Unveiled at Microsoft's Build conference, Windows 8 looks to loosen Apple's grip on the mobile technology market, particularly with tablets. We take a look at the companies' two new operating systems and compare them across several strata, from visuals to ease-of-use, to find the positives and negatives of both designs.
Microsoft: The Windows 8 home screen is beautiful, with colorful boxes and rectangles displaying real-time news and information. Windows 8's large displays can show photos, text, or icons, and the system also provides visual previews of file contents, making it easier to sift through information.
Apple: The 4x4 icon display is back, but with customizable backgrounds and folders, and the look is really what the user makes of it.
Verdict: While Apple excels at striking a balance between beauty and simplicity, Windows gets the nod for its stylish presentation and easy-to-read displays.
Advantage: Windows 8
Microsoft: Microsoft has traditionally relied on Intel for its chips, but Windows 8 promises to run on new system-on-a-chip (SoC) processors made from ARM Holdings. These lightweight chips are optimized for tablets and mobile devices, and are much more energy efficient. Sorry, Intel.
Apple: Apple's next-generation mobile devices powered by iOS 5, including the iPhone 5, iPad 2, and iPod Touch, will similarly be run on a package on package SoC processor called the Apple A5, which reportedly has a CPU twice as powerful as the Apple A4 and a graphics processor up to nine times as powerful as its predecessor.
The Verdict: While the processors that run these two platforms are comparable in speed, ARM-based Windows 8 tablets won't be able to run apps built for Windows 7 x86 desktop computers, eliminating any chance for cross-platform compatibility.
Advantage: iOS 5
Microsoft: Last week's Build conference introduced a new term to the lexicon of technophiles everywhere: Metro-style. It describes Windows 8's live tile interface, borrowed from the design of Windows Phone 7, which displays information from news sites, social networks, and other services in real-time directly on the home screen. Users also have the ability to search through apps, settings, and files.
Apple: The app icon interface is back in the latest version of iOS, with the same ability to house your apps in folders and fully customize the screen appearance. In this version, notifications can be viewed and attended to directly from the home screen, and all notifications also briefly appear at the top of the screen as they come in as to minimize interruptions. Searching through the system is still as easy as ever.
Verdict: While Microsoft has definitely found a winning formula in its slick tile interface, the ability to keep applications organized in folders makes information easier to find and retrieve.
Advantage: iOS 5
Microsoft: Thanks to an HTML5 browsing engine, Windows 8 tablets will enjoy the fastest experience on Internet Explorer to-date. To keep things looking pretty and consistent, Microsoft is developing a new Metro-style version of Internet Explorer that will likely further leverage the use of Microsoft's popular search engine, Bing.
Apple: Safari gets an upgrade on iOS 5 with a new way to browse pages and save articles. One minor-but-enormous change is tabbed browsing functionality, which lets Google Chrome users feel at home, and iOS 5 also introduces the Safari Reader, which removes clutter, ads, and other distractions, and Reading List, which leverages the new iCloud functionality to allow users to save interesting articles for later reading.
Verdict: It's tough to judge something that hasn't been built yet, so the jury is still out on Internet Explorer's tablet-optimized look and feel. Safari's upgrade, on the other hand, makes it look like a Google Chrome clone, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Advantage: iOS 5
Microsoft: In Windows 8, Microsoft addresses an issue that has plagued iOS for many years: the keyboard. The new operating system offers a myriad of typing solutions, including a full-sized touch keyboard that can be split in half, making it possible for users to type with their thumbs. The company also says Windows 8 devices will be compatible with a number of hardware configurations, including mouse and keyboard attachments.
Apple: iPad owners will be pleased to know iOS 5 also delivers a split keyboard functionality for more comfortable typing, and iPad keyboard docks made from third-party manufacturers are also available, too.
Verdict: Both companies have made significant improvements to mobile typing, but the ability to plug in a keyboard and mouse should make an easy transition for PC users.
Advantage: Windows 8
Overall Verdict: If anyone's going to compete for the iPad, it'll be Microsoft. While we were unable to get our hands on a Samsung tablet for developers running Windows 8 (throw us a bone, Steven Sinofsky?), the new system looks beautiful and extremely easy-to-use, and looks to be a perfect stepping stone for users looking to leave behind their desktop PCs. Windows 8 is capable of being an exciting player in the space, but it has yet to prove itself. Apple, on the other hand, clearly knows what it's doing. Analysts expect Apple will sell another 18.5 million iPhone 4s and 12 million iPad 2s in the September quarter.