Windows 8 is not the long bet, it’s Windows RT

Today’s post on Daring Fireball, Windows 8 as a Long Bet, seems to have missed something important.

“But why put the touch/tablet UI on all PCs? A touch-optimized UI makes no more sense for a non-touch desktop than a desktop UI makes for a tablet. Apple has it right: a touch UI for touch devices, a pointer UI for pointer (trackpad, mouse) devices. Windows 8 strikes me as driven by dogma — “one Windows, everywhere.”

This is all right, and yet all wrong. If you read it with Windows 8 Pro in mind, which many consider to be a train wreck combination of two different environments, then yes, the above should make sense. But not if you read it with Windows RT in mind.

Think about this: What can iOS do and not do? What can Windows RT do and not do?

They are both “Post PC” operating systems. They are super simple to use, they only run apps from an app store, they don’t need drivers, and they have a touch-optimized UI that makes perfect sense on a multi-touch tablet. They have a lot in common, but there’s a huge difference that is missed in the quoted text above. Windows RT and its 3rd-party apps are touch-optimized, but are also aware of the presence or potential presence of a mouse pointer, and they can work with pointer input and with a keyboard without relying on touch gestures at all. So…

What can iOS do and not do? Easy. It can run any kind of app you can imagine. But these apps are almost universally built for touch. Not all apps can be redesigned to be as comfortable or efficient with touch as they were with mouse pointer input.

Touch can be as precise as mouse pointer input, but in different ways. The initial touch is never very precise. Apps like Photoshop will not work on iOS – their UI must be designed differently. But even redesigned, they may never be as efficient. Apps like development environments or desktop publishing will also need to be rethought, but may also never work as well. iOS requires a lot of back and forth between a keyboard (on-screen or not) and the screen – so that screen tends to need to be horizontal. Who wants to lift their hand up to a vertical screen, even if occasionally. It’s just awkward.

Installing iOS on a desktop PC would never make sense, touch screen or not. So what can’t iOS do? Let users comfortably use applications that work best with mouse pointer input. If a user isn’t efficient and comfortable, the app is a failure. This means that OS X has it’s place for the moment, until the “Back To The Mac” concept reaches revolutionary new heights.

What can Windows RT do and not do? Windows RT is like iOS. Touch input is a first class citizen, and everything from OS to apps, are built for that. The one exception is Office,  which is why there’s a bastard remnant desktop mode that will hopefully disappear once Office goes native.

Installing Windows RT on a desktop PC, however, can make perfect sense, touch screen or no touch screen. Windows RT and all its 3rd party apps fully work with mouse and keyboard without requiring even occasional touch gestures. There’s a reason for that (I’ll reveal it at the end of this post). When running on a desktop PC or laptop with a trackpad, Windows RT can handle applications like Photoshop, Visual Studio, Xcode, Final Cut Pro X, you name it. Sure, these apps would have to be rewritten to run in a fully sandboxed environment, but thanks to cloud computing becoming  more pervasive, this is a software problem that’s inevitably going to be solved soon (Apple has the same need on OS X),

Windows RT on a desktop PC makes sense because it doesn’t subject people to needlessly complex operating systems like Windows 8 Pro or the very latest OS X, with all their baggage and complicated UI paradigms, drivers, trojan horses and malware. Yes, even OS X Mountain Lion still doesn’t prevent users from installing things from random sites.

OS X and Windows 8 Pro are still way too geeky for non-techie humans to work easily and comfortably with – but iOS and Windows RT, well, even toddlers and the oldest grandparents can handle those without breaking anything or calling a geek family member for support.

So what can’t Windows RT do? Nothing. It can run on tablets, run any kind of app that iOS can, using touch-only input that works very well, and it can also run as a mouse+keyboard driven operating system on laptops and desktops, and run desktop-class applications that don’t work as well or as comfortably on a touch-only device or operating system.

So let’s deal with that Daring Fireball quote now, piece-by-piece:

But why put the touch/tablet UI on all PCs?

I don’t know why, but I do know that developers that write Modern UI apps are forced to also make their app work with mouse+keyboard – because Windows 8 Pro will be installed on many PCs that don’t have touch input. Like the 27″ iMac I’m using right now running Windows 8 Pro. Also, the more obvious answer, to get desktop and laptop PC users used to the look and feel of Windows RT.

