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Why small screens won't cure Microsoft's Windows tablet blues

Brad Chacos | May 27, 2013
Small-screen Windows slates are poised to flood store shelves, but they aren't a magic pill for Microsoft's struggling tablet OS.

Some of the rumors about slashed license fees also included talk about reduced licensing costs for Microsoft Office on small touchscreen devices. Indeed, the leaked Iconia W3 appeared on Acer's Finnish website soon after its brief Amazon debut, and it came with Office Home & Student bundled. That's par for the course with Windows RT, but it has not been for Windows 8 proper.

Office, as it stands today—a desktop app—isn't a magic charm for increasing the attractiveness of mobile devices. If it were, Windows RT tablets would be jumping off the shelves. (They're not.) And Office's appeal drops even further on small screens with their smaller interfaces.

"Although Office is a nice thing to have, it is not enough of a differentiator," says Gartner's Milanesi.

The arrival of finger-friendly modern Office apps might make this particular carrot more enticing. If nothing else, it would make Office much more usable on a pint-size tablet, which brings up an interesting point.

Windows 8 isn't the perfect operating system for Microsoft's small-screen tablets. Windows RT is.

The Windows RT conundrum
Unfortunately, Windows RT is sucking wind. People ain't buying it and manufacturers ain't making it, even though Windows Store apps and large Live Tiles were created with tablets in mind.

Even Microsoft's Surface RT, the one bright spot in the Windows RT lineup, has allegedly struggled at retail.

Why is Microsoft's high-stakes throw of the dice coming up snake eyes? Possible causes include the ambitiousness of introducing a whole new interface, and some irritants that linger in the half-baked modern UI. But one problem is especially glaring: the severe dearth of apps.

Even though the Windows Store has more than 75,000 apps (according to MetroStore Scanner), its catalog has holes bigger than Ballmer's love for developers. Several prominent apps have yet to debut on Microsoft's new platform. Those woes, combined with the ready availability of the desktop, have apparently soured users on Windows apps. One recent study showed that most Windows 8 users rarely touch Microsoft's finger-friendly software.

That weakness, not screen size, is the major issue for Windows tablets. And it goes double for Windows RT tablets, which aren't compatible with desktop programs and thus depend entirely on the offerings in the Windows Store.

"The biggest thing holding back the Windows tablet market is a lack of premier and long-tail apps," says Moorhead. "It's almost been nine months since Windows 8 was launched and there is no Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, or Google+ app, and Windows 8 apps like Evernote are well below par. Small-form-factor Windows 8 tablets will help, but aren't the fix."


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