Interoperability: It’s a big word that describes an even bigger problem–namely, that of the compatibility of your apps and databetween different devices. And while the mobile worlds of Google’sAndroid and Apple’s iOS have come a long way, nothing compares to thecomplete end-to-end compatibility offered by a Windows computer. Theissues that a Windows 8 tablet could address are the twin troubles offile handling and app compatibility–two things that remain troublesomethorns in the sides of both Android and iOS.
These past months I’ve spent using the myriad of Google’s AndroidHoneycomb tablets and Apple’s iOS-based iPad 2 have been an eye-opener.The two platforms inherently work very differently: Apple has itsalternately maligned and beloved “walled garden” approach, while Googleis more open, but wracked by inconsistencies, wherein one tabletsupports certain file types and another doesn’t, and it’s not clear toa user why one does and the other doesn’t.
(The answer, simply, is that some tablet makers add file-type supporton their own, to support basics like WMV, AVI, and PDF that Googledoesn’t natively support. But this support is generally through theinclusion of separate software added to Android’s base install, and theimplementation of file support doesn’t appear fundamentally anydifferent from stock Google…which makes it hard to be clear that thisis a differentiation from one tablet to the next.)
At least Android provides a file system users can access–even if it’sa mess with haphazard folder nomenclature and requires third-partysoftware to tap into it. Google admits it never intended for Android’sfile system to be accessed and used as Windows Explorer is, but thereality is that tablet makers and file manager app developers areembracing the fact that this feature exists in Android. It’s nowhere iniOS; there, you have to rely on a developer to provide support foriOS’s “Open in” option, something I’ve seen inconsistently implemented.And even then, file handling gets kludgy and awkward, a sad realitygiven the overall simple elegance of Apple’s platform. Files get lockedinto the app you’re using, and need to be associated with that app–acounterintuitive experience that is opposite what consumers are used toin the desktop universe so many of us rely on.
It’s About Files…and About Apps
In reality, for most of us, a Windows computer is already part of ourlives. And in going between a laptop or desktop and an iOS device or anAndroid device, one can run into all sorts of issues andincompatibilities. Not to mention the specific issue of appcompatibility.
App compatibility goes both ways. Let’s face it: All the cool, newsoftware development has been for mobile devices. And I’ve oftenwishedthat a cool app I’m using on a mobile device could be used on mylaptop, too. And maybe that I could manipulate or share the data on themobile with the desktop (and do so in a way that doesn’t rely only onthe cloud).
Likewise, apps aplenty on the PC could benefit from being on a tablet,but right now, they won’t run there. Heck, they’re designed for a wholeother operating system than what we’re using on our tablets today.
The exception: Tablets like Fujitsu’s Stylistic Q550. This Windows 7tablet quietly shipped this summer, with a clear aim at verticalmarkets and corporate use. Why? Because those markets already havecustom apps designed for use on laptops that could translate well to atablet–but those markets need the platform stability and compatibilitythat Windows 7 already provides.
Today’s Windows tablets try hard (besides Fujitsu, Motion Computing andViewsonic are among the fewmanufacturers with such products), but theycan’t make up for the inherent weaknesses of, not the hardware,but–yes–Microsoft Windows. It’s been nearly a decade since Microsoftbroadly touted the idea of a “tablet PC,” and the company is only juston the cusp of introducing a touch-friendly interface–one that won’tbe introduced until we get Windows 8.
The Benefits of Unity
Corporate IT isn’t the only arena that will benefit from aWindows-based tablet, though. Consumers will reap the benefits ofunity, too.
With Windows 8 and a bona fidetouch-optimized operating system, theWindows platform–along with the apps that will inevitably be developedfor it–has the potential to compete with the established mobileoperating systems, and better unify how we do things across ourdifferent devices. At that point, it’s no longer a question of whetheran app will work on the OS, but instead a question of whether an appwill run on everything from an ARM chip on up to a quad-core CPU.Hardware guts will matter, and developers will have to figure out waysto elegantly bridge the different hardware requirements, but in anideal world, the potential for unity is high. Right now, not even Applehas unity; its highly successful iOS apps run only on iOS devices,leaving Mac OS X users in the dark.
Imagine for a moment the popularity boost the Mac would get if itsupported the vast selection of software present in the iOS universe.Now transfer that theoretical possibility to the Windowstablet-laptop-PC ecosystem. It may not be as far-fetched as it sounds.Let’s just hope that Microsoft, and the Windows 8 app developers, cantake full advantage of this potential, and find ways to make it work.