 ultrabooks using its Atom processor are in development, there’s no shaking the fact that the company’s real mobile fortune is still almost exclusively tied to Microsoft, a company that is desperately pursuing ARM.

On the horizon

This does not appear to be a widespread problem, but it bears watching. In the meantime, based on TabTimes’ coverage, it appears that Google will replace any defective units.

Also worth watching: Will iPad sales pick up in China? Apple didn’t exactly have a stunning opening week for its tablet overseas.

Finally, yours truly has a big tablet travel decision to make. Vacation starts next Friday—what do I bring? The iPad for sure—the built-in 4G and Kindle app makes it a no-brainer.

But do I also bring a laptop? I’ll be working a little bit (who doesn’t during vacations these days?), but not that much. And what about the Kindle Fire? What about an old-school Kindle for that matter?

Right now, I’m thinking yes iPad, no Kindle Fire, yes Kindle, and maybe laptop. I’ll report back next weekend. These are big decisions, people.

Article source: TabTimes