Why HP Has Chosen to Make A Windows 8 Tablet

Tim Bajarin / November 3rd, 2011

When it comes to being a PC vendor these days, life is tough. For 30 years they have had a cozy business and only had to worry about designing two major form factors. Desktops and laptops were their bread and butter and they mainly needed to focus on enterprise, SMB and consumer markets.

But over the last two years, with the introduction of tablets and smartphones, their world has been turned upside down. Their enterprise customers are bringing iPhones and Android phones to their IT managers and asking them to support them. And now, iPads, and to some minor degree, Android tablets, are entering IT through the back door as well.

Now, these major PC players have to seriously consider significant plays in tablets and smartphones if they want to keep their IT customers happy. But, even their consumer users want tablets and smartphones from these vendors since they are well-known brands and in most cases, are known for their services and support.

But until recently, if the OEM’s wanted an OS for these products, they pretty much had only one option at their disposal. Android came along at a time when, for most PC vendors, it looked like it was a godsend. But after two years of trying to deal with Google and their scattered approach to designing and releasing so many versions of Android at irregular intervals and favoring marquis partners for major releases, some of the really big PC vendors are de-emphasizing or backing away from Android and are now seriously considering Windows 8 on tablets instead.

I was recently in a meeting with two PC vendors who were wrangling with the issue of backing Android or Windows 8 in tablets and while they still viewed Android as a viable product for potential consumer customers, they have pretty much concluded that if they want a tablet to be accepted by their business customers, they need to back Windows 8 on tablets and especially the ones supporting based on Intel silicon.

The key issue for business is backward compatibility. Although developers will have to adapt their apps to run the Metro UI for tablets, they won’t have to re-write much of the applications code as they would for use with ARM processors. And for users, they can be pretty much be assured that they can run Windows apps even without the Metro touch UI if needed by using the pen input as the mouse on most of these Win 8 tablets that will be out next year.

As for Android support in tablets for business, the interest from the big vendors is waning. There are a lot of reasons for this, but in the chart below, Michael DeGusta created this chart to show the Android and iPhone update history. As you can see, Android’s scattered releases alone have caused nightmares for tablet and smart phone vendors and this type of release schedule within enterprise is just not acceptable.

Of course, HP was the only company to buck the Android trend completely. They bought webOS and, to their credit, had hoped that they could build an ecosystem around webOS so that they had total control of this OS and their ecosystem themselves. Interestingly, they started out backing Android but wisely dropped it as they foresaw serious problems with this OS on many levels. The key one was that they were very concerned that Google did not have a good grasp on how to create a mobile OS that would meet the need of their core customers. So, they bought webOS with the thought that they could use this to create a more robust and secure OS for business and consumers.

Of course, as you know, things have not gone well with webOS and at the moment, it is not clear what HP will do with this great mobile OS. But it is pretty clear that they still do not see Android as an OS they wish to support.

HP actually has a long history of Windows tablet support and has sold it to many vertical market customers over the years. At CES 2009, HP publicly backed Microsoft’s Windows Tablets in Microsoft’s keynote. But with their turning their back on Android and webOS not living up to their own expectations, they pretty much were forced to turn back to Microsoft and will indeed, make Windows 8 on tablets their preferred tablet OS.

For enterprise, this is a no brainer. But they do have some latitude to back even ARM based tablets for consumers with Windows on ARM as well.

So, with HP keeping the PC division and tablets becoming a very important part of the business segment, HP, Dell and Lenovo along with the traditional PC vendors are all going to back Windows 8 on tablets in a big way. Unless Google changes their way of dealing with these vendors, I suspect that they will all eventually ratchet down support for Android tablets and instead put all of their weight behind Windows 8 on tablets, at least when it comes to tablets in the enterprise.

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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.
  • Walt French

    Mr. DeGusta’s chart brings a useful perspective. But the metric is possibly skewed by treating Google point releases as comparable to iPhone major releases. For instance, the Milestone apparently was shipped with Android 2.0 and the referenced updates were for 2.2.

    Froyo 2.2 was a Big Deal for functionality, no doubt. But I don’t think you’d say the same about 2.1 or 2.3.

    Claiming that the succession of 2.0 – 2.1 – 2.2 – 2.3 is of the same importance as iPhone’s 2.0 – 3.0 – 4.0 – 5.0 just doesn’t quite catch it. From my perspective outside the Android camp, 1.7 and 2.2 are the only paradigm-shifting releases to date. (1.7 seemed like the first usable Android; 2.2 the first one that was speedy enough for decent app performance.)

    Look at Google’s Chrome browser for similar blurring of the versioning. One recent “major” version featured audio input, some bug fixes and a new icon.

  • Walt French

    “Although developers will have to adapt their apps to run the Metro UI for tablets, they won’t have to re-write much of the applications code as they would for use with ARM processors.”

    Actually, a key benefit of Win8 is that developers will only need one set of instructions for metro, whether the tablet uses Intel or ARM chips. Microsoft will do the necessary translation.

    But that still leaves a LOT of redesign necessary. Tablets aren’t used for the same purposes as desktops; metro can’t support the monstrously long menus, tiny dialogue boxes, keyboard shortcuts, etc. that work fine for the desktop. And tablet apps SHOULD be addressing different needs, too: on-the-go, mobile-friendly stuff; leave the details and precision for desktops. So metro-smart apps WILL need to be extensively re-thought, probably rewritten from the ground up, if they are to succeed.

    Final point is to remember the Clayton Christensen warnings: Microsoft IS listening to its best customers who know what they want. That is the recipe for utterly missing technological disruption from new entrants into a business, a pattern that’s been visible for decades. By playing “this leverages your 2007 desktop paradigm” against “this changes everything … again,” Microsoft risks watching the world leave it behind yet a third time, as arguably has happened with the touch-screen phone and high-mobility tablets. Win 8 looks like solid technology that has almost nothing to do with what will really be necessary to drive the innovations that they present in their slick, futuristic, bait-and-switch concept videos.

    • For apps where performance is very important–in the Metro context, this would probably apply mostly to games–a simple recompile often does not do a very satisfactory job of moving from one CPU platform to another. Developers often have to get in there and optimize the code for satisfactory performance.

  • Paul

    HP will have tablets, laptops, desktops and servers for enterprises. But will they make Windows 8 smartphones for their enterprise customers who may be currently using Blackberry phones?

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