Windows 10 and the PC’s Tablet Complex

Yesterday, Microsoft showed the world the first glimpse of the new version of Windows. Oddly, Microsoft skipped a version number in the naming scheme. Rather than name it Windows 9, they choose the name Windows 10. While it is hard to form a fully fleshed out analysis of Windows 10 from the minor details given, there are still some key observations that can be made.

Firstly, from what I saw from Windows 10, it appears Microsoft recognizes some of the many issues that faced Windows 8. On Microsoft’s official blog post they made the following points about Windows 10:

Windows 10 will:

  1. Build on our commitment to provide a common Windows platform and give you one consistent API layer with consistent UX design surfaces and flexible tools.
  2. Enable Windows Store apps to run in a windowed environment on the desktop so that they perform better on a wider range of hardware.
  3. Deliver one Store for all devices, making it easier for you to reach customers in consistent and compelling ways no matter what type of device they’re using. We’re also planning to make the Store more useful for corporations with volume app purchasing, more flexible distribution mechanisms, and the ability to create a custom or curated Store experience (note that the Windows 10 Preview contains the existing Windows 8.1 Store).

The first point may be the most important, although all three are related. Windows 8 had a two part problem. The first was developers were not taking advantage of creating new modern applications that embraced and extended computing to touch the same way developers were on the iPad. This led to the second issue — a schizophrenic user experience between legacy desktop mode and more touch/tablet friendly use cases. Microsoft converged a PC and tablet experience when they should have separated them. What should have been converged were the tools to create Windows apps for all screens in one environment, not the PC and tablet use cases. Microsoft is looking to fix this with their consistent API layer.

This developer point is why Microsoft threw the statistic out that there are 1.5 billion people using Windows every day. That is a little generous of a statistic given it includes IT workstations, Internet cafe’s, point of service workstations, and likely even server-based solutions. There may be 1.5 billion PCs in use but there are not 1.5 billion unique PC users. That number is somewhere in the 1.3 billion range and SHRINKING. This is what Microsoft, Intel, and the entire PC ecosystem is hoping to change. To do this, Microsoft hoped bringing tablet like functionality would spur growth to the PC industry. This, however, was a failure to understand why the tablet was successful and the role it played in the advancement of computing.

The Tablet Complex

From a platform standpoint, I still maintain Microsoft needs a phone/tablet OS and a desktop/notebook OS. Perhaps there are ways Windows 10 can be a dedicated OS for all these platforms. Time will tell. However, it is my conviction Microsoft, and Intel for that matter, suffered from a premature tablet complex. Meaning, they saw the iPad and its rapid success and created a number of flawed assumptions about the product that led them to create the schizophrenic Windows 8 and 2-in-1 PC category.

The tablet was never poised to be a replacement for someone who sits at a desk, needs a big screen, and does deep work. My belief was always there are simply a smaller number of people in the world for whom a large portion of their work use cases necessitate a desktop or notebook PC. What we saw the tablet (the iPad) do is enable more rich computing for those who were either intimated by computers and were less “computer literate” than others AND it brought computing to new customers who were not computer users before either in work or play. A good example of this was what I learned by being on a panel with the CTO of Chevron. He explained Chevron deploys over 30,000 iOS devices to field workers, and 20% of those were tablets. The primary use for these tablets people who used a clipboard to do security checks and other field work documentation. They replaced those paper tasks with iPads and deployed custom software which gave these field workers better tools to do their job. These field workers were not using computers in their jobs when in the field and would only use them for small portions of the day when they go to their desk to input data. Now all of it is done in the field in real time. I hear countless stories like this from field workers in construction, public safety, etc. The point is, tablets have enabled people who did not use computers before, for a wide variety of reasons, to use a computer regularly in a meaningful way.

This same philosophy is characterized again in this incredibly well written piece thanking Mr. Jobs for the iPad that brought the writer’s 83 yr old father meaningfully into the computer age. I particularly liked this part of the article.

His big, thick fingers found just the right touch. They found a groove and slid intuitively across the screen; soaring and gliding up and down and across. It was as if someone from the other side had taken over and was guiding his old mans’ fingers.

Then he discovered Facetime. He immediately dialed his oldest daughter, my sister. And that’s when he really came to life. He entered a new generation.

‘I can’t believe this is happening.’ He exclaimed.

The desktop and notebook form factor took computing as far as it could go with those designs. Those dedicated form factors, and the software they run, have a purpose and are not going away. The tablet, however, is extending computing to places it could not go before because of its unique form factor and software. As in the story above, the elderly who are connecting with their kids and grandkids in new ways are empowered. Kids can pick a tablet up and learn and play the instant they use it with no prior education or computer literacy training. Workers around the world who spend their day on their feet now have a tool practically custom designed for them as the ideal digital tool. This understanding is what companies with a PC bias missed. This is what Microsoft must solve for them to be a relevant platform player in the future of computing. However, as I will dive into in the near future, Microsoft’s upside does not depend on them being a relevant platform player, but rather resides in them becoming a platform agnostic software and services company.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

7 thoughts on “Windows 10 and the PC’s Tablet Complex”

  1. I lolled at the facetime story… a bit contrived maybe, given that Skype predates facetime by about 10 yrs ?

    1. Sure, but Skype video is mostly used by business folk. Far fewer mainstream consumers use Skype than FaceTime.

      1. Not in my world: for my friends and family, Skype is 95%, Hangouts 5%, and Facetime 0%.
        Skype has the huge advantage of being the incumbent – absolutely everyone has it- and working on all platforms (Windows, Android, MacOS, iOS); nobody uses Facetime because it’s Apple-only, and nobody has Apple-only friends and family. My iBrother skews Hangouts, for some reason (I think hangouts is slightly better than Skype, but not enough to switch everyone over), but also uses Skype.

        1. While it is true that Skype is more used by many people it is extra software you have to download, install and register for. Facetime and even iMessage comes built in to iOS now so more people are using it to communicate as it is easier to get started with. As for Google Hangouts, yes, they are used as well but again for a different set of users.

        2. Given that you notoriously live in a parallel universe where Apple doesn’t seem to exist and 800M people with the highest demographics don’t seem to use modern tech devices, your ignorance of the use of FaceTime and iMessage is forgiveable. There are hundreds of millions of users with sufficient Apple devices to make FaceTime viable. You don’t need to be all Apple in the family to use it. You can have an iPhone, a Win7 PC and a Nexus 7 but still use FaceTime with your sibling’s iPad regardless of other devices. We live in a pluralistic device/OS world and we have moved far beyond the lowest common denominator as the required solution. FaceTime is much higher quality than Skype so for those hundreds of millions who can use it, it makes sense. My extended family on 4 continents use FaceTime first with a fall back to skype when needed (non-Apple device available, low bandwidth situation, etc.)

          Hope the weather’s nice in the alternate universe.

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