Windows 8: Back To The Future

by Tim Bajarin   |   October 26th, 2012

[dc]D[/dc]ue to scheduling conflicts I could not be in NYC yesterday for the Windows 8 launch but watched it intently as it was streamed around the world from Microsoft’s Web site. But what I saw was both impressive as well as confounding for many reasons.

Let me start with the confounding issue first. Once Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took the stage with his bubbly personality, he expressed “excitement” about Windows 8 and he was right to do that. Windows 8 will always be known as the version of Windows that ushered in the age of the touch UI to the Windows world. And just as Windows 95 solidified the GUI in PC users mind, Windows 8 will burn into people’s conscience the fact that touch should be a key addition to the Windows User Interface. And before he spoke, other Microsoft executives showed off a plethora of laptops, all-in-one touch PCs as well as tablets that are already touch enabled so they can take full advantage of Windows 8 touch features.

But as I listened to Steve Ballmer speak, I could not help but think that his message was one of “welcome to the past” instead of “welcome to the future.” We all pretty much know that we are well into the post PC era and demand for traditional PCs are stable, stalled, or even in decline in many areas of the world. In fact, while we still expect to see between 300-350 million P’s sold WW annually for a few more years, the hard fact is that traditional PC vendors are having a tough time making any money on PCs anymore and some of them may get out of the consumer PC business completely in the next 12-24 months.

Smartphones and tablets are quickly supplanting a need for a full-fledged PC. User surveys show that tablets especially can handle as much as 80% of the tasks they used to do on a PC and that consumers are spending less time on their PC than before. This is not good news for the PC vendors as well as Microsoft and Intel. As more customers are ushered into the world of tablets by cheaper models from Amazon and Google, as well as Apple’s new entry into smaller tablets with the iPad mini, tablet unit shipments will outnumber the amount of PCs sold annually WW by 2015.

We also sell 1.4 billion cell phones a year and by 2013, 65% of the cell phones sold in the US will be smartphones. And by 2015, 60% of all cell phones sold WW will be smartphones. In fact, instead of the post PC era being used to describe where we are today, a more accurate terminology could be that we are finally entering the age of truly personal mobile computing, with smartphones and tablets leading the way.

But I also viewed the Windows 8 event as impressive and important due to the demand for new traditional PCs will stay stable or decline, there are well over 700 million PCs still in use today and Windows 8 represents an important step or bridge to the future of PC UIs and the role touch will play in these devices. Also, millions of PC customers are already familiar with touch through their purchases of tablets and smartphones, Windows 8 has to be considered an important evolution of the graphical user interface for existing and new PCs and laptops.

While I view Windows 8 as important, the one area that I think it will have its greatest impact in will be with devices that are truly touch enabled. This includes new hybrids or combo laptops and tablets that can take full advantage of Windows 8’s new touch interface. However, I am less confident it will be a huge success with existing PCs where the only input is a mouse or a touchpad. Current input devices were not designed with touch in mind and therefore do a rather poor job with navigating through a rich touch based user experience. The exception to this may be when Synaptics’ new ForcePad is installed in new laptops. This is a trackpad that maps the touch UI interface and mirrors some of the touch UI features through this innovative new trackpad optimized for Windows 8. Apple does this already with their Magic Trackpad. Interestingly, Apple does not believe their laptops or desktops should be touch enabled as they view the use of the hand or finger having to move from keyboard to screen as an unnatural way to navigate these types of devices.

There is also another key issue that may keep Windows 8 from being adopted faster and that is the added cost of laptops that sport touchscreens. At the moment, putting a touch screen on a laptop adds about $150-$200 to the cost of the laptop. That is why we still see most of the laptops sold at least through 2014 having non-touch based screens as consumers are inclined to buy on price instead of features in most cases.

While I see Windows 8 working well with touch based devices and see it having a harder time being adopted by users whose laptop or desktop is not touch enabled, Still, Windows 8 will be important to the collective PC market today. And it represents the next major evolution of the user interface for PCs, even if the market for PCs will not be a major growth market in the future.

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.
  • Grwisher

    Appropriate title.

