The current generation of tablet computers are great for consuming content (web browsing, movie watching, music listening), but not so great for producing content (word processing, photo editing, programming). I believe all of that will begin to change with the release of Windows 8. That’s a pretty bold statement for an operating system still in development. However, I believe the future of tablets isn’t as content consuming devices. Tablets have the potential to provide a full mobile experience as well a desktop experience superior to the computers we use today. Tablets aren’t “Post PC”, tablets are the future of PCs.
As an input source, touch screens excel only in a limited set of scenarios. They lack the typing speed of a hardware keyboard, the accuracy of a mouse, and they make clumsy controllers for button mashing games. Apple’s iPad and iOS operating system do very little to acknowledge this issue and have limited set of 3rd party add-on keyboards. The Android operating system, while touch based, does support keyboard, mouse and other human interface devices as input. Manufacturers are taking advantage of this at a hardware level, such as the Asus Transformer tablets. However little is done at the software level to put Android and iOS on par with desktop operating systems. Apps, such as PhotoShop Touch and Google Docs give you a limited sub-set of the features you get on a desktop computer. This is where Windows 8 blows away the competition.
Windows 8 is the only tablet operating system which equals desktop computers in functionality. In its core Windows 8 is an operating system for all environments, from desktop to tablet to smartphone. This inadvertently brings the power of the desktop environment directly into the tablet space. It will foster the next step in the evolution of the tablet, turning it into the personal computer that you bring with you to use in every situation. Through this evolution, the tablet’s touch interface will begin to augment the traditional desktop experience, creating something completely new.
Consider this scenario:
You’ve been away from your desk, casually reading a web site with your tablet. When you return to your desk, you plug your tablet into its keyboard dock. Suddenly, your large LCD springs to life with a traditional looking desktop and windows of all your open apps. The browser window automatically comes to the front, displaying the same screen you were viewing on your tablet just a moment ago. The tablet screen is now part of your browser’s interface providing navigation, bookmarks, tabs, and other app-specific UI tasks. You use your mouse to navigate the desktop on the big screen. Clicking on another app window prompts the tablet to display the interface for that app.
Windows 8 brings both desktop (aero) and tablet (metro) interfaces to existing hardware models. What we will see next is hardware using Windows 8’s metro/aero duality to create tablets which rival current desktop and laptop computers. A whole new class of app will begin to emerge, taking full advantage of this new environment. Imagine the Microsoft Office ribbon, or Adobe Photoshop palettes, as touch interface elements. Video games could use the touch screen as a HUD/Weapon Selector. We may see the web browser evolve to display content on the big screen and interactive elements on the touch screen. Entirely new genres of software may begin to evolve. The potential is limited only by hardware and software makers imaginations.