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There are a ton of surveys being done as OEM and parts suppliers try to figure out what people will want to buy when Windows 8 launches. Having seen many of these, there are five consistent major points.
The majority of people want a touch interface more than they want to retain keyboards, mice or touchpads (this was largely unexpected). The majority of people want a PC experience for some things and a tablet experience for others, AND to be able to switch on the fly.
And no one, and I mean no one, knows what the ideal configuration is. However, what is also clear that all of the existing PC form factors are inadequate.
This means as much as 80% of the existing market is ready to move aggressively to Windows 8. And these folks have no clue what they will move to, and no OEM has yet presented the ideal Windows 8 product. So if a vendor figures this out we could see a massive Apple-like shift toward that vendor after Windows 8 launches. Or if none figures this out (most of the analysts I know figure it will take up to 3 years to do that) then there will be a lot of thrashing and displeasure with current products as people unsuccessfully try one configuration after another.
Some even argue that the perfect solution may be multiple products connected to a cloud service that maintains state, allowing the user to dynamically shift the ideal configuration they want.
Let’s look at the configurations we’ll be faced with.
This started out as the ideal product but the surveys suggest there are problems with this concept. The 11 inch iPad is currently the largest highly successful tablet size and the 13.3 inch notebook is the smallest mainstream size for a laptop.
Tablets over 11 inches haven’t sold well and neither have notebooks under 12 inches. Given that a convertible/hybrid product is a tablet wedded to a screen this is a non-trivial problem, as users struggle with the screen and keyboard size in a small notebook, and the weight of a large tablet.
Current thinking is that a 13.3 inch convertible/hybrid that has been weight reduced could be the answer, but currently there remains too big a weight delta and closing it would likely sacrifice battery life and durability excessively.
Now another way to deal with this is to make the keyboard detachable but then buyers/users become concerned about leaving the keyboard behind. However, this does start to bring the weight closer to the higher end limit that they might accept.
Multiple Synced/Cloud Connected Devices
The nice thing about this approach is each device is optimized for its particular use and you could build them into things like airplane seat backs, desktops, or automobile back seats. This fixes the usability problem but exacerbates the leave behind issues, because you can’t switch modes unless you have the device you want to switch too. This means you’d always have to carry multiple devices, increasing the risk of losing one and increasing significantly the carry weight of the solution. This likely will work best when things are built into hotel rooms, planes, or office desktops. In this scenario the larger form factor will always be waiting for you and you only carry the portable version.
A corporate solution might be for the company to pay for the components that are either in or on desks and the employee purchases the parts that are in their homes and that they carry. If this is a cloud solution, data is comparatively secure. But productivity in the field or security would suffer in areas (planes ships, or remote land locations) where broadband connection to this data isn’t available.
Monitors: No Real Solution Yet
One as yet unaddressed problem with Windows 8 and touch is monitor use, particularly when multiple monitors are required. Currently there are few touch monitors in market and most are designed for retail and not at a quality or price level acceptable for employees. In addition, once you add two or more of them, touch starts becoming increasingly like exercise, because users typically set them back away from the desk and either wrap them around their work space or create a grid where many of them are difficult to reach.
When you connect a touch screen product to a non-touch screen, touch is generally disabled, which often frustrates users after they have been using a touch product. Currently I’m not aware of anyone aggressively researching a solution for this, suggesting it will continue as a usability problem but not a budgetary one.
Wrapping Up: The Mystery Change
Studies increasingly show that users, when given a choice, want touch. Windows 8 will better enable touch and it will also highlight that this need isn’t met with existing non-tablet personal computers.
However, right now, there is no truly ideal touch PC solution and each OEM will be trying out very different approaches to solving this problem. Someone will figure this out and when the do there likely will be a massive pent-up demand to move to it. That will be disruptive and suggests a policy of understanding your user’s needs to point them either to the right hardware. Or, alternatively, suggest they wait, which will reduce the chance of having to integrate unsatisfactory hardware repeatedly.
In short, Windows 8 means massive change, but right now the hardware it will drive users to remains a mystery.