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Now browsing: Hometown News > Computer/Technology > Geekspeak

This Week | Archive

Let the tablet wars begin
Rating: 3.16 / 5 (55 votes)  
Posted: 2012 Jun 29 - 02:54

Here we go again. The folks at Microsoft are going to battle against long-time rival Apple - this time in the tablet wars.

Are they crazy?

Yes, and here's why. Microsoft has proven that it is incapable of building any kind of hardware that is better than the Apple counterpart. Its forthcoming new tablet, dubbed Surface and announced in late June, appears to be more of the same.

Microsoft's last foray into this realm was something called Zune. It was an MP3 player designed to compete with the iPod Touch. It was cheaper and offered more features than the Touch. But it wasn't good enough, and Microsoft pulled the plug on Zune.

What's different this time is that Microsoft appears to be betting the farm that the future of computing is tablets. Not only is the company putting its name on one for the first time, but also it is releasing a new version of Windows that clearly is designed to work best on tablets, not PCs.

In the years since Apple introduced its tablet, the iPad, many pundits have come to the conclusion that the PC is doomed. Microsoft apparently has bought into this theory in a big way.

But given Google's experience in the tablet wars - the small army of tablets running the company's Android operating system has barely put a dent in iPad sales - it's hard to imagine how Microsoft is going to do any better.

From what I can tell from Microsoft's announcement of its new tablet - company officials were vague about the details - it's hardly revolutionary. Not surprisingly, it will run Windows 8, the new tablet-centric operating system slated for release in the fall, when Surface also is expected to go on sale. Aside from that, it appears the only thing that will distinguish Surface from the iPad is that it will come with a super-thin touch keyboard. You can add a fully functional keyboard to the iPad, but that costs extra.

The screen will have the same widescreen 16:9 format as an HDTV instead of the more square 4:3 screen of the iPad, presumably to make it better for watching video.

It will come in two dramatically different variations. The cheapest will be more iPad-like, about the same size and running on a low-power ARM CPU and a special ARM version of Windows 8 called RT. Microsoft says it will cost about the same as an iPad, which is $500 minimum. The other version will run a full version of Windows 8 using hardware more commonly found on "ultrabooks." That's code for super-expensive lightweight laptops. Think $1,500 to $2,000.

Let's recap. It won't be any cheaper than iPad and will cost a lot more in some cases. It apparently won't have any killer features that you can't get on an iPad (or an Android tablet for that matter). It will run on a new operating system that consumers will have to learn just to get it to work. It won't have Apple's popular App Store and its thousands of useful apps. Tell me again why people are going to line up to buy one of these things. I'm afraid the unfortunate truth for Microsoft is they won't.

One assumes someone high up at Microsoft has decided the company must do something big to adapt to the evolving technology landscape. But to do that in a successful way involves innovation. So far, I don't see much evidence of that.

Maybe I'll be surprised. Microsoft did score a success with its Xbox gaming system, eventually becoming dominant over competitors like Nintendo and Sony.

But that took years, and there were a lot of bumps along the road. Going up against Apple and its famously fanatic customer base is likely to produce a vastly different result.

Tony Briggs has been a technology columnist in the Daytona Beach area for more than 20 years.

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