A touch-optimized UI makes no more sense for a non-touch desktop than a desktop UI makes for a tablet.

See now why this doesn’t quite apply? Windows RT is designed to offer a touch-optimized UI when running on tablets, and also a mouse+keyboard optimized UI when running on laptops and desktops. Heck, if the laptop or desktop also has a touch screen, you can use both. But that’s gravy.

Apple has it right: a touch UI for touch devices, a pointer UI for pointer (trackpad, mouse) devices.

It’s right only up to the point when your competitor has a Windows RT descendant everywhere, the exact same OS on both tablets and desktops, that lets users transition from desktop to tablet/mobile with no change in environment.

Users may realize that moving from OS X to iOS is just not as great. Windows 8 Pro and descendants? Who cares, that OS will be forgotten by the consumers (not businesses) once most desktop-class apps like Photoshop and Visual Studio start running on Windows RT or descendants. These mouse-optimized apps may not work on tablets, but that’s not the point, the point is, the rest of the apps you use will.

Microsoft has something special with Windows RT, it’s just not obvious yet because everyone’s focusing on Windows 8 Pro.

The difference between 7″ and 7.85″ is everything

Here’s why I think there will be a tablet from Apple that’s optimized for reading and has a 7″ retina display that runs iPhone apps unmodified, not a tablet with a 7.85″ display that runs iPad apps unmodified.

Perhaps you’ve read these Steve Jobs quotes before, they go something like this:

The 7-inch form factor is not a good size for tablet applications” and “7-inch tablets should come with sandpaper, so that users can file down their fingers so they can use them.

Note the words in bold.

Every rumor and theory about a smaller iPad I have seen seems to claim it will be 7.85″ with a 1024×768 screen. If that were the case, Steve Jobs would be right on the money with the above quotes. A 7.85″ 1024×768 display would be appropriate if the smaller tablet were designed to run iPad applications, because these applications could run unscaled on the device, at a 1:1 pixel ratio. However, the PPI of that 7.85″ screen would be 163. But the size of the user interface elements on iPad applications are tailored for a 132 PPI screen. If squeezed into 163 PPI, every button and control would become smaller, harder to accurately touch. Hence the need for sandpaper.

The same argument applies if the 7.85″ tablet had a retina display with the same resolution as the new iPad’s 2048×1536. It would have 326 PPI, but the UI elements of retina iPad applications are designed for 264 PPI. Sandpaper required.

But consider if the new tablet had a 7″ screen. What’s so special about 7″? A couple of very interesting things.

A 7″ diagonal screen (7.08″ to be exact) just happens to be the exact size of two by two iPod touch retina displays. That’s a 4″ x 6″ display surface. An iPod touch screen has 326 PPI. The 7″ screen would also have 326 PPI just like iPhones and iPods. This would yield a resolution of 1920 x 1280. This resolution would be able to run current retina iPhone applications pixel perfect using the traditional 4:1 pixel scaling, like retina displays do with non-retina apps.

What’s so special about that? By running iPhone applications on a larger screen, as opposed to running iPad applications on a smaller screen, you don’t need the sandpaper anymore. Heck, if you have fat fingers, you’ll rejoice. Larger touch targets are just easier to hit, but still look amazing, especially text, which will be drawn using the full 1920 x 1280 resolution. Anyone that finds the iPod touch or iPhone screen slightly cramped would love it, and could continue to enjoy amazing apps like iMovie, iPhoto, and other apps designed for iPhone.

So a 7″ tablet wouldn’t be an “iPad mini”, it would actually be more like an “iPod maxi”. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. A 7″ or 7.85″ tablet still has to have a clear purpose. To be able to do something far better than the smaller devices (iPod touch and iPhone) and far better than larger devices (the iPads).

The answer is: reading, and long “consumption” sessions. Reading is something that is not comfortably done on an iPad, compared to a dedicated e-reader like a Kindle. That’s because it is relatively very heavy (over 600 grams), and too large. The new iPad is even heavier. You can’t hold these up comfortably. They are also rather expensive, starting at $400, compared to a dedicated e-reader. That’s why my friends with iPads that like reading also bought and use a Kindle. Reading is also cumbersome on an iPod and iPhone, because they are just too cramped and tiny. For comfortable reading, you need a device that’s not more than 400 grams (determined by reading reviews of various e-readers), with a long lasting battery, a screen more tailored to reading than other iOS devices, and it has to be more affordable than an iPad.

