Apple Doesn’t Need To Worry About Windows 8 On ARM, But Android Does

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Microsoft released a number of important details about its plans for Windows 8 on Arm (WOA) tablets. WOA tablets will focus on having a long battery life as well as being light, thin, and inxpensive. They will feature some traditional Windows elements but have a focus on the Metro interface pioneered on Windows Phone and included as the default on all Windows 8 machines. They can be thought of as Microsoft’s response to the iPad, which will certainly be their biggest competition.

Not surprisingly, many of the first pieces discussing the announcements to hit the media have struck on the “Apple should be worried” theme and have used the fact that WOA tablets will include the major Microsoft Office apps to backup that assumption.

It’s a foregone conclusion Microsoft will shake up the tablet market when Windows 8 ships, which is expected to be sometime before the end of this year, with both WOA tablets and Windows 8 tablets built around more traditional PC hardware like x86/x64 processors. Microsoft says all Windows 8 flavors will ship around the same time.

Although WOA tablets had been announced as part of Microsoft’s overall Windows 8 strategy, very little information was availavle before yesterday. Here’s a recap of the major points from the WOA announcement made by Windows President Steven Sinofsky.

  • WOA will ship only on WOA tablets – no install media that could be used to run it on other hardware
  • WOA will only run the built-in apps included by Microsoft and those designed around Windows 8’s new Metro interface and sold through the Windows Store – no legacy apps, x86 emulation, no way to port traditional Windows apps to the platform
  • Microsoft will work closely with manufacturers to ensure a consistent hardware experience that is designed to have a consumer electronics feel rather than a PC feel
  • The Metro interface and experience will be the same one WOA devices as Windows 8 PCs and tablets
  • The Windows desktop, oriented around a touch experience and the Metro UI, will be available with some Windows elements like the Control Panel, Taskbar, and Windows Explorer
  • Desktop and fully function versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote that are optimized for touch will come pre-installed

It’s clear Microsoft is making an effort to deliver a true mobile experience on WOA devices, and that it has taken some tactics from Apple’s playbook when it comes to being much more hands-on with the hardware design (as is the case with Windows Phone), with moving away from legacy apps to develop a better mobile experience, and in using an App Store model.

Will that be enough to be a true iPad competitor? Probably. I think the overall effort will result in a more refined user experience than is found on most Android tablets – largely because of the concerted effort towards an integration between hardware, OS, and applications. That integrated user experience is what makes the iPad (and other Apple products) as excellent and successful as it is.

One piece of the puzzle many pundits are seizing on as the iPad-killing feature is the inclusion of full-featured versions of Office. As nice as that will be as a feature, it seems to miss the point that there are some really solid Office alternatives available for the iPad. Quickoffice, Documents to Go, and Office2 are all excellent options (better than iWork in several respects). That makes it hard to see Office alone as a way WOA can outshine the iPad.

Will WOA devices push the iPad out of the tablet space? No. Microsoft is pretty late getting to this party. The iPad’s installed base, the diversity of app options, and the integration with Apple’s ecosystem mean that Microsoft is going to need to come with something much more spectacular to get a significant number of iPad owners to switch.

While WOA may attract some potential iPad buyers, how many will really be up to how the hardware performs, how it’s priced, and on the app ecosystem Microsoft is able to create – all of which are pretty much unknowns at this point.

Quite frankly, WOA devices are going to be the new netbook. I can see them impacting traditional PC and Android tablets long before that make a significant dent to the iPad. In fact, the truly integrated design and user experience focus Microsoft is going with will stand out more significantly compared to Android and positioning WOA tablets as Android tab killers much more than iPad killers.