Earlier this week I was forwarded and article from Ars Technica by Peter Bright questioning if Windows 8 is really cut out for tablet. Overall it’s a fair article with a bit of tea reading, where Peter questions if Microsoft is really fully committed to tablet with Windows 8. In reading I kept thinking Ars Technica is reading things a bit backwards, and may not be considering the developer ecosystem.
The article points to the Surface device announced by Microsoft. Specifically, Peter criticized the attention Microsoft spent touting the keyboard covers.
While Microsoft making a PC might seem sufficiently momentous to deserve an event all of its own, it apparently was not. Instead, the company spent a fair bit of time talking not about the Surface tablets themselves, but, of all things, their keyboard covers.
Peter feels this was a way to capitalize on the iPad trend for accessories such as keyboards, but thought the attention to this "accessory" was too much main dish discussion, and not enough side dish where it belongs.
Also noted by Mr. Bright was the fact that Windows 8 is not a purely touch environment, and partially polluted by mouse and keyboard supported in the Desktop mode of Windows 8. For Peter, all of this is evidence that Microsoft’s Windows 8 is not really cut out for tablets. He concludes that Windows 8 is not really a true tablet OS, if you want a tablet experience to look elsewhere.
But Windows 8 exposes the great danger of Microsoft's vision: a software environment that forces you to go "PC" when all you want is the "Plus" bit. ... But if you want your tablet to be just a tablet and to never force you to opt for conventional input devices, the message from the Surface is loud and clear: Windows 8 isn't the operating system for you
I understand the conclusion, but this argument is missing a key factor: the existing Windows 8 ecosystem. In this situation, it's not that Windows 8 isn’t cut out for tablet and that a surface keyboard is introduced as a crutch to mask the OS shortcomings. The reality is the keyboard is needed for the immense library of existing Windows apps, therefore a good Windows 8 device shouldn't ignore the vast ecosystem of apps ready to run on it.
Unlike iOS, and unlike Android, Windows 8 is an evolution of a desktop OS. The Windows 8 ecosystem and customer base is not springing up from nothing. Windows 8 (like other generations of Windows) comes ready to run all the desktop software from the previous version. Those apps will dominate the distribution and monetization opportunities for Windows 8 for the next six months, and almost all of them need a keyboard.
Another view is to consider what Microsoft has done as impressive. They are choosing to accommodate the desktop and keyboard legacy by creating a very portable and mobile accessory for keyboard integration. Thus Microsoft is saying not all Windows 8 experiences begin and end with touch and sensor technology, as is the case with today's tablets. With the Surface keyboard, Microsoft is questioning the status quo that tablets and desktop need to be worlds apart. Microsoft is instead showing OEMs you can have your cake and eat it too; i.e., Windows 8 can support tablet app use cases, and it can support the millions of desktop apps that are readily available to run.
I could be guessing at all of this but recent Intel research points to Microsoft's integration to be on the right track. As explained in thisarticle from Intel Free Press people were given the opportunity to use both touch and keyboard on an integrated device.The study found people like the combined integration when experiencing the keyboard with a touch device.
“Many gave practical or emotional reasons for liking the physical keyboard, such as the way it feels or sounds when pressing down on the different keys. Most participants did not like interacting with the virtual keyboard, even when touch was their favorite input modality.”
The way I see it, it’s not that Windows 8 isn’t cut out for tablet. It’s that Windows 8 is cut out for both tablet and desktop apps. Before Windows 8 that has always been a less than perfect integration, with keyboard as a novelty accessory to tablet, or clumsy touch-based devices that run Windows 7. The possibility is very real that properly mixing the best of desktop and tablet (as done with Windows 8 via devices like Surface and Ultrabooks) might be a bit of technical peanut butter and chocolate we've been waiting for.