Windows 8 to finally compete with Android and iOS

Different hybrid form factors of laptops and tablets were showcased in exhibition hall of the Build conference.Attending the Microsoft Build 2011 conference last week was very interesting, as I could see and experience a very early, but already quite a promsing pre-release of Windows 8 that could finally compete with Google Android and Apple iOS in tablet devices when coming out next year.

Before I had seen and tried the Windows 8 (Developer Preview) on the Samsung 11.6-inch tablet, I was actually planning to buy iPad 2 in the U.S. After that iPad 2 has felt too limited and too expensive. Of course, Windows 8 tablets are still a long way from shipping in stores, so I may have done a bad choice by deciding to wait for them.

The metro stule UI of Windows 8 supports both landscape and portrait display modes.
The metro stule UI of Windows 8 supports both landscape and portrait display modes.

The Metro style UI, as Microsoft calls it, is fairly similar to the Windows Phone 7.5, even though it is already a bit more sophisticated. For example, it supports both landscape and portrait modes to begin with. Like Windws Phone UI, Windows 8 also felt immediately familiar.

At least the Samsung device is not a tablet in the same way as Android tablets or iPad 2 today, instead it’s a real PC which also has a tablet user interface in addition to the traditional Windows desktop.

Intregration between the Metro style user interface and the standard Windows desktop is still very much work in progress, based on what I experienced using the Samsung tablet for two days. It felt like an application that just launches by default when starting the operating system.

The touch screen functions did not work properly either yet, and I had to use a mouse to have a full control of the system.

So it is too soon to make in any way final judgements of Windows 8, because it’s in such an early state, and I had just a few days to play with it. Microsoft gave away thousands of Samsung tablets with Win8 Developer Preview devices pre-installed to regular Build attendees, and members of press were allowed to borrow it while attending the event.

The Samsung tablet featuring a 11.6-inch Super PLS screen (1366 x 768 pixels), a 1,6 GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 4 GB RAM, 64 GB SSD storage and so one is a powerful device, but the price is also expected to be over 1000 USD when it ships, initially running Windows 7. This can be an important factor for the success of Windows 8 tablets, will we see affordable enough devices to compete with Android tablets and iPad 2 or even iPad 3?

More inexpensive devices are expected when Windows 8 can run on ARM processors, but Microsoft admited at the Build conference this is still very much work in progress. But it’s definitely not only about Intel Atom here; AMD, Nvidia and Qualcomm showcased their early reference models at the event too.

Microsoft didn’t give any timelines for Windows 8 yet, even though it is expected to ship some time next year. After the current Developer Preview there will be some beta versions, then release candidates and then finally, the final RTM (released to manufacturers) release. Even after that there are usually a few weeks or even a month of final compatibility testing.

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I was hoping to see at least a glimpse of Nokia’s Windows Phone Mango smartphone, but didn’t happen. A few people claimed they had seen it. One of them called it “amazing”, and another one said “it’s a lot better than any of today’s Windows Phone devices.”

Microsoft seems to have high hopes for Nokia’s support. Even their CEO Steve Ballmer emphasized this while quickly appearing at the second keynote. To see Steve Ballmer’s speech at Build, check the day 2 keynote, starting at about 1h 26 mins.

We are still all anticipating the greaat work Nokia will do on its phones as they come to market, and frankly, help Windows Phone into new geographies, and price points and form factors in ways that I think will be very important”, said Ballmer on stage on Wednesday. Microsoft expects Windows Phones to reach to over 190 countries with Nokia’s global channels.

Worth noting is Microsoft seems to change from talking about  Silverlight to XAML in Windows Phone development. This is not a dramatic move, since Silverlight is actually based on XAML, but this way Microsoft apparently wants to communicate the similarities between Windows Phone apps and Windows 8 Metro style apps. They already even have a document describring how to migrate from a WP7 app to a XAML app.