If you need a reason to buy a Windows machine this holiday, it can be summed up in one word: diversity.
As the IFA show rolls on in Berlin this week, Microsoft executives pointed out the number of certified Windows devices has increased more than fourfold since the same time last year. That means more brands, more price points, more competition--and more choices for customers looking for a Windows device just for them.
Naturally, hardware makers are juggling a number of options on their own, as technology for both the consumer and businesses spreads out and bleeds across established segments. As an example, Hewlett-Packard announced a new line of Windows-powered notebooks and 2-in-1s this week, some of which will use the upcoming, next-generation Core M chip from Intel. But right alongside it are HP's new Chromebooks, which provide a low-cost Google option to traditional PCs.
Ditto for companies like Acer, which offers the $150 Iconia Tab W running Windows, as well as comparable Android tablets, the Iconia One 8 and Tab 10. Even Lenovo, whose IFA offerings leaned heavily toward Windows, announced its first 8-inch Android tablet, the Tab S8.
Nevertheless, the IFA show and this holiday season represent the convergence of several factors: cheaper Windows hardware, helped by Microsoft's decision to eliminate license fees on sub-9-inch devices; Intel's Core M or "Broadwell" microprocessors, promising more battery life and thinner designs; more hardware partners; and the anticipation of a "Windows 9" technical preview later this month.
Ideally, Intel's delayed Core M would have launched earlier this year, and Microsoft's Windows 8 would have received greater adoption. But Peter Han, the vice president of OEM marketing for Microsoft, predicted customers would be able to find what they're looking for on store shelves.
"The one-line pitch on why to buy a Windows machine this holiday is because regardless of what kind of customer you are, we have an ecosystem of OEMs who are dedicated to bringing innovative and updated hardware to the market," Han said in an interview in advance of the IFA show.
And the numbers bear that out.
"I remember doing a holiday preview show last year," Han said. "At the time we had something like 1,500 Windows devices certified, Windows 8 or 8.1 certified devices for the market. We're now at 6,600, over 6,600 devices."
Part of the process, hardware executives admit, is learning how to incorporate new technologies into a product customers want. When Microsoft launched Windows 8, it made touch a priority--even though the majority of notebooks and desktops lacked touch-enabled monitors. As touch-enabled hardware began rolling out, Lenovo struggled with the concept of touch in a traditional clamshell notebook, according to Andrew Barrow, director of consumer product marketing with the PC Group at Lenovo.
As a result, the company launched the Flex 2 Pro with a 300-degree hinge for using the notebook both as a clamshell and in a tablet form factor, following the earlier introduction of the equally flexible ThinkPad Yoga. Flexible products like the Yoga may be a small niche at the moment, but they're showing extremely strong year-over-year growth, Barrow said.
Lenovo is also one of the few offerings with the new Core M chip from Intel, which will appear in the ThinkPad Helix. Intel's thrust for the new processors has been to offer fanless, thin tablet designs, and the Helix falls into that category, executives said. Unfortunately, neither Microsoft nor Lenovo would discuss the next iteration of Windows, also known as "Threshold," which is expected to be launched next year.
"There's these new ways that people can use technology that they didn't have three and four years ago," added Steve Gilbert, director of the Think Product Launch. "[And there's] an entirely new generation of Millennials entering the workforce that are a lot more adaptive and willing to go after these new form factors and try and find interesting and better ways to do things."
And Microsoft hopes those ways include Windows.