Where Windows 8 tablets could beat the iPad

Dell is banking on schools and hospitals to turn the tide away from the iPad back to Windows devices

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  • Windows 8 tablets have ports to add peripherals, which ostensibly lets you do more with them. The ports are standard, so you don't need adapters for peripherals. Apple's adapters are overpriced, for sure, but iPads assume wireless connectivity -- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth -- for these needs. Want to stream? A $99 Apple TV in the room lets any iPad stream video, whereas a Windows 8 tablet needs to be physically connected to the TV -- hardly an efficient approach. In a hospital environment, Bluetooth is a better way to connect peripherals such as input devices and sensors because of the dangers of cables catching on items. Ports are so PC!
  • In a classroom environment, the individual nature of an iPad beloved by so many makes it harder for teachers to facilitate education on the iPad. A teacher can't simply stream videos and e-textbooks to each child's iPad or ensure that all iPads in the classroom have opened the same app or the same lesson. With extra management software, that's possible on a Windows 8 tablet, letting the teacher drive the tablets rather than check each student's iPad before giving the lesson. Apple has long targeted the education market, and I'm surprised this need slipped by.

As you can see, there are indeed areas where Windows 8 has clear advantages over an iPad, even though in most respects, the claimed advantages turn out to be less than meets the eye. Windows hardware and software developers would be wise to focus on its strengths to make the Windows 8 tablet case more compelling -- and Apple should take notice of the iPad's deficits.

One thing I can say about the Dell Latitude 10 tablet itself based on a few moments of use is that the sleek-looking tablet is iPad-like in its size and weight -- it's not overly heavy like Microsoft's own Surface Pro tablet. Dell claims the Latitude 10 gets 10 or more hours of battery life -- like the iPad -- versus the Surface Pro's four. The price of a Lattitude is essentially the same as an iPad, for models with comparable usable storage (a 32GB Latitude 10 costs the same $499 as a 16GB iPad); Dell execs told me they know Windows uses more device storage than iOS, so they wanted to address that issue upfront in the configurations.

I detected a bit of schadenfreude on Dell executives' parts as they compared their lighter, sleeker Latitude to Microsoft's Surface Pro. The PC makers clearly remain angry that Microsoft is making and selling its own tablets.

But the Latitude runs Intel's low-performance Atom processor, so it may be too slow for many legacy Windows apps. Earlier generations of Atoms powered netbooks, those cheap but woefully underpowered laptops that were briefly in vogue a few years ago. One reason the Microsoft Surface Pro is so heavy is that it has beefier hardware, including the faster but battery-draining Core i5 processor typically found in laptops. iOS apps, by comparison, are designed to run on the highly power-efficient ARM-based A-series processors, so they can be thinner and lighter without slowing down. I'd test my apps on a Latitude configured for my management and security environment to make sure performance is acceptable before committing to one.

At the end of the day, it looks like Dell has a credible product and a credible context for its use. For some, it's a better option than an iPad. But even if not, it's a realistic attempt to compete in the post-PC world.

This article, "Where Windows 8 tablets could beat the iPad," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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