New Tablet: Android 1, Windows 0

It was time for a new tablet. Tablets are a little like PCs used to be – the software evolves so quickly that it outstrips the hardware in around two years. In the 1980s and 1990s, I used to buy a PC every couple of years. Usually, the hard drive would fill up or the latest software would need more RAM than my gear had. Tablets are like that now. Unless you buy a tablet that is very expensive and high powered, it will only be a few years before you’ll need a new one. This might not be the case if you are using your tablet for Angry Birds but work applications are a different animal. Pretty soon the flash memory is full, there’s not enough RAM, and your tablet is a large trivet.

Even though I’ve been in the Android camp from the beginning (I’m a geek, not a fan boy) I was open to other flavors of tablet. Okay, I wouldn’t buy an iPad since I don’t like the overly controlled environment. I was seriously considering a Windows tablet though. Since this was a tool for work and I use mostly Microsoft Office applications at work, it made sense to consider it.

Sorry Microsoft but you lose. I tried out half a dozen Windows tablets from various manufacturers and here’s why I stuck with Android:

  1. Apps apps apps. There were major holes in application support for Windows tablets. I would have been forced to rely on the browser too much. Anyone who has used a tablet browser knows that it is a slower and less rich experience. The more limited hardware of a tablet makes using the browser for work applications a tedious and less productive endeavor.
  2. Cost. Yep, Windows tablets cost more, on average, for the same resources. The size of the flash memory in a tablet is critical and you pay more per gigabyte for a Windows tablet.
  3. They’re trying to be a laptop. It’s pretty clear that Microsoft views tablets as really a low-powered laptop. You see it in the marketing (keyboards feature prominently in the displays) and the OS. I was a bit surprised that changing settings pops you into a miniature desktop with tiny Control Panel. I like the Windows 8.1 design. I’m probably the only one who will admit it but I do. I like the Metro interface for quick access to functions and the desktop for more manual operations. On a tablet though, only the Metro interface makes any sense. That a tiny little desktop could pop up on a 7″ tablet is silly and impossible to work with. Besides, if I wanted a ChromeBook I would buy one and not a tablet.

The last point is the reason Microsoft will continue to struggle against Apple and Google/Android. Windows RT 8.1 is an operating system full of ambivalence. Microsoft is either trying to have one environment for all devices (the official story) or doesn’t get the role tablets play in our lives. In either case, they don’t understand that a tablet is a fundamentally different device than a smartphone or laptop. Chromebooks and their Microsoft equivalents are dumbed down laptops meant to be auxiliary computers for traveling or home. They are cheaper, smaller, lighter, and have fewer features than a standard laptop. Otherwise, they have the same form factor and function as a laptop. A tablet, on the other hand, is primarily used to consume content and do a little light work. It doesn’t replace a laptop; it has its own reason for being.

This is why the average number of devices business professionals carry these days is (surprise surprise) three! A smartphone to communicate, a tablet for consuming content and data, and a laptop for writing, design, data entry, and other heavy lifting tasks. By using devices special made for different activities, business professionals can optimized their work experience. The irony is that the Microsoft Office application team gets this. The Android applications (OneNote, Office, and OneDrive) are right-featured for smartphone and tablet use. The latest revision to OneDrive is a prime example of how to design an application for tablet use, allowing segregated access to both personal OneDrive and OneDrive for Business.

This time around Android wins again. And it will keep winning until the Microsoft OS team finally gets how tablets, smartphones, and laptops are different.

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