The advent of Windows 8 Ultratablets

Posted by Rob Enderle

This week we have warring conferences as Microsoft and Intel scheduled their developer events on top of each other. This means there are a massive number of us trying to be in two places at once, mostly unsuccessfully.

At times like this, I can't help but bemoan the lack of Star Trek-style teleportation, while regretting that streaming hasn’t become a default, viable way of virtually attending conferences.

The advent of Windows 8 ultra-tablets  However, there is some interesting tech coming out of both shows which suggests, in about a year, tablets and PCs will have kids and what will eventually result is something else entirely.

Perhaps ultra-light  laptops with touch interfaces, or what tablet PCs should have been.   

Let’s take a closer look.

Windows 8 – Hybrid OS

Windows 8 is a hybrid platform that bosts two primary modes: the traditional Windows desktop and Metro, a slick new tablet interface that is very similar to Windows Phone 7 in terms of user experience.

For any ultra-thin iPad like devices you’ll only see the new Metro interface and legacy applications won’t run. For comparison's sake, this would be something like Apple blending MacOS and iOS so you could  run iOS applications on a Mac - while the iPad remained iOS only. 

This will likely result in a number of Windows applications being moved to Metro or the cloud. Speaking of the cloud, Windows Live is currently in the process of being altered so that  related services are accessed in a similar fashion to native Metro applications. In addition, core customized parts of Metro will be synchronized on Windows Live, allowing users to customize new hardware in moments.  

Thus far, I think one of the best aspects of the new OS are full boot times in well under 10 seconds and near instant suspend and resume. Faster, more secure, and more intuitive combine to make Windows 8 the biggest change Microsoft has ever executed in a given version. However, this is, of course, only half of the equation.

Ultrabooks With Touch

Interestingly enough, Ultrabooks seem to reflect Steve Jobs pre-iPad position on tablets, as he originally thought they were actually pretty stupid. Nevertheless, his arguments hold water for anything having to do with creation. For example, keyboards are actually far better for writing and the attachment rate of keyboards to tablets that are used instead of notebooks is actually very high.

Of course, you don’t need them to watch movies or browse the web, you do need them to actually get work done quickly. It would seem that most of the folks I see working with an iPad and a keyboard might rather have a laptop with the same weight and battery life.     

While the first Ultrabooks to hit the market generally don’t have touch capabilities, the next generation looks like it will support the technology, which should result in the hybrid laptop/tablet devices folks are looking for.  Indeed, weight is well under 3 pounds, battery life should approach 10 hours, and price is slated to drop well under $1,000 next year.

In short, rather than a laptop and a tablet, you’ll have a hybrid that weighs less than 99% of the existing laptops which also does the tablet thing well - and likely is better for activities like watching a movie because you don’t have to hold a laptop.   

The Problem: Too Light?

Here is the problem. I’ve seen lots of folks play with prototype ultra-light laptops with touch. The problem? From what I've observed, the devices simply don’t have enough weight to support a screen you are pushing on. This means folks either have to lay the screen flat (assuming the Ultrabook supports this), use a kickstand to support the screen (which doesn’t work that well on a lap) or put one hand behind the screen when touching it (which both limits multi-touch to one hand and makes moving easily between touch and typing more difficult). 

I expect this is where we’ll see the most creativity. Apple will likely respond to this threat with their own MacBook Air/iPad hybrid prototype, and I wonder whether Apple or the Windows OEMs will be the first to come up with a viable solution for this conundrum.

Wrapping Up: Cool Stuff Coming

Whenever there is a major technology change, the initial approach is to emulate pre-existing devices.  Eventually, however, folks think of entirely new ways to approach the problem. This means the hardware being showcased at both Build and IDF, no matter how cool it looks today, will likely seem antiquated and uninspired next to what will come out in a few years as a result of this revolution.  

And it is a revolution, because we are not only blowing up - with extreme prejudice - the notion of what a PC looks like, but how we interact with it. This is definitely a big step, but it lays the foundation for even bigger things to come. I’m thinking Ultratablet!