Is Windows 8 an existential threat to Android tablets?

Windows 8 devices suddenly make Android tablets look quite unnecessary. But just how bad will the carnage really be?

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"We see them as pure media-based devices, where people are going to be surfing the Internet, reading books, or watching a movie, and really not a heck of a lot else," Parker said.

When asked whether Acer plans to support both Android and Windows 8 tablets, Paul Tayar, Acer America's director of product marketing for connected devices, unequivocally says "yes."

"The more ecosystems that we can play with and have available, the better we, as OEMs, can come up with developing the right hardware for the right consumer, Tayar says. Having options available to us lets us bring fresh solutions, and fresh designs, and fresh technology to the table."

Tayar feels there's enough consumer interest to support even more than three distinct operating systems, largely because of the very different user experiences offered by Windows 8 and Android. Windows tablets are more focused on productivity and might be more suitable for stationary office settings, whereas Android tablets tie deeply into Google's cloud-connected vision, and might appeal to people interested in everyday, on-the-run use, thanks to their smaller sizes.

Acer plans to tailor its hardware to take advantage of the specific ecosystem advantages of Windows 8 and Android. "You will not see a Windows 8 tablet, and then see the same tablet two days later with Android," Tayar says. He doesn't think Android will disappear any time soon.

"The Android market space, in both tablets and smartphones, is pretty much vindicated by the number of applications that are out there," he says. "That market has been validated. It's the real thing. It's not something that you're wondering 'Is this space going to exist or not?'"

You thought the Windows Store lacked tablet apps?

Tayar's last comment raises an interesting point: None of the analysts I spoke with think Android as a whole is in danger of dying, as the phone platform remains quite strong. Google Play features an abundance of Android appsmore than 675,000 by Google's last countand the overwhelming majority of them are designed for smartphones, not tablets.

But that situation, too, is a double-edged sword for Google, as Android phone apps tend to translate poorly to the tablet experience.

"Microsoft hasn't even launched the Windows Store yet, and it probably has five times more tablet applications than Android does," Moorhead says. For context, consider that the original 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab kicked off the Android tablet effort nearly two years back.

Despite some blustery talk by Google chairman Eric Schmidt, signs indicate that Google is finally beginning to understand how serious the Windows tablet threat is. Google recently improved its Google Play developer console and finallyfinally!introduced a set of tablet design guidelines for developers. "I think that they'll even give incentives for developers to develop applications," Moorhead says.

Incentives are crucial because Microsoft is gunning for those same developers, with an extensive support system that draws raves from developers. If Google wants an Android future on anything other than smartphones and embedded systems like Google Glass, it must convince some of those developers to create tablet-specific apps for its OS.

Yea or nay: Will Windows 8 tablets kill off Android?

Android tablets won't burst into flames on October 26 in some kind of self-destructive conflagration. Manufacturers won't pack up and leave Google holding the bag just because Microsoft is selling tabletsat least not initially. But serious questions loom over the launch of Microsoft's next-gen operating system, and until the company can allay some of those concerns, partners like Acer, Asus, and Lenovo will probably ride the fence until a clear market winner emerges.

But Microsoft isn't afraid to play the long game or to toss billions of dollars at marketers and manufacturers to ensure that its tablet initiative ultimately pays off. Whennot ifMicrosoft clears the initial hurdles, Google will have to step up its own game to ensure that Android tablets have a fighting chance, even as budget options.

Sure, Android might be the best choice for inexpensive media slates. But Google needs to get busy to bolster even that path to success, especially if Apple releases a miniature iPad. Google must do more to stimulate app development. It must work more amicably with OEMs. And it must step up to the plate, and protect its partners from Apple's litigious wrath.

If Google doesnt do all of these things, manufacturers could very well throw up their hands and join the Windows team for good. Then we'd see the classic Apple/Microsoft duopoly all over again, this time in the mobile arena instead of on the desktop.

Will Windows 8 tablets kill Android tablets? Only Google can answer that question.

This story, "Is Windows 8 an existential threat to Android tablets?" was originally published by PCWorld.

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