I’ve been playing with two very different tablets this week: the small 8” Acer W5 Iconia and the Dell XPS 18”, which is more of a portable all-in-one than it is a tablet. Clearly, you’d use these two products very differently, but under Windows 8.1, the user interface, apps and files would be identical on both and that leads to some interesting thoughts about the future. The Acer is a little over $600 fully configured and weighs 2.8 pounds, while the XPS 18, appropriately configured, costs and weighs just about a little over twice this--which is interesting given that it looks four times as large. This means the XPS 18” is light for its class and the Acer is heavy for an 8” product. It is also interesting to note that the XPS 18 has about half the battery life as well, but prices, battery life and weight will change. Let’s talk about use.
The Right Screen for the Right Purpose
Anything below 12” is more of a consumption device than it is a productivity device. Conversely, anything above 12” shifts to productivity from consumption. Having both products led to an interesting transition. I could begin work on either the small or large device and then, assuming I was saving on the SkyDrive, just shift to the other device as the task or my mood suited. For instance, I could write a column on the big screen and then move to the small screen to review and edit it if I chose. Or, after opening an attachment on the small device, I could save it on my SkyDrive, then move to the larger device to see details in a picture I was missing on the small screen. Sometimes I switched to the larger device because I wanted to just sit down and use a keyboard and mouse rather than juggling the tablet.
This seems so much better than trying to use a more traditional 10” product, which is big for a reader and way too small if you want to actually get work done. These two products really drove home the point that one size, at least until we come up with another kind of display technology, really doesn’t fit all. It’s more of an ugly compromise. Rather than having the wrong device 50 percent of the time for some things, you have the wrong size 100 percent of the time, but with less pain.
Windows 8.1: Where This Gets Interesting
One of the big features of the next version of Windows is app and personality syncing. With Windows 8, some aspects of the platform, like lock screen and SkyDrive files, do sync once you install the SkyDrive app, but with 8.1, apps and the entire personality join the mix. This means that every time you make a change on one of your Windows 8.1 devices, it propagates to all of them, creating the impression of a device with flexible screens. You simply grab the connected device you need for a specific task, and you are good to go. Need to hide behind a huge display at a meeting or do real work? Grab the big screen. Need something to read or work on while waiting in the lobby for an appointment or while eating lunch? Grab the small one. Forgot your tablets but you have a Windows phone? You can still pick up right where you left off--as long as you have your glasses or can read small print.
Granted, to start using this flexibility, you need both products, but you aren’t going to get this on Android or iOS at the moment.
Wrapping Up: Up to Your Armpits in Tablets
In cars like the Tesla S, the makers are basically putting tablets on the dashboard. It won’t be long before we can move from screen to screen throughout the home, car and business, picking the display size most appropriate for the location and task. If you get a chance, pick up several of these different-sized Windows tablets and start moving between them during your Windows 8.1 trials. You may find, as I did, that the killer feature is a level of flexibility you never had before. This may be the hidden magic of Windows 8.1--a flexibility and device freedom that simply hasn’t been possible until now.