How Microsoft and Apple see the Future of the Tablet Differently

Posted on June 20, 2012

Microsoft’s Surface announcement highlighted their radically different vision of how tablet will evolve than Apple’s.

With iOS Apple made a very distinct operating system specifically designed to be simpler for simplified mobile devices. It’s desktop operating system, OS X has remained distinct from iOS, although some features and concepts from iOS have been brought across to OS X.

Microsoft has taken a different approach. It has basically glued two operating systems together, the traditional Windows desktop and the new Metro interface. Metro has been designed from the ground up, like iOS, for mobile phones and tablets. Hence it is focused on touch input rather than mouse input.

How this may play out down the line is interesting too. Microsoft imagines a world where you use your tablet to do light tasks in Metro mode, but for more heavy tasks you can go into the desktop interface and use a traditional windowing environment. It’s having one device that will work for you however you need to work.

Apple, on the other hand, believes that most people will be able to perform most of their tasks from within the simple iOS touch-screen interface, that they won’t need the complexity of the desktop. As applications on iOS increasingly mature, this is increasingly the case.

In Apple’s model, only a few people will really need to have a desktop operating system. Developers are a key example. This is why they are bringing more and more iOS concepts to the desktop, to get people used to using computers in this way for when all computers behave mostly like iOS. There are also some user concepts to refine and work out, and Apple will be trying to do so over the long term.

For the end user, though, which is best? Generally, for most users, simplicity wins out over complexity. Having two different environments on one system in the Windows model seems overly complicated. Hence I would expect Apple’s philosophy to gain ground.

One potential reason why Microsoft may have made this decision is to support legacy applications and legacy users. Their main customers, the enterprise, don’t like to have to update software or retrain people on a new OS interface. Hence in order to avoid an upset Microsoft may have selected to not make any great changes.

Unfortunately, this would have been the perfect time to make those changes, if Microsoft really believed that the desktop was not the future. Their only competition required a change, so they could have forced a change to a new paradigm. Windows 8, in many senses therefore, is a lost opportunity.

What do you think about Microsoft’s reasons for including a desktop in Windows 8?