24 Oct 2013

Great at Nothing

We’re seeing a lot of Windows 8 tablets or hybrids that are neither great tablets nor great laptops. I can imagine buying a Windows 8 tablet that’s a great tablet but a so-so laptop, because that would still be better than my iPad or Android tablet. I can also imagine buying a Windows 8 laptop that’s a great laptop but a so-so tablet, because that would still be better than my Retina Macbook.

But the current crop of Windows 8 are neither great tablets nor great laptops. Whether you’re in the market for a tablet or a laptop, you can find better options. No wonder the Windows 8 hybrids are not very successful.

Every company that brings out a Windows tablet or hybrid laptop should ask itself, “What is this good for? Is it a great laptop that also works to some extent as a tablet? Or is it great tablet that also works to some extent as a laptop?” If it’s neither, kill it.

If a device is meant to be a great laptop:
- it should have a comfortable, Macbook Pro-class keyboard, which means that the screen should be larger than 11 inches for it not to be cramped [1]. And it should be a traditional hardware keyboard, not a so-so “Touch keyboard” like the Surface has. Further, the keyboard should be included with the device rather than being a $150 add-on. Would you like it if you purchased a laptop and were told you had to spend $150 more for a keyboard? Oh, and the keyboard should be backlit.
- As a laptop, it should have a Thunderbolt or Mini DisplayPort output to connect to an external monitor, have multiple USB 3 ports, and an SD card slot.
- It should have a big, roomy trackpad, again like the Macbook Pro’s.
- It should have be comfortable to use on your lap.
- It should come with more than 128 GB of storage, since even 128GB is too cramped. Or, if you disagree with me, and argue that 128 is enough at the entry-level, that’s fine, but in that case there should at least 128 GB of storage, not 32 or 64.
- It should support full multitasking [2] so that you can, say, upload tens of GBs to Dropbox.
- A device that’s meant to be a laptop should let you get real work done, as you can on a PC and unlike, say, the Surface, which doesn’t run the apps you need, whether Microsoft Office, XCode or Visual Studio, Lightroom, Photoshop, or what have you. I understand that a new platform like Win RT won’t have apps overnight, but the bigger problem is that you can’t build PC-class apps using the Win RT APIs Microsoft introduced with Windows 8 – there’s no support for full multitasking. So, Windows 8 device manufacturers should stick with x86 for now, so that users can at least use the old Win32 apps. That would satisfy my criteria of a device being a great laptop.

On the other hand, if a device is meant to first and foremost be a tablet

- it should have a comfortable screen size for a tablet, rather than having a 10.something screen in the hope that it will be a serviceable (read: bad) laptop screen and a serviceable (bad) tablet screen. If you believe that 10.something inches makes for the best tablet experience, that’s fine, but not as a compromise between being a good tablet screen and a good laptop screen.
- A tablet should be thin, light and convenient to hold, ideally with one hand ,or at worst with two. If you have to place it on a table or other surface (pun not intended) to use it, it’s a bad tablet. The Surface 2 is even thicker than an ultrabook, to say nothing of tablets.

And then there are things that should be there across tablets and laptops, like:
- Retina displays
- thin and light
- great battery life, like around 10 hours.

Manufacturers should decide what they want to be great at and make sure they are in fact great at that, rather than flooding the market with a sea of compromises.

[1] That’s one of the problems with the 11-inch Macbook Air, but not with the 11.6-inch HP Chromebook 11.

[2] I think full multitasking is needed on tablets, too, but whether or not you agree with me, there’s no question it’s needed on a laptop.

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