Windows 8 RT could really hurt Android, here's why and how Microsoft could screw it all up

Last night I was at a +Qualcomm event and got a good look, finally, at a great tablet device running Microsoft Windows 8 RT. I was holding the +Samsung USA ATIV Smart PC. Samsung posted a bunch of photos of it over on its Facebook feed: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.408520312541228.92966.129550143771581&type=1

I shot a few photos (attached to this post) and one of them is of the Samsung sitting on top of my iPad, which is the latest generation. Yeah, the screen on the Samsung isn't quite as sharp as the Retina display on the iPad, but it does have one advantage over the iPad: it's a 16:9 form factor, so nicer for watching HDTV videos.

That said, the build quality on the Samsung matches the iPad in every way and goes beyond it in one important way: it joins up with a keyboard dock which makes it look similar to a MacBook Air. 

The Verge has a good look at it, with lots of specs: http://www.theverge.com/2012/8/29/3277047/samsung-ativ-smart-pc-pro-windows-8-tablets-intel

Here's what I like about the Samsung.

1. Better UI than iOS or Android. Microsoft did do a very nice job of rethinking the touch UI. We can argue whether there's some ugliness underneath the pretty skin, but I don't think that will matter that much because for most people they will stick in the "new" UI, which used to be called Metro.
2. The build quality is top rate. If Apple shipped this tomorrow as a new form factor I'd believe it. It doesn't have the problems of poor build quality that its Android-based tablets have. It feels solid, smooth.
3. Speed seemed to be very good.
4. The Qualcomm employee who was holding it says battery life matches or beats the iPad. We'll have to wait to see real world tests, but I bet that the engineers did their jobs.

Things I don't like? 
1. I'm fairly locked into the Apple ecosystem now because of AirPlay. Even our NewTek Tricaster uses AirPlay and at Rackspace we're planning on buying Apple TVs for our conference rooms so you can walk in with an iPad or a Mac and project wirelessly on the monitor. Yeah, you can claim DLNA does the same thing but it isn't nearly as nice and it doesn't work on our Tricaster. Not to mention I have Apple TVs in every room at home now.
2. The apps on iPad are, well, just way way ahead. I don't believe Microsoft is going to be able to even get close to iPad for at least another year. Except in one important area: Office. If you are still addicted to Outlook and Excel, that's going to make these devices very attractive.

The one big question that remains is price. This is where Microsoft might screw it all up.

See, Samsung isn't alone in showing off new Windows 8 RT machines this week. Dell, Asus, HP and others showed them off, too. I'm looking forward to reading reviews in +SlashGear  , +Engadget  , http://gdgt.com, +The Verge   and other places as these make their way to market.

Why does that present an opportunity for Microsoft to screw it all up? Because Microsoft is going to sell its own Windows 8 RT tablet too. 

Next week I'll be at the Amazon Kindle launch event where we're expected to see a much improved Kindle Fire for $199. We're hearing lots of rumors that Apple is gearing up for a $299 launch of a new mini iPad, too. 

So there is extreme price pressure on Microsoft. Let's say Ballmer wants to sell its Surface RT tablet for $199. That will decimate the chances that anyone else will be able to sell these tablets for much more. Maybe the Samsung, thanks to its nice build quality, could go for $299 in such a scenario, but I don't think most people would go for it if it was priced anywhere close to the iPad. iPad 2 is already $399. Apple could easily reduce price to keep its competitors from making much money. 

But it really depends on what Microsoft does. If it prices its own tablet very low, in order to gain market share and get developers excited (extremely few Venture-backed developers are working on Windows 8 apps) then it will really piss off the other OEMs unless Microsoft starts pouring cash toward them to help them lower their prices too.

Microsoft is also doing a HORRID job at evangelizing and getting developers excited about Windows 8. I've been checking in with lots of the famous app developers and very few, other than Pulse, which was paid by Microsoft, are even working on apps yet. This is not the Microsoft evangelism efforts of the 1990s where developers were slobbering all over themselves to build apps.

So, why will these hurt Android? Because Android doesn't have the best tablet apps either, and it doesn't have the big stick of Office. Also, Android is harder to develop for, particularly for those enterprise developers who have been building .NET apps for a decade or more now.

This will be a very interesting year to watch. I'm getting slightly more bullish each week about Microsoft's efforts here, but they still have some HUGE hurdles ahead. The lack of apps other than Office is gonna be glaring. The price is a HUGE question. And Amazon and Apple both are setup for product launches between now and Christmas, so the entire market could switch overnight. 

Remember how I was so excited by Palm one year at CES? They had a great launch, showed me a great OS and a great device. But it didn't ship for six months. In between that launch and ship Apple brought out a new iPhone that took all the oxygen away from Palm.

I'm worried that Microsoft will see the same thing happen to it, too. 

How about you? Let's keep Apple out of this. Does Windows 8 RT make it more likely or less likely that you would buy an Android tablet? For me it makes it less likely, which has got to worry Google and friends.
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August 31, 2012
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