I went on a drive with Club Sportiva last weekend through the east hills of the Silicon Valley. Years ago I did the same drive on a motorcycle and as I was thinking of that earlier trip, it occurred to me that the difference between a motorcycle and a convertible could be a metaphor for the difference between the best Windows 8 hardware and the iPad.
Bear with me as I walk through this.
Convertibles vs. Motorcycles
The car I was driving was my wife’s 1997 Jaguar XK8 Convertible; I gave this to her for Christmas then promptly made it my project car and it is going through major modifications. We had the top down and going through the tree covered twisty roads, my mind went back to the last motorcycle I had taken down these same roads. That bike was the very unusual GTS1000 (and it is very rare) which, in a way, showcased some great technology but some bad decisions and it never sold well. I still think it likely stops faster than any other production bike in its class, something that I learned by almost flying over the handlebars the first time I braked hard. But that’s a story for another day.
We had the top down, wind in our hair, the screaming engine in our ears and the small of slowly cooking brakes in our nostrils. We could listen, and did, to tunes and chat about what was going on both in our lives and around us at near normal tones (my wife was with me trying not to get car sick) and she could even try to read her Kindle when she wasn’t being tossed side to side.
On a bike the experience is different – the helmet closes your head off, it is pretty difficult to listen to tunes and if you have someone on the back it tends to make the bike top heavier (I say heavier because touring bikes like the GTS tend to be a little top heavy anyway). Talking to another rider consists of occasional screaming and lots of creative hand signing. There are two way radio rigs but they are often more trouble than they are worth. A ride is best done with one person on the bike and the desire to spend a lot of time in your head; a fast convertible can either be used solo or with someone else and many, like the Jag, have back seats (OK, admittedly, in most, for folks born without legs) and trunks.
Now you can try to build a car like a motorcycle and you’ll end up with something like the amazing Ariel Atom 3, or you can try to make a bike more like a car and end up with the Can-Am Spyder. I’ve almost purchased both (the Atom never got street legal and the Can-Am is the only bike my wife actually wants). But we’ve ended up buying cars like Audi TTs, S5s, and this latest XK8 because they provide a better balance between fun and practicality. We drive the Jag daily, and back when I had the bike I only rode it a couple times a year (which is why I eventually sold it).
This reminds me a lot of how people use their iPads.
Windows 8 vs. iPad
Over the last year I’ve noticed that a lot of folks I know that have iPads don’t take them with them. They buy a new one regularly and are excited to stand in line but, most of the time, the product sits, occasionally coming out on the couch or on the bed. It isn’t as infrequent as my motorcycle use but it is clear, that while the iPad is fun, like a motorcycle it isn’t very practical. Now just like there are people that ride motorcycles as their primary vehicle (I had two bikes before I ever owned a car myself), there are people that live on iPads but they are clearly the minority. What I find interesting is that both my wife and I carry our Kindles wherever we go but if we need to get work done, we still live on our laptop. Just like the later years where my motorcycle stayed in the garage and I drove one of the cars.
Laptops remind me a bit of some of the early big convertibles, yes you could feel the wind in your hair but driving fast on mountain roads wasn’t in their DNA. Heavy on the practicality side, they did have big rear seats, but fun to drive fast they weren’t. We’ve moved to ultrabooks which are very similar to sports car convertibles but they leave you wanting touch.
Windows 8 has the potential to be a vastly better compromise between the light enjoyment of a tablet and the practicality of a laptop. In fact, it could be a perfect case allowing you to basically cut off the metaphorical two extra wheels and turn it into a full tablet. If you need it to be practical, it is fully practical with few limitations, and if you need it to be a tablet, with the right hardware, you’ll be able to separate the screen from the keyboard and, presto, you’ll have a tablet. Even if you leave the keyboard at home, all internal functionality will remain. Figure a more powerful Transformer Prime running Windows for instance.
Wrapping Up: Dealing With the Transition
Much like if you hit a button and turned your convertible into a motorcycle, the UI has to change and folks appear to be struggling with that even though the exact same thing happens, even if they are Mac users, when they switch between their PCs and Tablets. But with Windows 8 they’ll be able to switch on the fly where, at least for most now, they’ll need to go home to swap out their laptop for a tablet or have to carry both devices.
So Windows 8, in a perfect world, would be like having a magic button that would transform your car into a motorcycle but where most of the car’s capability remained after you moved to two wheels. Shame we can’t do that with cars yet, outside of the Batmobile, that is (which did it in two movies, the second time was cool, the first was the wildest). Windows 8 on transforming hardware could be your Batmobile with benefits. Now that would be cool, and suddenly the transformation doesn’t sound so bad.
President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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