Home > Critical Thinking, Current Affairs, Technology > Android is the Biggest Future Threat for Windows

Android is the Biggest Future Threat for Windows

In a previous post from just over a year ago (How iOS and Android Will Affect PC Evolution) I wrote about how the superior user experience of mobile computing devices was changing consumer expectations about personal computing. Since then even more powerful mobile CPUs and GPUs have been introduced. Mobile operating systems have also become more capable without losing much (if any) of their usability advantages over the ones currently running on laptops and desktops.

A couple of recent experiences have only reinforced my belief that the operating systems of personal computers in the near future will increasingly resemble (and be derived) from their mobile counterparts. I also believe that Android, not iOS, is likely to be the biggest future threat to Windows. So how did I come to this conclusion? Let me start by describing a couple of the above mentioned experiences.

My first experience came about recently when I was trying out some laptops and tablets at the local branch of a well know chain store. After trying out a few demo laptops preloaded with Window 8, including some very nice ones with SSDs, I passed by a display with Android tablets and decided to try them too. One of the units was a newer Transformer tablet running Android 4.1. I tried performing a variety of common actions from opening large and complex websites on the browser, checking the mobile office suite etc. I was however struck by one thing.

The Android 4.1-running Transformer ‘tablet-top’ blew the Windows 8- running laptops out of the water in many areas ranging from the speed of cold bootup to the responsiveness and functionality of applications and the OS in general. While the construction quality of the Windows 8 laptops was better than the Asus ‘tablet-top’ there was no doubt in my mind that the later offered a superior personal computing experience.

My next epiphany was the result of trying out the ‘mobile’ versions of a few specialized scientific software that I have used for many years. While the quality and features of such mobile versions used to be rather mediocre and limited- as late as last year, that is no longer the case. The iOS and Android versions of these applications now approach or exceed the features of 4-5 year old desktop versions of the same. They also have almost all of the commonly used features and functionalities found in their desktop conterparts.

It does not take a genius to realize that the capabilities of the CPUs and operating systems of mobile devices are only going to improve- at least in the next few years. Even today, mobile devices provide a superior user experience for performing common tasks such as surfing the web, checking emails, looking at content, checking social media feeds etc. Now specialized software applications are also getting into the act. It is only a matter of time before someone starts building full-fledged laptops with ARM-based CPUs and a mobile-derived operating system.

So who will be the winner in this computing expansion/shift- as far as current contenders are concerned?

While iOS is the oldest, most well-known and well-designed mobile operating system- it is owned by Apple. Given the short-term focus and lack of imagination that characterizes senior corporate management, it is unlikely that Apple will make that leap. In any case, the lucrativeness of the current and future sales of their mobile devices might make them averse to taking another big leap- especially since Steve Jobs passed away. While features of iOS will continue to trickle into OSX and its successor, I would be very surprised if they made any truly revolutionary changes- even though iOS and OSX are not that far apart.

Moving on to Microsoft, my experience with Windows 8 (on even Intel i7-CPU containing laptops) suggest that the company has much to learn about building uncluttered, responsive and user-friendly mobile operating systems. While they have concentrated on reproducing (and even surpassing) the visual effects of iOS and Android, the interface and user-friendliness of their OS and the applications running on it leaves much to be desired. There is no point in creating a mobile version of office applications if you don’t carefully think through what your users use and don’t use. Shoehorning a simplified-looking version of your desktop software onto a mobile platform is a recipe for losing users. Similarly creating an operating-system without well thought out controls and consistent behavior does help your case either- a lesson that Android learned the hard way.

Which leaves us with Google’s Android.. Now I an aware that it too has had its own issues in the past. However Android has grown past them and the latest 2 versions are clearly better than other mobile OSes as far as intrinsic capabilities and potential for expansion are concerned. Apart from it being free and open-source (hackable), the diversity of applications available for it ensure that geek-driven expansion of its abilities will be much faster than the much more tightly controlled iOS. I believe that the future personal computing OS is most likely to be derived from Android. And yes, I am aware that Google is also trying to sell ‘Chrome OS’ Laptops and Netbooks- without much success.

Let me be also clear about one thing- I do not expect the shift from Windows type OSes to Android type OSes to be sudden or complete. Microsoft will probably keep on selling current and future versions of Windows as long as they run legacy applications- especially important for their businesses clientele. I also do not expect Google to openly and aggressively challenge Microsoft for domination of the personal computing market. The change will come from some medium-sized manufacturers/assemblers of mobile devices or laptops tinkering around existing hardware to produce that one ‘hit’ which will make them rich and famous. While most of such attempts will fail, a few that will succeed and inspire better copies by more well-known manufacturers who will then push it as their own. I do not expect the process to be smooth and predictable- but it is very likely to occur within the next 3-4 years.