  • Rich

    “The use of the hand or finger having to move from keyboard to screen is an unnatural way to navigate [laptops or desktops].”

    Unnatural and tiring.

  • Patrick

    I stopped reading at “peoples conscience”. This site needs a method (separate from comments) to get errors (such as the two noted here) corrected.

    • benbajarin

      Since we all write here on a volunteer basis, and all have other day jobs, in order to keep the site ad free, we will happily accept volunteer copy editors :)

    • Neil

      Patrick: I stopped reading at “I stopped reading at”…. Just FYI.

      Hey Tim, I watched the ‘Surface’ presentation. Remember that!? If you turned off the sound Mr Ballmer looked more like he was a coach chiding his team for cheating than introducing some amazing new tech gadget. I laughed at your “bubbly personality” comment. This was more of the same was it not?

      Having followed both companies for many years I could also not help but be amused by the sight of Redmond is being dragged into the future (unfamiliar territory for them) by none other than perpetual upstart Apple and their silly toy, the iPad.
      The next few months are going to be very interesting. Will people get it?

      • max

        I stopped watching the Surface introduction stream because they sounded too much like the street traiders trying to flog you a set of saucepans when you already own a set and the ones on offer are worthless. There was too much fake excitement. I want a serious demonstrating not an over-eager sales pitch.

  • Whatever

    Touch screens on PCs make no sense unless you’re going to hang it on a wall as an information kiosk. It would be tiring and annoying to constantly move my hands from my keyboard/mouse/trackpad to the screen and back. Now add in using touch for Windows 8 controls, but not having an application updated to use touch. So you control the OS with touch, and the application with a keyboard/mouse? And how about apps which aren’t touch-compatible?

    Touch controls is a gimmick that Microsoft has added to its PCs because it really had nothing new to offer, and it wanted to put the “full Windows experience” on its Surface tablets (i.e., we were too lazy to develop a new mobile OS). Windows touch controls will be a huge flop.

  • Alfiejr

    a touch UI is right for hand-held devices, but just wrong for desktops, and in-between for laptops. on any screen more than a few inches away, it turns your entire arm into a finger. that is ridiculous for all but a few very specific uses. it is much more physical work, and the ergonomics are terrible.

    touch enable mice are the best UI for any desktop. you get the benefit of adding many finger touch controls without moving your hand at all – maximum efficiency. touchpads on a laptop are not quite as good and more physical work, so sometimes using a touch screen would be worth the extra effort, which is also easier to do than on a desktop screen because the screen is closer and smaller.

    so the desktop world does not need W8 at all. W7 is just fine. that will flop.

    as to the laptop world, we will have to wait and see.

    and as for W8 on upcoming Intel Surface Pro tablets, the issue there will be why not just use a laptop? a 10″ screen is really small for using most Windows applications no matter what.

    this is only about the screen issues. the other issues about Windows 8 weren’t discussed in this article, but they are there.

  • JustMe

    I wouldn’t want my nice big computer screen full of finger touch prints. Much more obvious than on a phone or pad. Dumb idea.

  • http://www.facebook.com/vittarco Vittorio Frangilli

    I have run the compatibility test for Win 8 on my Win 7 Pro desktop with the result of a suggestion to upgrade to an updated version both Corel X3 and Kasperky Pure, as they are listed as not compatible. So, the Win 8 upgrade will should cost me 29.90 Euro to Microsoft, more than 389 Euro to Corel, 69 Euro to Kaspersky and finally around 300 Euro for a new touch screen monitor. Plus several hours of reinstallation of programs and a very long learning curve for the new interface. Immediate question: why should I upgrade?

    • steve_wildstrom

      I don’t think Microsoft expects a huge number of upgrades of existing systems to Windows 8. In the past, about 15% of the installed base has upgraded. I suspect the number will be lower for Windows 8 because it really wants new hardware to run on. Not necessarily touch screens, but laptops require a touchpad that supports the new gestures properly. Most older systems don’t.

  • Peter

    if any one has been around since 3.1 they will find themselves at home. It really the tree with GUI interface. still not multi tasking and it does get lost still. Its rather like a model T in a 2012 body but still has the old 3 peddle gear change system. What else would you expect from MS ;-)