Notes on a CES Kerfuffle: Intel and OEMs Pitch Dual-OS Devices

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  January 8, 2014

While we are planning deeper coverage of CES 2014 in next week’s Pund-IT Review, a minor tempest upset the Las Vegas teacup that seems worth addressing. Two weeks prior to the show, Computerworld reported on rumors that Intel and a number of its OEM partners would announce plans to support development of notebooks and tablets that would run both Microsoft Windows 8 and Google’s Android.

Then, the day before CES 2014 opened (and a few hours prior to new Intel CEO Brian Krzanich’s first CES keynote), Computerworld reported on a blog post by Wes Miller of Directions on Microsoft, an analyst firm that focuses exclusively on the Redmond company.

Miller took Intel and its partners to task first by claiming that, “There’s really no clear sign that the consumer benefits from this approach and, in fact, they really lose,” detailed the failures of past dual-OS solutions and then stated that, “Really, the OEMs and Intel have to be going into this strategy without any concern for consumers. It’s just about moving devices, and trying to ensure an ecosystem is there when they can’t (or don’t want to) bet on one platform exclusively.”

Additionally, Miller attributed Intel and its partners’ plans, at least in part, to Microsoft’s decision to develop a version of its signature OS (Windows RT) for devices using ARM-based processors and then to design and manufacture its own ARM-based Surface tablets.

We can’t find much to disagree with in this particular assessment.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s announcement during his CES 2011 keynote that the company would support ARM with a new OS (Windows RT) suggested a significant reordering of the technology market landscape. Not surprisingly, was followed by a number of events with apparent “tit for tat” implications, including Intel’s growing support for Linux and Android, and OEMs developing PCs and laptops with alternative OSs, including Linux, Chrome and Android. Then, after Microsoft decided to design and manufacture its Surface tablets, OEMs by and large ceased working on Windows RT-based tablets (though they continue to develop Windows 8-based Surface Pro tablets).

But while Miller hit the target on this particular issue, we believe he is considerably off the mark in his overall assessment of Intel and its partners’ dual OS efforts in four specific ways:

  1. This is significantly different than past dual OS solutions. Miller’s biggest mistake may have been to analyze the plan before details were available. He compared this new effort to past solutions (with Linux as the alternate OS) that required systems to be rebooted, a truly awkward and time-consuming mechanism that contributed to the lack of interest in those products. However, Intel’s approach incorporates a simple on screen “button” that activates the second OS in approximately 3.5 seconds. In fact, during his keynote, Krzanich seamlessly demo-ed an ASUS tablet launched this week that qualifies as the first device to leverage this new technology. In our view, 3.5 seconds seems an eminently reasonable price to pay for the benefits of easily accessing Windows 8 and Android and related their apps.
  2. The vast majority of consumers live multi-OS lives by choice. For years now, consumer and business IT users have become successfully “multi-lingual” when it comes to operating environments. This is more a matter of need than choice—many people are required to use products in the workplace that they choose or prefer not to use at home. In fact, the recognition of this reality by businesses provides the essential impetus for popular BYOD initiatives. In contrast, Microsoft’s development of Windows 8 was designed implicitly if not explicitly to reverse this trend—to provide a single, homogenous language for already comfortable OS multi-linguists. Windows 8’s problematic design issues aside, Microsoft was attempting to correct a “problem” that most users were unaware they suffered.
  3. Successful IT personalization requires a rich app ecosystem. Mobility is the feature most people assume is driving the massive uptake of tablets and smart phones. We believe that the ability to easily personalize those devices with free and inexpensive apps is just as important. Microsoft clearly understands this, as the ability to leverage apps in Windows 8 devices attests. Unfortunately, apps are also one of the company’s significant weaknesses. While the number of apps for Windows 8 is growing steadily (passing the 100,000 mark last July), it pales in comparison to the 1,000,000+ apps reportedly available for Android devices. Flexibly populating and accessing Android apps may not be a critical issue for many consumers, but the thousands (or millions) of people who use both Windows notebooks and Android phones and tablets will likely applaud Intel and its partners’ efforts.
  4. “Moving devices” requires developing products customers want. Finally, Miller’s castigation of Intel and its OEMs’ dual-OS market strategy seems remarkably naïve. Consumer electronics, as is so clearly the case at CES and similar events, is all about “moving devices” no matter how arguable their practical use or value might be. But what Miller seems to forget is that commercial success depends largely on engaging with customers and examining and understanding what they need and want. It isn’t and shouldn’t be about hobbling product development with a particular (or peculiar) world view. In fact, he Intel’s dual-OS strategy seems specifically aimed at helping customers who commonly use multiple OSs to more easily and seamlessly manage their activities.

“Innovation” is a common term and currency in the IT industry but it neither means nor requires innovative products to arise or arrive wholly new. Virtually all true innovations result from collaborating individuals, teams and organizations. Quite often, new things emerge from unusual, even unthinkable combinations of products and ideas with long histories. What the market will make of Intel’s and its partners’ efforts to support Windows 8 and Android in single devices is anyone’s guess. But in our view, it arrives with more gravity and less baggage than many people assume.

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