Creating another tablet operating system with Windows 8 is not going to change the world. We have two of those already and they are advancing in capability and installed base at a torrid pace. Nintendo has already come to this realization, and is about to create a powerful paradigm that cannot be ignored.
While users will rejoice in being able to use PC peripherals with their Windows 8 tablet and the joys of printing, scanning, wired networking, keyboards & mice, cool game controllers, the list goes on, this isn’t going to change the world – people who want these things can do them nicely on a laptop today and the keyboard and mouse paradigm is built for the productivity applications most likely to take advantage of them.
Windows 8 running on a tablet… but is that the best way to get complete Windows experience?
While users will rejoice in running PC applications newly skinned for Metro or find ways to get them to work on their tablet anyway, the broad application set of Windows is matched by the amazingly broad application stores for Android and iOS with applications already custom fit for mobile and touch computing.
We will see touch becoming a standard interface for computers, and we will see all sorts of interesting and breakable contraptions for connecting keyboards to screens, but the touch enabled laptops that Windows 8 brings will not change the world.
Nintendo: Changing the World Again
What will change the world is the Nintendo Wii U. No one has said it, so let me say it now. The thin-client tablet controller for the Wii U will be the fastest, highest performance tablet in the world. This is possible because it is driven by a fixed console base connected to wall power.
The processor and GPU in the Wii U base will be gargantuan and mighty compared to the tiny low power silicon that meets the heat and power requirements of a stand-alone tablet. The wireless technology necessary to drive qHD and HD resolutions with low latency is clearly on the horizon, though its development has been no picnic – we have yet to see an untethered Wii U tablet in the wild. Look at the Wii U?s specifications online and know that without API overhead the console GPU has a significant advantage – the Wii U tablet will be more powerful than most desktop gaming PC’s today.
Microsoft’s Unique Opportunity
But wait, this was supposed to be a story on how Microsoft could change the world! Microsoft’s opportunity is to bring the concept of the "thin-client tablet" to the PC, and to do it sooner rather than later. There are two major use cases "to enable"; one is the use of Metro at the same time as the client desktop. The second is to enable the second screen to serve simply as a second monitor with simple ways to set up full screen application controls such as custom control interfaces, for gaming, painting, design, media control, you name it.
I have suggested in the past that multi-screen computing was the only path forward for the PC. The ability to share the full performance of the PC around the home on new and more relevant screens was, and remains, the only way to keep the PC relevant. The TV was a tough case, and Microsoft had already chosen instead to monetize the TV experience with Xbox and gaming. But the Tablet is a different story – integration with my home PC experience could yield amazing synergies for the tablet, PC and a set of use cases that we’ve only seen in futuristic concept videos.
Imagine Wii U-like tablet with dual cameras running all the activities you want in your hand, harnessing the full power of the PC powering most devices in your home
Imagine a device that has remarkable battery life and integrates seamlessly with a home computing experience. When sitting at my PC, it seamlessly integrates with the application experience, offering a dynamic control surface. Custom controls appear on the tablet, like paint pallets, game controls, menus that free the screen for uncluttered viewing. It could be employed to augment the PC experience – call it augmented virtual reality, where the tablet screen, pointing at the PC screen enables new ways of seeing, controlling, and moving through information and visual experiences. When sitting in front of my TV, I would finally have the visual control interface for rich media that would allow me to control and manage rich content for a home theater PC. I could carry my thin-client tablet around the home and take pictures that are automatically stored on my PC and instantly integrated into my home library.
The cloud attempts to perform many of these collaborative functions but these are kludges compared to the performance and seamlessness of having them simply appear as an integrated piece of my PC experience.
Microsoft has attempted secondary screens, a few years ago the technology was poised to launch and fizzled for reasons we need not name here. But this time, the stratospheric rise of the tablet points to a new world. I believe in the cloud, the stand alone tablet, and the PC. But a tablet that is my PC, just another appendage, would have desktop performance, seamless integration – it is the PC, would open a bunch of new use cases for the PC that would help sustain its position as most capable and flexible client, and would allow the PC to get off the desk. An interface I can carry around and use flexibly.
The actual future of computing according to Microsoft will carry walls instead of TV’s. But hand gesture control is not the best solution for everything
An alternative is to simply stream the PC experience to existing tablets. Indeed, we have seen the iPad become the de facto interface for home theater control, second screen applications, and remote PC connectivity. This challenge has gone unchecked by Microsoft. These solutions are higher latency and the tablets are higher cost, but address many compelling use cases. Free of most processing silicon, the Wii U tablet will be low latency, low cost, and a similar form factor could possess remarkable battery life. If this opportunity goes unmet, another important screen will be sacrificed. There is a network effect today between connected screens, the more that are sacrificed the greater the battle in the future.
How to create the new Microsoft Computing Future
It’s either create a thin-client tablet and revolutionize home computing, or create another tablet OS where other are already well ahead. You make the call. Here’s the play by play if you are still reading.
- Enable Metro to run on a second screen while the desktop client interface is operating
- Make it easy to send a window to the Metro second screen to create custom control interfaces
- Make it easy to move through these control interfaces as Metro tiles
- Effectively permit touch to operate while mouse is operating – may need multiple functional mouse pointers in addition to touch plus mouse
- Invest in the wireless technology necessary to deliver low latency qHD to a second screen and obtain multi-touch I/O and upstream video from the thin tablet
- Produce a low cost second screen tablet, two cameras would be best
- Allow the second screen tablet to work with PC’s and the next XBOX, please lead with the PC
- One tablet for each PC is fine to get started
- Embrace the idea of augmented virtual experiences and open the API to Windows developers – clear and pursue paths by which the tablet can integrate with the screen
- Don’t worry about cannibalizing Windows 8 tablet sales, the desktop is getting sick and needs medical attention. Sell a lot of thin tablets and supporting applications is the upside opportunity
- Embrace the tablet experience by thinking broadly about how the experience works in the home understanding that the iPad model is not the only possible or adoptable solution
- This deserves a better name than "thin-client tablet" but spare the $20K on brand name search
About the Author
Simon Solotko is an independent consultant and researcher. He is the Founder of All Future Parties Corporation. For direct comments and feedback you can reach Simon directly at firstname.lastname@example.org