The Apple “e-reader” I’m about to describe wouldn’t just be a great, inexpensive and sufficiently light reading device with a color retina display, it would also be a full iOS device capable of beautifully running iPhone apps.

An iPod touch costs $200. It is 0.28″ thick (7.2mm). It weighs 105 grams. If you think of a 7″ iOS “reader” device that is essentially 4 iPod touches put together in 2 x 2 formation, this device would end up being about 0.29″ thick (7.5mm), weigh 350g, and beautifully run retina iPhone apps unmodified using a perfect 4:1 pixel ratio. It would be slightly thicker for structural strength and extra battery space. It wouldn’t cost $800 because you don’t need 4 times the electronics.  It would have more battery life than an iPod touch thanks to far more battery space. It would also weigh less than 4 iPod touches because not everything is multiplied by 4. Cost? I’d say $250 because the larger 1920×1280 display would cost slightly more, even if it would be iPod touch quality (inferior to iPhone or iPad display quality) and Apple factories are already perfectly tooled to make 326 PPI iPod-quality displays.

Apple would also optimize the display for “reading”, meaning, applying anti-reflection, more precise dimming and other technologies to it that it normally wouldn’t need or desire for iPods, iPhones or iPads. Yet iPhone apps would still run nicely on it, making it far more multi-purpose than a mere Kindle with e-ink, even if still not as awesome for reading in bright daylight.

E-readers are a nice market segment exploited by Amazon, wide open for Apple to expand into and dominate with iOS.

Why the iPhone 5 will drop the 30-pin iPod connector

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The iPod connector is, quite simply, no longer needed. Not only do I think it will disappear with iPhone 5, but if it is replaced with another connector, it will be used solely for power. Not data.

Consider the following new technologies and capabilities that have recently been introduced by Apple. Each of these replaces capabilities previously possible only through the iPod connector:

  • PC-free setup: no longer requires you to plug into a PC/Mac for initial setup.
  • WiFi sync to iTunes: iOS backup, music/videos/app sync when plugged into power.
  • iCloud: Over-the-air iOS updates, backup, restore, app locker.
  • iTunes in the cloud and iTunes Match: – you don’t even need iTunes.exe for music.
  • Stream your home library: The iOS Music app now lets you do this over Wi-Fi (It’s true!)
And a couple more new things that are quite relevant:
  • AirPlay: Lets your devices output audio and video to 3rd party devices. Clock radios, home theater receivers, etc. It is the new way of sending audio to devices, and 3rd parties are already supporting it. The dock connector is used less and less.
  • Bluetooth 4.0: hours of low power communications on iOS devices.

So what’s left to keep the iPod connector? Transfer speed? Nope, if it work’s for WiFi sync and the other above listed features, it’s not key. iOS developers tell me that debugging is done through the connector cable. That’s something. Enough to keep the connector? I wouldn’t bet on it. iPad might keep it for projector use, but, hey, Airplay could help there.

But why would Apple want to get rid of the iPod connector? Why stir up trouble?

  • Design. Without the iPod connector, Apple has more design freedom for the iPhone. Edges can be tapered or thinner, the internals can be rearranged, a larger speaker can be added to the bottom edge, etc.
  • Harder to jailbreak. The connector is used by hackers as a point of entry for jail breaking. With the connector gone, it might be harder to hack the iPhone.
  • It’s ugly. It’s a connector. Things Apple usually likes to get rid of when possible.
  • No cable to include. Less materials to waste. Less cost.
  • Better for the user. The message that you’d want (or need in any way) to use a cable, gone.
  • 3rd party market entropy. New opportunity for 3rd party device makers to exploit.
  • The sooner, the better. iPhone 5 will probably outsell all previous iPhones combined, so it’s an excellent time to “move on”.
So here you have it. With no connector, power still needs to get into the iPhone, so I think we’ll see the MagSafe for iPhone or, less likely I would say, inductive charging.
I think I also need a blog post on why iTunes.exe is on the way out, too.

Bonus thought: I suppose it is too early to suggest that after the iPod connector, the next thing to go will be the stereo headphone jack. Bluetooth headphones must be pretty cheap to make now, and with Bluetooth 4.0, their battery would last pretty long. I would just not enjoy having to charge yet another device… So no, I guess.

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