Microsoft

Microsoft ready to go head-to-head with Chromebooks and Android tablets

Microsoft COO Kevin Turner told an audience at the 2014 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference that economy Windows 8 laptops and tablets are on the way.

Microsoft's plan
 Image: ZDNet

It's no secret that the de facto dominance of the traditional PC -- and by extension, that of the Microsoft Windows operating system -- has been declining in recent years. Microsoft and its partners got caught sleeping as new tech trends chipped away at their relevance and market share. However, Microsoft COO Kevin Turner revealed at the 2014 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference that Microsoft is prepared to face that challenge head on.

There have been two existential threats to the traditional Microsoft Windows PC ecosystem. The first was the rise of mobile devices and cloud services. The convenience of ubiquitous access to information and services from smartphones and tablets has relegated the traditional PC to the status of a second-class citizen for many users. The mobile device is the primary computing device, and the PC is there as a secondary device for more mundane productivity tasks that don't translate easily to a mobile platform.

The second threat was the introduction of the Chrome OS by Google and the advent of Chromebooks. The cheap pricing of many Chromebooks is enough to overcome the Google-centric, cloud-dependent nature of the devices -- leading many would-be PC users to choose price over function.

Kevin Turner let it be known that Microsoft isn't sitting idly on the sidelines. According to The Verge, Turner stated, "We are going to participate at the low-end. We've got a great value proposition against Chromebooks, we are not ceding the market to anyone."

What does that mean exactly? Well, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has already begun navigating the company under a philosophy of mobile first/cloud first -- a strategic shift that recognizes the changing tech landscape and positions Microsoft to compete more aggressively against platforms like Android and Chrome OS. Combine that with the $0 Windows initiative that offers the Windows operating system with no licensing costs for devices that have displays of 9-inches or less, and Microsoft has a recipe for success.

Turner told the WPC audience that there are six things a Chromebook can't do:

  1. Run both native and web apps
  2. Run full Office
  3. Desktop applications
  4. Work well offline and with limited bandwidth
  5. Work with many peripherals (i.e., driver availability)
  6. Print directly to your printer

He then showed off new laptops like the Acer Aspire ES1 and the Toshiba 11.6", which will both be available for under $250. There was also talk of sub-$200 laptops and $99 Windows 8.1 tablets coming soon.

To be fair, there are a number of tradeoffs at those bargain prices. The Acer laptop has an Intel Celeron processor and only 4 GB of RAM, and the Toshiba laptop has only 32 GB of SSD storage. If you can look past or workaround some of those six issues Turner laid out, a comparably-priced Chromebook might offer a more compelling experience.

Where I think Microsoft is poised to really shake things up, though, is with the $99 tablets. There are reportedly a few sub-$100 Windows 8.1 tablets in the works from various Microsoft partners. A small portable device that can run the full Windows operating system and applications for under $100 will be a formidable challenger for all tablets -- but particularly for the bargain basement Android tablets.

Again, a lot will come down to the hardware and the experience. If the display is grainy and low-resolution, or the processor and RAM can't drive a smooth Windows experience, nobody will want it. However, if Microsoft and its partners can deliver a reasonable Windows experience on a $99 tablet, Windows could quickly steal significant market share in that arena.

When you slash prices and/or give things away, you have to shift the business model to generate revenue elsewhere. The burden to make money in a mobile first/cloud first strategy will be on Nadella. The end users, on the other hand, can just benefit from very inexpensive laptops and tablets.

What Microsoft offerings will it take for you to make a switch to a Windows tablet or laptop? Let us know in the discussion thread below.

About

Tony Bradley is a principal analyst with Bradley Strategy Group. He is a respected authority on technology, and information security. He writes regularly for Forbes, and PCWorld, and contributes to a wide variety of online and print media outlets. He...

6 comments
HCream
HCream

" He then showed off new laptops like the Acer Aspire ES1 and the Toshiba 11.6 "


Didn't we already have these devices years ago? They were called "netbooks".

bart.denturck
bart.denturck

How come that the largest company in the field cannot innovate. If they want to recover, let them make an Office version for tablet, not the current one which is a quick and dirty port but one with a real innovative user interface that can be operated fluently on a touch system like a tablet. With that, I am only touching the software side of the issue. Given their know-how on user behavior, they could take the lead in hardware innovation also. 

It's a well known strategy to run as a follower and let the small opponents do the trial and error work but it's dangerous to do that in a fast moving high tech world. 

jim.chasse
jim.chasse

I have a  Dell Venue 8 pro and I love it.  This little device not only became my primary tablet, it replaced my Laptop and I only use my Desktop for burning the midnight oil or playing some games.


I think Microsoft and their partners have already done an outstanding job of keeping up and adapting to the markets.  It is of my opinion that a certain fruity company is losing hold on their  ability to tell consumers what they need and seeing that other companies are cranking out the devices we really want and need.  


Google and apple sometimes get caught up in reinventing the wheel in the name of innovation.  All I want to do is get my work done and have a little fun while and after I do it.  

4nier
4nier

To me, doesn't matter what MS does, they are so far behind the curve they'll not catch up. Whatever they come up with, it's still Windows, and using a mouse/keyboard is always going to be in their way at every corner. I have a surface pro2 and it is super fast running many corp apps. I also have an iPad2. I pick it up, turn it on, and I'm ready in 3 sec. Tablets are only good for a few things, and Windows is really not one of them. They are trying to appease corporate users "and" general users. Give a Windows tablet to a small child, and give the other one an iPad, then see who gets something done first. This includes grandma too.

karlandre
karlandre

Thats the main reason I am so far sitting on the fence and not purchasing an MS Surface 1,2, or 3 Tablet or any other manufacturer's product yet...at this point a nice light Ultrabook looks better for price and ability to upgrade the Memory or SSD down the line. People don't want something that becomes obsolete in 12 months. I am not going to spend over $2000 for the capacity that I think the Surface should really have (8GB RAM and 512GB SSD) its INSANE especially in this depressed economy.

karlandre
karlandre

I would to see a Surface 3 type Windows tablet that I can upgrade a bit....at the very least the Memory and upgrade the SSD.  I think this is doable with mSATA SSDs and the ability to have a single 16 or 8 GB DDR3 Dimm. So in short an accessible DIMM slot and an accessible mSATA slot. Those are the two main things that would draw users to a Windows Tablet device.