What do you think? Comments?

  1. P Ray
    December 22, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    “The change will come from some medium-sized manufacturers/assemblers of mobile devices or laptops tinkering around existing hardware to produce that one ‘hit’ which will make them rich and famous.”
    In a funny manner, this method where one hardware company calls the shots (Android is actually a Java variant (Dalvik) running on Linux) … is completely opposite to how Microsoft achieved dominance – a software company making its product easy to setup and install on a class of hardware.

    The issue here though, is the reality that Android systems need “jailbreaking”, people who buy new every 2 years are not likely to see or feel the lack of support for legacy operating systems (and hardware), plus the supplier can only provide drivers … for hardware that is not proprietary (e.g. no drivers for Intel GMA3650).

    You can still run Windows 8 on a 1st generation i7.

    The user experience is just one facet of computing; so is after-sales service, availability of spare parts, technical support availability, operating system support and hardware viability.

    In short, Android and the iOS/OSX systems exacerbate the consumer mentality.

    I’ve got more to say about this, but will hold back until I see a response from the peanut gallery.

  2. knee
    December 23, 2012 at 4:40 am

    Insert escort questions completely unrelated to the post here

    • EvilOne
      December 23, 2012 at 9:08 am

      Escorts use mobiles too!

  3. jackal
    December 23, 2012 at 8:32 am

    Windows (and by extension, IE and all browsers and email clients) began going south on the same day MS shifted its focus from serving users to serving advertisers and software developers. IOW, Windows has evolved into a mechanism for no other purpose but to deliver adverts — the hell with user security, user privacy, and dilution of user content and experience. Even worse, Windows specifically evolved to shift the cost of advert delivery from advertisers to users. It’s commonplace to land on web sites serving up huge Flash adverts, many 5 MB and larger, incrementally diluting the experience for everyone. Imagine if the movie-theater industry had MS’s mentality, interrupting our movie experience, every ten minutes or so, jamming adverts down our throats — at our expense, for chrissakes. Yet this is exactly what MS has done to our surfing experience. Apple, too, and browsers like Firefox, which used to be a good, sleek tool but now has evolved into a monster more than ten times it’s original file size. And who believes Google, the advert elephant on the block, will not morph Android into an even greater beast than Windows has become? There will never be a good operating system so long as system engineers remain in bed with advertisers and developers. I’ve always believed there should be a public operating system/browser, one fashioned in the same way all vehicles are fashioned with a steering wheel here, a brake pedal there, etc. Anyone, anywhere can drive on public roads, and do so privately, without being detained by town criers every mile or so, without advertisers bogging down consumer mileage — to benefit sick, greedy corporations. The way it is with the web now, it’s no different than if each of us was required to haul cargo for some corporation every time we drive somewhere in our cars. Yet few see this reality behind the Internet. Imagine what real life would be like if we had to sign in before entering a restaurant, as though it’s the owner’s business to know who they are serving. Life used to be anonymous, but not since the rise of snooping, stinking corporation like MS. I wouldn’t even be commenting now, were it not for the ability to do so anonymously. MS and other advert whores seem to have forgotten that constitutional protection of privacy extends to one’s right to remain anonymous, too. As we’re seeing now in Germany, Facebook is learning a very hard lesson.

    • P Ray
      December 23, 2012 at 8:51 am

      Even worse, Windows specifically evolved to shift the cost of advert delivery from advertisers to users. It’s commonplace to land on web sites serving up huge Flash adverts, many 5 MB and larger, incrementally diluting the experience for everyone.
      Blame Adobe for that, not Windows.
      Their web development tools are designed to use Flash as extensively as possible.
      Disabling Flash is a matter of finding the correct add-on, and commerce- or information- not soundbite-driven websites are a pain for any mobile user on a capped connection.

      You have more to fear from Google than MS …
      because Google needs your information to get the money out of your pocket (the non-generality of Android repels me).
      I’d hardly look to Linux as the benchmark of stable computing either, considering the fact that it is not subject to as many user-initiated changes the way Windows is (and I’ve run an i7 laptop on no reboots or hibernation for 6 months with Windows).

      Windows 7 is fine.. it is Windows 8 that is the half-cooked problem.

      • P Ray
        December 23, 2012 at 9:30 am

        Windows 7 will be supported by MS until 2020.
        And it’s still quite widely available.
        An IS facilitator for a British multinational pharmaceutical, biologics, vaccines and consumer healthcare company that I spoke to a month ago told me that they were JUST going to move to Windows 7.
        So there’s still plenty of time to adjust … or for Microsoft to release Windows 9 (they are aiming for that to be out within the next 4 years).

