The closer we get to the actual release of Windows 8 ARM tablets the more I’m mulling over the pros and cons, and wondering just how successful such devices will actually turn out to be. At the moment Windows 7 tablets are pretty powerful machines. They have a great many advantages over every other tablet with support for just about any USB device and the ability to run full desktop apps such as Microsoft Office. Add to this a friendly tablet interface and surely you’re on to a winner!? Alas then comes the problem. There is only one but for most people it’s a deal-breaker, and that is the poor battery life that comes with running Windows on Intel x86 based chips. A battery that dies on a tablet after about only four hours simply isn’t good enough and there’s no indications that things are going to change any time soon.
So a Windows tablet on ARM architecture must be the way to go then? Well, actually no. The problem with an ARM-based Windows 8 tablet is that you will not only forego the USB device support, but also the ability to run existing Windows desktop apps and suites. You’ll have fantastic battery life but these two problems are, frankly, the reason most people want to use Windows on a tablet in the first place.
What they’ll be left with is essentially a blank slate (sic!) where all the software will be new and none of their existing Windows programs will run. Is this what people want a Windows tablet for? The Windows app store, despite Microsoft’s attempts to build developer excitement for Metro, will take some time to get going and build momentum. It will be leagues behind the app stores for the iPad, Android tablets and even the HP TouchPad and Blackberry Playbook, and this situation will last for many months if not years.
So are Windows tablets going to prove disappointing for people? Well, this is all in how Microsoft design the code and architecture of the ARM tablets. If they go down the route of tablets as we know them now then they’ll be no more Windows than an iPad or a Samsung Galaxy Tab is now. If they do find ways to run existing Windows software, that software will have to be recompiled or perhaps even completely re-engineered to run on them, and many if not most software companies won’t be interested in doing this given that the sales market will be comparatively small.
We might find out more about Windows ARM-powered tablets this week at the Consumer Electronics Show, but it’s becoming clear that Microsoft need to tell us what what types of hardware and software (if any at all) these devices will support when they come to market, probably in early 2013. Until then if you’re considering buying a tablet I wouldn’t advise you to wait. If you aren’t fussed about Windows desktop programs and USB devices then any tablet on the market these days will suit you (and prices on the Blackberry Playbook are tumbling) and if you want the full-fat Intel experience then there are a few Windows 7 tablets either out there or coming soon that will fit the bill for when the Windows 8 public beta begins. But if you’ve been waiting for a tablet that runs Windows, supports all your desktop apps and has a great battery life, you could end up disappointed.