Over the last year, major developments have change the perception of Microsoft and its Windows platform. Windows Phone 7 has been established as a prominent mobile player, and with the release of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, Microsoft is looking change minds once again.
If you’re familiar with Windows Phone 7, the Windows 8 Metro-style interface will make you feel right at home. The Windows interface has received a complete overhaul, and getting rid of one of the most iconic Windows emblems in the world – the start button – will be a shock to many users. Yes, you read that right, the start button is gone – replaced by tiles, hey much more aesthetically pleasing design that it is exceptionally efficient. With this new design, Microsoft has begun to blur the line laptops and tablets.
Notable additions to Windows 8 include The Windows Store, where developers can sell both traditional and Metro-themed applications. Microsoft has also integrated their own products with Windows 8, including SkyDrive, Bing Maps, and Xbox Live, among others. Boot times are exceptionally faster than its predecessor, and multi-touch gestures in the new interface have proven to be a much-needed upgrade to a system that has grown mundane over the years — but what strikes me the most about Windows 8, is the complete symmetry with mobile tablets.
Many expect tablet sales will exceed PC sales by 2015. Microsoft is not taking any chances – making Windows 8 fully compatible with tablets. The iPad has dominated the consumer and enterprise markets, and Microsoft wants in badly. No, they wont challenge the iPad’s dominance — no one can — but they don’t need to. When the numbers are broken down, even marginal success in bringing Windows PC users to Windows tablets could completely shift in the market.
Microsoft sold 240 million copies of Windows 7 during its first year. Microsoft managed to sell 10 percent of that, they would be positioned as the number two tablet OS in the world, destroying the minuscule chance Android has of catching on as a true competitor to Apple.
Android has struggled mightily to get consumers to buy in on their tablets. Their dominance in the smartphone market cannot be argued against, but in the tablet space, they have become an afterthought, and without Amazon they would be nonexistent. The fragmentation of Android has led to developers focusing on handsets — an already established market — instead of the fleeting tablet space, something that Apple doesn’t have to deal with.
Microsoft has an opportunity to build Windows 8 into a vehicle similar to the one Apple rides in. The formula has been tested, and is working to perfection as we speak.
When the world is captivated by one operating system, bringing that same system to a different type of device will bring bountiful benefits for the company — and users — if done properly. Apple discovered this with the iPhone, bringing iOS to the iPad, and slowly to the Mac. Google didn’t fair to well with the Android transition from smartphones to tablets for numerous reasons — the key being Android never captivated the world; it was just the best alternative to the OS that did. Windows hasn’t captivated the world in the same way Apple has with its devices — but it has made itself a necessity for most of the developed world.
Windows 7 has sold 525 million copies to date. The process of upgrading has seemingly become habitual to many users; Microsoft releases and new version of Windows, and you upgrade. No fervor, no excitement. No true desire to upgrade beyond the necessities for school and work. Windows 8 has the ability to change this and strike a chord in the hearts of users.
That same chord has been struck by Apple and to a lesser extent, Google. There are many who love their iOS devices, and many who love their Android phone – but you rarely find those who love Windows with the same type of passion. It may be different this time. The look and feel of Windows 8 is such a departure from previous versions, it may all change very quickly.
In fact, Microsoft may have actually mirrored one of Apple’s patented techniques to perfection. When it comes to new features being included in iOS, Apple usually waits for their competitors to do it — be it Android or WebOS — takes ‘inspiration’ from their design and creates something that resembles that product, but is usually cleaner and more efficient (multi-tasking, Notification Center, etc). If Microsoft can build the Windows 8 platform into a properly integrated system – computer, tablet, and phone all using the same basic design – they would have jumped two years ahead into Apple’s road map.
It remains to be seen if Microsoft can add a second level to their Windows user base — keeping those who need Windows for school and work, while adding those who desire the next great thing from Microsoft. If they can accomplish it, Android’s time as the dominant mobile OS may be numbered. We may be back to a familiar two-horse race.