Opinion: Why Mobile World Congress is crucial for Windows 8

It's no accident that Microsoft is holding a press conference at Mobile World Congress

Microsoft has invited the tech press to a Windows 8 event. We will undoubtedly learn more about Windows 8, and it is widely expected that Microsoft will also make the Windows 8 Consumer Preview available during the week. The most interesting aspect of the entire thing, though, is the venue at which Microsoft is hosting this event: Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2012 in Barcelona.

What makes the timing and location of Microsoft’s event so curious? Well, Microsoft could have pushed to unveil more details about Windows 8 at CES last month - an event with a much broader and more general gadget focus. It could also have simply scheduled its own launch event in Redmond, or New York, or Silicon Valley, or held off a while and used its own Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto in July.

There are plenty of ways that Microsoft could choose to reveal the next chapter of the Windows 8 saga. It is not by accident that it happens to have chosen MWC 2012 as the launch pad.

Using MWC sends a clear message that Microsoft is betting heavy on Windows 8 on ARM (WOA) and Windows 8 tablets in general. It is a show of force for mobile device vendors and suppliers to demonstrate Microsoft’s commitment to the tablet and mobile market, and garner support from the mobile ecosystem.

It won’t be easy. Microsoft is coming late to a game already littered with the remains of would-be iPad-killers. With the exception of the Kindle Fire--a device with an entirely different target audience--the best of the best of the tablet competition has struggled to even scratch the surface of the iPad dominance.

There have been Windows-based tablets in the past--long before there was an iPad or a “tablet market” to speak of. But, those were different times, and different tablets. Both HP and Dell offer tablets running Windows 7, but neither has really taken off. With Windows 8, though, Microsoft has designed the OS with mobile devices in mind, and designed the Metro UI with the intent it navigated by touch. Windows 8 is a whole new ball game for Windows on tablets.

The fact of the matter is that there is a huge opportunity for a Windows tablet if Microsoft and the hardware and software vendors it partners with can actually deliver a solid experience at a reasonable cost. As popular as the iPad is, and as much headway as it has made into the business world, Windows is still king when it comes to business productivity, and a tablet that can provide a more consistent experience and tighter integration with the Windows desktop is just the sort of mobile device that many companies are holding out for.

No, it is not by chance that Microsoft is focusing on Windows 8 at MWC. It will be very interesting to see what Microsoft reveals, and how it is received by the mobile suppliers and vendors Microsoft needs to win over if it has any hope of carving out a niche for itself in the tablet market.

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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