The problem with the announcement is that Microsoft has failed to commit to the tablet as a unique type of device. The company that spent a decade trying to push Windows tablets on a market that just didn’t want them is still convinced that it’s a selling point that Windows 8 tablets will run Microsoft Excel for Windows and if you hook up a keyboard and mouse to them, you can get an arrow cursor and click to your heart’s content.
I’m a little confused. Isn’t Apple’s announcement at WWDC about bringing OSX and iOS closer together (something Jason comments on later in his piece)? Isn’t a single platform exactly what Jobs wants – one, big market for Apps (where the money will be, if it isn’t already?), one consistent experience for users? Also, as an aside, if you’ve read my post on iPad for commuting – if it is to be a knowledge workers’ machine, it does need a keyboard – which is why there’s a burgeoning market for those sorts of iPad accessories.
Secondly – Microsoft has a history of providing multiple (admittedly occasionally ill-considered) flavours of its OS – so I suspect there will be a Windows 8 – Slate Edition – with a few features stripped out, and a few other features brought to the fore.
Uniformity of experience across the different Microsoft platforms makes sense. Users will expect that a Windows Phone and a Windows slate and a Windows PC behave in broadly the same way. The most sensible way to do this – I would guess – is not through superficial similarities, but commonalities in the underlying platform.
The lesson from Apple, IMHO – and not just the iPad, but Apple everything – that Microsoft is beginning to learn (as is Google, as I’ve noted before) is that uniformity and consistency of the experience is a vital part of keeping consumers happy. The single chip / yearly refresh / totally consistent experience across iOS (and to a lesser extent, OSX) forms part of the premium appeal of the brand. This is what Microsoft has done with its hardware requirements for Windows Phone 7, and the controls on customising the platform. The problem for Microsoft is that it can’t take this lesson completely to heart in the desktop/slate market – that would prevent it from reaching the lower end of the market, who want to buy machines with cheaper processors, less RAM and everything else you can save on.
I’m not defending Microsoft or Windows 8 here – it’s far too early to tell if or how they’ll screw up this particular product/platform launch – but this specific lesson didn’t chime with me.