Jan 02, 2013 (03:01 AM EST)
Windows 8 Tablet Launch #Fail
Read the Original Article at InformationWeek
Six months ago I extolled the virtue of Win8 tablets; and today I have to eat crow. From overpriced hardware to buggy drivers and half-designed Operating System (OS), I could not have imagined worse execution by Microsoft, Intel and the OEMs at a worse time.
While I was pessimistic about the Windows 8 launch because Microsoft forced the Metro touch interface on non-touch devices, I held out hope for the new touch and battery optimized tablets running Windows 8. This wasn't the Windows-incompatible Windows RT OS but the full Windows 8 experience running on Intel's new breed of Atom "Clover Trail" processors that can compete with ARM based processors on battery life while dominating CPU performance (benchmarks here). But the launch of Windows 8 tablets has so far failed miserably and it was doomed from the start by Microsoft.
Instead of treating Windows 8 tablets running on Intel's latest chip as its savior, Microsoft inexplicably decided to back the slower and less energy-efficient ARM based Tegra 3 processor for its flagship Surface product. All the advertising and media attention went to Surface and ARM based Windows RT tablets so the public barely knew anything about Windows 8 tablets. To make things worse, most of the 20 OEM Windows 8 Tablet designs were delayed two months after the Windows 8 and Surface launch because of driver and firmware bugs. It seemed as if Microsoft spent all of its development effort to get Surface RT ready and neglected Windows 8 tablets which explains why Intel's CEO Paul Otellini complained in September about Windows 8 bugs.
Two months ago I had very high hopes for the Samsung ATIV 500T Windows 8 tablet when I managed to get a review unit from Intel. But there were so many bugs that I held off for two months to wait for the fixes. After three major driver and firmware updates covering everything from BIOS, chipset, Pen to Sound, and Graphics, I no longer have to reboot twice a day and the tablet is in a near-stable state, but it still crashes and needs rebooting when I use Netflix's Metro app. These issues may be related to an entirely new class of drivers used for "Connected Standby" (always on) devices on tablets, since I haven't experienced these problems in Windows 8 on conventional laptop and desktop systems.
Samsung ATIV 500T dock connector (bottom view)
In its current software state, the Samsung ATIV 500T would have been my favorite mobility laptop if it didn't have an unusable dock. While the keyboard and touchpad are excellent, the docking connector suffers a fatal design flaw. The ATIV 500T's keyboard/trackpad dock uses tiny pins to touch flat plates on the bottom of the 500T tablet which become disconnected with the slightest disturbance. Even routine typing causes the tablet to disconnect from the dock. Sometimes it just means keys presses and mouse movements won't register. Other times you'll hear the Windows 8 device disconnect chime. The problem only got worse after two months of use.
Most of the other Windows 8 tablets use more reliable micro-ribbon connections that maintain solid electrical connections even if the dock connector is pulled out most of the way. When I tested the Acer W510 Clover Trail Windows 8 tablet by lifting up and shaking the tablet with the dock attached, the keyboard and trackpad never lost connection. Yet the Acer W510 suffers from a buggy trackpad that won't reliably move the cursor left or right when the integrated button is depressed. It's unclear if the W510 trackpad issue can be resolved with a driver or firmware update. The Acer W510 also has a smaller netbook size keyboard because the tablet is only 10.1", and isn't optimal for serious typing. By comparison, the Samsung ATIV 500T tablet is 11.6".
The Asus VivoTab 11.6" Clover Trail tablet is another alternative but it sells at an unrealistic $799 price point which doesn't even come with the $199 keyboard and trackpad dock. Even the $499 to $599 price point of some Windows 8 Clover Trail tablets aren't competitively priced with the display and graphics they offer. Tablets with Wide-XGA (1366x768) resolution displays simply can't sell at the same price of an iPad 4 with a "Retina" (2048x1536) resolution display.
Samsung ATIV 500T dock
From a pricing perspective, Microsoft, Intel and the PC industry aren't even close to being competitive. While the Intel Clover Trail chip used in the Samsung ATIV 500T has the fastest CPU performance of any available tablet, the graphics (GPU) and display on any of the Windows 8 tablet is embarrassingly poor, especially when compared to the fourth generation iPad and Samsung Nexus 10 tablet. Despite these inferior specifications, the Samsung ATIV 500T costs nearly twice as much as the Android-based Samsung Nexus 10.
The PC industry seems to have this misguided notion that it doesn't need to compete on specs and price with the iPad 4 and Nexus 10. Graphics performance and display resolution have become the new megahertz and megapixel race in the iPad era and today's tablet buyers expect top level hardware at a $399 or $499 price point. It's shocking that Microsoft spent three years producing an antiquated overpriced product such as the Surface while Apple and Google, including their partners, are producing superior products in 6-month cycles.
Interestingly enough, many Microsoft fans started treating me like some sort of traitor when I criticized Microsoft Surface. But the truth is that Microsoft has betrayed PC users with inferior hardware and higher-than-Apple profit margins. This strategy didn't work for Microsoft in smartphones and it won't work for tablets. Windows Phone 7 failed to gain much ground because nobody got excited about an 800x480 resolution smartphone in an era of 1280x800 Android phones. Microsoft hopelessly chased Apple users who were loyal to Apple while PC users concerned with value and specifications jumped ship to Android. Surface and Windows 8 tablets also won't gain much traction when consumers can buy competing tablets with 3 to 4 times the display pixel count and faster graphics performance.
Does this mean I've given up all hope on Windows? No. Not yet. I still have a lot of Windows applications I love and depend on; but time is running out and the competition is only getting stronger. If there's any hope for Microsoft, they will have to eat this bitter pill and take my criticisms seriously.
Perhaps Microsoft should consider Google's Nexus strategy. Instead of Microsoft building its own hardware, it should have its partners bid on a flagship Windows 8 tablet along the lines of Google's Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 tablets. In exchange for good hardware at a competitive price point, the winning hardware partner would benefit from Microsoft's special logo and marketing. This won't result in Apple-like margins but at least it gives Microsoft a chance to stay relevant in the tablet space.