Microsoft is surely playing catch up in the tablet market. Many have roundly criticized Microsoft for coming late to the market, but their thoughtful strategy of product differentiation might well pay off in the very near future. The focus of Microsoft based tablets addresses an important issue of productivity. Competing tablets are mostly focused on content consumption, which has limited the adoption of tablets for many students and productivity minded people. Microsoft is pushing the tablet market forward by offering an alternative where the tablet becomes more of a hybrid between a PC and a tablet.
The evolution of tablets toward more productivity based use is being ushered by Microsoft. The introduction of the Microsoft Surface tablet offers a different tablet experience as compared to competitors. The use of Intel processors enables users to run full version software applications such as Microsoft Office. Users are not relegated to apps only for software choices. Time Tech announced on October 17, 2013 that 3 new Windows based tablets will come to market in the coming days and weeks. While the Microsoft Surface 2 Pro is arguably the most robust and feature rich Windows based tablet, the price is beyond the reach of many interested consumers. However, we are beginning to see a market response from third party hardware vendors with Windows based tablets that are much more affordable.
The newest tablets from Lenovo. Asus, Acer and Dell all offer an 8 inch screen size. Each does use the new Intel Bay Trail Atom processor, which offers PC like performance, decent battery life, and the ability to run software applications. The differentiation from ARM based processors found in iPads and Android tablets is perhaps this biggest differentiator for Windows 8 tablets. This alone could drive many potential tablet users to adopt Windows tablets.
The newest 8 inch Windows tablets all share similar price points; around $300. The Lenovo Miix2 is priced at $299, with an option keyboard cover for $20. Most importantly, the Windows tablets come preinstalled with Microsoft Home/Student edition. Students will be ready out of the box to use these tablets for much of their school work.
Because the more affordable tablets are 8 inch screens, these tablets are most suitable as an augmentation to a PC/Laptop rather than a replacement. It is doubtful that 8 inches of screen space would comfortable enough to spend long periods of engagement with the device. Even a 10 inch tablet screen is limiting as a main device. For many students, a tablet is not really well suited as a primary computing device. Of course, preference is a key factor, but an 8 or 10 inch screen can be fatiguing.
Another compromise inherent to the less expensive 8 inch tablets is the lack of an active digitizer. A digitizer enables the use of stylus pen for drawing and smooth handwriting while taking notes. The Microsoft Surface 2 Pro version is built with actually two digitizers, and the handwriting experience is very natural. A capacitive screen without an active digitizer is not really efficient or natural enough to replace paper and pencil note taking. For extended note taking, a device with an active digitizer is necessary. Likely, as competition continues to increase, we will see the future version of 8 inch tablets evolve to include improved handwriting. For now, this is one compromise students need to consider if they are looking for a note taking device.
The good news though is that each of the tablets can be paired with a wireless keyboard. This is particularly important for Office applications, especially Word. Running a full version of Windows 8.1 also means that the device can be paired with a printer. Peripheral device additions on other tablets are not supported, so this is significant advantage for Windows based tablets.
There is no one size fits all tablet for students. However, for secondary level students or higher education, productivity issues are often primary drivers for computer device adoption. The evolution of the Windows based tablet ecosystem offers students a different experience from Apple and Android based platforms. There is little doubt that this market will continue to expand with new product offerings, and increased price completion. While Windows based tablets are a bit late to market, it might be moot in the end. The tortoise is making its move.