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Opinion: The 18-inch Windows 8 Tablet that could crush the iPad

Asus Transformer AiO tablet

When I say “crush the iPad,” I mean literally.

Because at 18 inches diagonally, the Asus Transformer AiO tablet revealed at Computex this week likely weighs more than three iPads in tablet mode. However, it also showcases what an ideal Windows 8 product might look like, and this product has an interesting twist: In tablet mode, it acts as an Android tablet. Now, getting Windows and Android to play nice is likely a losing game, but what if this product instead ran Windows 8 and Windows RT (the ARM version of Windows 8)? Then it actually could be very interesting.

Let’s take another look at the ideal Windows 8 product.

Dual modes

The x86 version of Windows 8 (and I’ve been running the preview for some time now) has two modes and shifts between them inelegantly. In my opinion, an elegant interface would simply present you with Metro if you wanted to use touch, and present an ordinary desktop if you preferred a mouse or didn’t have touch enabled. The interface change would be based on user need or direction.

Instead, the x86 version of Windows currently changes your interface with the application. So if you want to use a legacy product, you drop back to the Windows 7 interface, and if you want to use a Metro app, you are in Metro regardless of which interface you’d actually prefer.

This is kind of the reverse of user centric: The system is making the choices of interface based on what is most convenient for it, and ignoring what is most convenient for the user. Let’s say you had a four-wheel drive truck. A good user experience would switch to four-wheel-drive mode when you wanted to drive off-road. A bad one would switch to four-wheel-drive mode when you turned on the air conditioner, which had originally been designed for a Jeep.

The Asus Transformer AiO is designed to boot two operating systems, and appears to shift from Windows 8 to Android when you pick up the display and turn it into a tablet. If you were to replace Android with Windows RT, it would then switch from Windows 8 x86 to Windows RT, giving you a dedicated tablet experience in tablet mode and a PC experience when it is in its docking platform.

You’d have legacy apps in your all-in-one, and a full on appliance-like tablet when it was being a tablet.

Size matters

Now the other issue with regard to converting between a desktop PC and a tablet is size: In a notebook computer, we typically don’t like any display under 12 inches. Currently, in a desktop computer, 24-inch monitors are the favorite size. At 18 inches (or substantially larger than the biggest currently successful tablets, which are around 11 inches), this thing is a monster. But if you are using it to create things, it may actually be towards the middle of what is acceptable. It is big enough to do actual work on, and still not so big it can’t be carried. The same screen size is currently the top end of the mass market notebooks being sold, and in tablet form, an 18-inch screen could be seen as comparatively light.

Since tablets are often used in bed or on a couch (the two most common places people use the products today), size isn’t as critical as it would be if the same device were being used while outdoors or standing. Granted, using an 18-inch tablet as an e-book would likely build up your upper arm strength much more than you’d intended, but for viewing online magazines or other large-format media (like movies), this size could be perfect. Remember there was a time when we thought phones that didn’t fold over and fit in your pocked were too big, and now the hot phones have near 5-inch screen sizes. Grab an 18-inch tablet, toss a wireless keyboard in your bag and suddenly you have a portable all-in-one to die for.

Wrapping up

With the iPad as the gold standard, which only has a 9.7-inch display, getting folks excited about an 18-inch tablet could be a stretch. However, bigger can be better. Only by exploring creative ways to do things did we get the iPhone and iPad in the first place. With Windows 8 on x86 being a dual-mode (tablet and laptop) OS, why not explore a tablet all-in-one alternative that has fewer size tradeoffs? Flipping from Windows 8 to Android will be a non-starter, because that is three user interfaces in a world struggling with devices that have two. But if Asus were to replace Android with Windows RT, the company might have something.

Like most of you, I doubt this will happen. But were it to have the right backing, the right software, and the right user experience, bigger could be better. Asus, which is a rapidly rising star, could surprise the market.