Microsoft’s biggest asset is arguably the Windows OS. Its strength is in its ubiquity and backward compatibility. People know that if they purchase a “Windows” program it will work on their “Windows” computer.
That continuity broke when Microsoft released the Handheld PC and Palm Sized PC years ago. Later named the Pocket PC, and eventually “Windows Mobile”, all were powered by Windows CE. This “Compact Environment” OS was significantly different from its bigger brother which could only run on laptops and desktops. Windows CE was limited not only in computing power, but also in its underlying architecture. It’s biggest drawback? Windows CE couldn’t run the same apps as the desktop version of Windows.
Time passed and Microsoft decided to “reboot” their handheld platform as “Windows Phone” — capitalizing on their “Windows” trademark.
Unfortunately, Windows Phone had the same problem as Windows Mobile: it didn’t run “Windows” applications. This issue is perhaps mitigated by the new “tiles” launcher and “Metro” GUI, but Windows Phone apps are still in their infancy, though significant progress in their capabilities is being made.
Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7 (the former for computers, the latter for smartphones) are very similarly named. Customers have shown confusion over the naming — some even think they are running Windows 7 on their phone. That confusion is going to increase with Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. Why? Live Tiles.
Microsoft’s success with their Live Tiles launcher has been somewhat “refreshing” and “revolutionary”. More so, it’s a trademark of Windows Phone. Now Windows 8 (for computers) is getting the “tile” treatment, and it’s even “going Metro” — further blurring the line between the computer and phone OSs.
The problem of app homogeneity still remains: apps written for one platform won’t work on the other.
Version 8, however, may see this limitation removed due to some fancy kernel work and shared libraries. Honestly, it will be interesting to see how this technical shift plays out.
Beneath all this lies a sleeping giant: the Windows 8 Tablet.
Other than some fairly unpopular “Tablet PCs”, Microsoft doesn’t have a true “tablet”, or even a real tablet OS (they only have a desktop OS with some tablet tweaks). That’s going to change in the not-to-distant future. It’s expected that Microsoft’s tablet will run Windows 8 — not Windows Phone 8. This move would make a Windows Tablet more closely related to a laptop computer than tablets from others companies which are more like a “big smartphone” than a “small computer”.
Microsoft’s tablet has the potential to be a game-changer. Imagine being able to run your desktop apps and your “tablet” and smartphone apps all on one portable, potentially pocketable device.
Tablets, as you well know, are significantly more useful when they’re connected to a data network. Since Windows 8 (for computers) will run your current desktop apps, a Windows 8 tablet could easily run Skype, Google Talk, or any other voice chat or VoIP client that you want — essentially negating your need for a smartphone.
We assume that Windows 8 tablets will arrive in the 10- and 7-inch form-factors, but when 5-inch tablets are eventually released, will Windows Phone’s days be numbered?