  4. P Ray
    December 23, 2012 at 8:52 am

    and commerce- or information- not soundbite-driven websites are a pain for any mobile user on a capped connection.
    should read
    and soundbite-driven, not commerce or information-websites, are a pain for any mobile user on a capped connection.

  5. December 23, 2012 at 9:50 am

    One big reason to people having a great experience on mobiles and less so on desktops/laptops is that when developing an application for a mobile, because of the given constraints, a hell lot of thought goes into providing a great user experience.

    This had a big part to play in trend of minimalism in design. Typically speaking, most companies will have a separate version for a handheld mobile, tablet and a desktop – they are all designed specifically for that device.

    Traditionally, people didn’t think so much when designing the UX on laptops/desktop because of larger computing power, larger screens etc. So that is why you get better UX on mobile devices.

    What we are now increasingly seeing is the kind of thought which went into designing stuff on the mobile, those ideas of minimalism are being incorporated into larger screen to provide a better UX. The new gmail compose is a good example of this.

    Having said all that, laptops and desktop are definitely on the way out now.

    • December 23, 2012 at 10:35 am

      desktops will be around a little longer than people think-

      Yes, they will be around for a long time because the dexterity/size of human fingers and the resolution of the human eye is not changing anytime soon.

      Try writing two paragraphs, consisting of 8 normal length sentences each, on an iPad

      A.) people who record music/do film stuff will still be using them

      B.) the fact that you can easily putt in new hard drives and add RAM, not so easy on laptops and probably close to impossible on tablets. That gives the average laptop and tablet a 2-3 year lifespan but the desktop a 3-5 year lifespan… look at all the people who build really powerful machines for a couple hundred bucks….

      (I understand that this is probably less than 10% of all users.)

      I was talking about the operating systems on personal computers including desktops and laptops- not the form factor.

      • P Ray
        December 23, 2012 at 11:42 am

        Where is the heat for all the CPUs/GPUs going to go?
        Remember, Apple put out a quad core i7 Macbook that could only run as a dual core … because its form factor was too thin for proper cooling and even Apple can’t break the laws of physics.

        Desktops will be around pretty much forever, as the GPUs for extreme graphics require lots of power and space for the fans.

        Also, how’s the backward compatibility for Android/iOS/OSX?

      • December 23, 2012 at 9:30 pm

        I feel desktops and laptops will reduce significantly over the next decade or two, if not become nearly extinct as far as mainstream purposes are concerned. For specialized applications, I think they will be around longer

  6. December 23, 2012 at 11:20 am

    anyways diablo, we know the real reason you like mobile devices is that your company can’t filter them and you need your porno on the potty….

    one prob with iOS is you’ve gotta do everything thruogh iTunes. The google Chrome Books don’t have hard drives and you store all your data in the cloud….

    as far as video games, just think, if you’ve got a vintage games system and 100 games. If it breaks, you find someone who can repair it or buy another one on eBay. As far as newer systems that can download from the cloud and then store on the hard drive, what happens in a few years (if the company is even still in business) when they’re no longer doing firmware updates for that system. Will they honor your old purchase and resend you the game? (Same applies for legally downloaded music.)

    Wrote about that before- http://dissention.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/cloud-computing-will-fail-without-the-ability-to-backup-data-locally/

  7. December 23, 2012 at 11:22 am

    “I was talking about the operating systems on personal computers including desktops and laptops- not the form factor.”

    agreed, whomever can create an OS that works on mobile devices all the way on desktops and can work with “consumer” level users and “professional” level users–AND is not locked down to one manufacturer for hardware has the chance to become king….

  8. December 23, 2012 at 11:24 am

    “Try writing two paragraphs, consisting of 8 normal length sentences each, on an iPad”

    this is why I am not a fan of tablets, they are okay to consume but not to create….

    also never liked lap tops as my neck would get sore after 30 minutes of use….

  9. December 23, 2012 at 11:32 am

    one thing I noticed, I would catch mistakes on paper that I wouldn’t on screen….

    I used to always print copies of my work at my first “real job” annoying everyone in the process….

    I would surmise that you still catch more on a 19-32 in screen than on a 4 in to 12 in screen…

    will mobile devices allow for greater mobility, I don’t think they will compete for projects requiring sustained effort of a few hours….

    Bingo!

  10. December 23, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    “Also, how’s the backward compatibility for Android/iOS/OSX?”

    I don’t know about android but for Apple it sucks….

    I have an old copy of a game-Unreal, and I have to boot it up on a partitioned hard drive just to make it work on an old G4, the old g4 works great, had to retire it as I could only go up to OS 10.3.9-it was getting so I couldn’t upgrade to the newest version of flash and see stuff on Youtube…

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