Fighting For Second

Nilay Patel for The Verge:

A quick look through the halls of Mobile World Congress reveals an endless number of iPads, quite a few Android tablets, and almost no touchscreen Windows PCs. But Microsoft is here in Barcelona promising that balance will change dramatically by next year — the company just released Windows 8 Consumer Preview, a beta version of a dramatically new version of Windows built with tablets specifically in mind. And while Windows 8 has a long way to go before it can challenge the iPad, it feels almost inevitable that Microsoft will quickly succeed where Android tablets have thus far failed — especially because Microsoft is aggressively courting developers to write apps for its new Metro interface.

Having spent some time with Windows 8 in a virtual machine over the past few days, I've been struck by the potential Window 8 poses as a touch-centric operating system. In my limited testing, interactions driven by a mouse and keyboard feel clunky, but the UI clearly panders toward touch paradigms. Simplistic, large elements characterize an interface seemingly inviting the end-user to reach out and touch, swipe, and gesture their way through the many facets of the OS. 

Marrying this compelling experience with a capable piece of tablet hardware seems intriguing to say the least. Although I have yet to have the chance to test a Windows 8 tablet, I certainly have a swelling desire to experiment with one, which is far more than I can say for an Android tablet.

Microsoft, touting the brand name clout of Windows, is set to assault the tablet market in a very big way. As Mr. Patel rightly highlights, Microsoft has been busy hurling capital at developers and promoting the uptake of the impending platform. Such engagement bodes well for Windows 8, particularly in the face of Google's relative complacency in the tablet space.

It seems to me that Windows 8's true threat is not to the vanilla Android tablet market, but to the Kindle Fire and any potential therein. Unlike all other Android tablet variants, the Kindle Fire offers something measuredly different for the end-user. Given its low cost, impressive media ecosystem, and Amazon's evident desire to embrace the tablet marketplace, I would say Windows 8 is more contentious with Amazon than it is the various Android OEMs.

With Windows 8, Microsoft is attempting to build and foster a strong ecosystem akin to Apple and, in doing so, is bringing itself into direct competition with Amazon. While Android OEMs can drop Android support, Amazon has committed itself to building its own unique OS built upon an Android backbone. As such, if Windows 8 proves viable, it's likely the OEMs will push their eggs into the Windows basket. Amazon, on the other hand, stands alone.

Regardless of such speculation, considering Windows 8 is still some time away from its formal release, it is astounding to take a step back and look at the amount of hype and discussion Microsoft has become subject to. Unlike the clunky and out-of-touch software giant of yore, Microsoft has adopted an affable outlook for the future. For the first time in a long time, a lot of new people are rooting for Microsoft and that's certainly an interesting thing to behold.