Two weeks from now Microsoft (MS) will hold Build, a global conference to give technology experts an official peek into its latest offering: Windows 8 (W8) [The actual sales are expected to begin in 2012]. Since the announcement of the arrival of W8 a few months back, bloggers, technology analysts and Microsoft are systematically feeding morsels of information and speculations about what MS is touting as the next big thing after Windows 95 into the Internet.
MS is the undisputed leader in the PC market. But it's yet to catch up in the smartphone and tablet industry. The question in everyone's mind today is why was MS sleeping all this while, while other operating systems (OS) like iOS (Apple), Android (Google), Bada (Samsung), Symbian (Nokia) and BlackBerry OS (RIM) took the market by storm? According to Gartner's report on worldwide 2011 Q2 smartphone sales in terms of OS, MS has a feeble 2%
market presence as against a whopping 43% share of Android. Symbian and Apple follow with their humble 22% and 18% shares respectively.
The question, therefore, is: Will W8 be the gamechanger for MS in the smartphone and tablet industries?
"It's obviously a bit late for MS, but they have reworked everything. With Nokia on its side, MS's market share will go up in the times to come," says Clinton Jeff, executive editor of theZOMGNetwork.com, a network of India's premier technology blogs.
It's almost confirmed that W8, unlike previous Windows will be more than a jazzed up upgrade of its predecessor. The first in a series of firsts that MS is flaunting is that W8 will provide a common OS across devices — PCs, mobile phones and tablets — with a state-of-the-art touch support. This integration model will allow W8 users get a complete Windows experience. "The hardware specifications are different for all devices, so it will be interesting to see how MS deals with this challenge," says Nimish Dubey, a Delhi-based technology expert who's been keeping a close eye on the evolving trends in technology for the past 12 years.
Next in the line is a new user interface (UI). Say goodbye to the dull ‘start button screen' you see every single day, and welcome the new, livelier start page (image on the left). From the initial demonstration videos it seems that this will ease out multi-tasking and navigation. Then there is the jingbang of additions like the high-speed USB 3, integration with cloud services, Kinect compatibility and high-speed processing.
But the biggest surprise so far is the application store. Though the company is keeping mum on it, an App Store icon on the new start screen suggests that it's in the works. "A good interface is just one part of the story. Windows Phone 7 is a good interface, but apps are equally important," says Dubey, who believes that though Windows phones are more user-friendly and have better specs than even Android phones, a lack of applications is a major roadblock to their success.
While both Jeff and Dubey are confident that W8 won't mar MS's position in the PC industry, they think that the giant from Redmond, Washington, can capture the phone and tablet markets if it plays its cards right. Amit Sarkar, a Mumbai-based independent tech expert, feels the same. "It's a tricky situation for MS. Remember its experience with Kin phones [MS pulled the plug on them in less than two months after their launch earlier this year due to many glitches]? If it repeats the same mistake with W8, it will be the end of MS in the smartphone market," he says.
It's clear that the stakes are high, and so are the expectations from W8. The question now is if MS will be able to cash in on this ‘Windows of opportunity'? We will know that soon.