Microsoft’s Windows(s msft) 8 platform is set to debut this week on Oct. 26 and the company has already introduced its new Surface with Windows RT tablet. With the build-up to the software launch event, Microsoft’s hardware partners are wasting no time in announcing desktops, laptops and more that will run on the new operating system. Last week I suggested that so far, Microsoft hadn’t made a compelling case for people to purchase the Surface device, but new device announcements are reminding me of one key advantage for Windows 8 and Windows RT: Device variety.
Now this isn’t a new concept at all. In fact, it’s one of the key talking points that Microsoft has used for the past two to three decades. By creating a software platform that supports a vast array of hardware components, computer makers can design devices as they see fit. Google(s goog) actually provides the same strategy with Android, which is why you see smartphones and tablets in varying shapes and sizes running on Android. Contrast that to Apple(s aapl), which keeps everything in-house: From software to hardware to services, Apple designs products with minimal variance between models. That provides a different advantage in that Apple’s products are highly optimized and work consistently.
Seeing this new LG Windows 8 device over at Liliputing is what reminded me of this difference. Take a look at the LG H160 tablet: It’s not for everyone, but there’s likely to be a group of consumers or enterprises that crave a tablet type of computer that has a slide-up mechanism hiding a full QWERTY keyboard under the screen.
LG can do that because it controls the hardware design that runs on Microsoft’s software. Going back to the Apple comparison — you won’t likely every see various iPads with and without keyboards or with a choice of a half-dozen screens sizes. Heck, it’s nearly been 3 years since the first iPad was announced and we’re just now expecting to see a new one with a smaller screen.
Ironically, while this is a key advantage for Windows 8, it almost seems that Microsoft is trying to have it both ways with Windows RT. The Surface tablet, which I expect to get some hands on time with later this week, is an all-Microsoft product from beginning to end, the same approach that Apple uses. That represents an important strategy change for Microsoft as it historically hasn’t designed or made Windows computers. But other hardware partners will also be making and selling Windows RT tablets so in the near future, form factor choices will follow the Surface tablet. So that advantage of “choose the hardware design you like” will filter down to Windows RT as well.
Regardless of whether you like a company to design both your device hardware and software or not, evidence suggests that consumers desire more choices. There are a number of factors why Windows — and for that matter, Android in its respective market — has a majority platform market share. Choice of hardware is surely one of those factors, which of course, is highly related to price differentiation And that’s something I neglected when thinking about Microsoft making its case to generate interest in Windows RT and the Surface tablet. The company still has to deliver useful software and services, for sure. Choice of hardware, however, can help make up for deficiencies in other areas.
As devices become more personal than ever before, I think this choice may be worth more now than it did, say five or 10 years ago. Am I placing too much emphasis on it? Drop me a note in the comments and let me know how much the hardware choice actually plays into your purchasing decisions.