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August 4, 2011

Windows 8 and other Tablets, it’s the user experience that matters.

by Darren W Baker

I have read a lot of articles, columns and blogs about tablets, the iPad “revolution” and the Windows 7 touch interface. I believe the long battery life and style of the iPad is important, but what attracts people is the user experience with the applications and how the device literally disappears when you start using it.

The articles where people review Windows 7 tablets are constantly saying things like “doesn’t know it’s a tablet” or “Windows 7 isn’t suited for touch”. I think these people have completely missed the point.  They try to compare the Windows 7 OS based device with the iPad and they are clearly different devices with different usage scenarios. You can’t do a true comparison when the applications you are testing aren’t designed for touch. iOS on the iPad is clearly a minimalist operating system with more focus on user experience using touch to do a few things really well. Windows 7 is a full power OS which is designed to do many things, and just happens to have support for touch.

They also forget that Windows 7 wasn’t designed to compete with iPad. Windows 7 was released July 2009. The iPad came out in April 2010. The touch and tablet features of Windows 7 were there long before iPad was released and Windows has been doing tablet for years. The iPad was just elegant and simple, and satisfied a desire for many people to have a computing device that was simple to use. Obviously OEM’s are trying to compete with the iPad and are using Windows 7 to do it, which I appreciate because of compatible applications and hardware.

Windows 7 has a great experience when you use a keyboard and mouse, but when you use the touch interface, some things take a little longer. The underlying issue here isn’t Windows 7, it’s the applications running on Windows. The applications are designed for keyboard and mouse, so some of the functions work when you touch them, some don’t. I have seen some really great applications designed for touch on Windows 7, and when you start using them, the device itself disappears and you can get the same experience on the Windows 7 tablet as you do on the iPad.

As Windows 8 approaches, it will enable a more touch friendly environment. Windows 8 will run on your current hardware as well as touch enabled devices, but its real power will show through when we get to the low power ARM processors which should enable these devices to offer the same or better performance and longer battery life. What Windows 7 and Windows 8 devices offer that the others don’t, is the ability to continue to use the application and hardware device investments you have already made.

This is where the user experience comes into play. Windows 8 will really shine if we consider the how we develop our applications to take advantage of touch and the user interface. My advice is that if you are looking to develop an application and you want it to be successful, consider the user experience first before you pick a specific platform and develop only for it. You can create the same user experience across all platforms, but not all will give you the ability to have additional options available where required by specific user scenarios. If the consumerizaton of IT has taught us anything, it is that people will purchase a device that’s right for them, based on what they want to do. Let’s enable them by giving them choices and guide them to the one that’s right for their needs.

Read more from Mobile, Slate, Tablet, Windows

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