Just Between You and Me, Windows 8.1 is Actually a Great Tablet OS

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Using multiple apps with Snap on Windows 8.1

While it may not be an opinion shared by everyone, Windows 8.1 tablets are far ahead of iPads and Android tablets. Windows 8.1 tablets rock. They offers multitasking, for example, so you can do more than one thing at a time on your tablet. Imagine that!

Snap Multitasking

Snap doesn’t get anywhere near enough credit. Desktop users see Snap as less powerful than desktop Windows, and consequently don’t like it. Especially in its debut in Windows 8, it was hard to take Snap seriously, since it only allowed you to use a tiny sidebar alongside a larger app. In Windows 8.1, you can use multiple full apps side-by-side.

Just swipe down from the top of the screen while using an app and position the current app where you want it. Then open another app and choose where you want to position it. Drag the divider to divide your screen space between the two apps. With a larger screen, you can even snap four apps side-by-side.

Snap is arguably the most important tablet feature in Windows 8.1. It means you can have a chat conversation with someone while watching a video. It means you can have a Web page open alongside a document or email you’re writing. Have you ever tried to chat with someone while watching a video or doing anything else on an iPad? You’d have to whip out your phone and use both devices to multitask.

Live Tiles

Live tiles get a bad rap on the desktop version of Windows, partly because so many default apps harass you with information. No, Microsoft, I don’t need to see sports news — I’m trying to use my desktop PC for actual work.

The core idea of live tiles is solid, though. On an iPad, while you have icons for each of your apps, these icons offer — at most — a badge over to see the number of new messages available.

Android offers more features. App icons can’t have badges on them, but you can install a variety of widgets and arrange them on your home screens to view live information from your installed apps. This is powerful, but few Android users bother using these widgets; it’s more work than dumping a few app icons on your home screen and widgets tend not to look visually cohesive.

Live tiles combine app shortcut icons, badges and widgets into one thing. Place a shortcut to your app on your home screen and you’ll get a fancy app launcher that functions as a widget. More Windows tablet users will use live tiles than Android users use widgets. More developers will implement live tiles, even if they wouldn’t have bothered with widgets on Android.

Live tiles on Windows 8.1's Start screen

Internet Explorer

Wait, I’m giving credit to Internet Explorer? Yes, believe it or not, the tablet version of Internet Explorer is a solid browser. It has some important features not found in other browsers.

For one thing, it offers Flash support. Yes, Steve Jobs was right, Flash is terrible and should go away — but it still hasn’t. Every now and then, you’ll encounter a website that requires Flash — maybe a restaurant site that still has their hours and menu in an obnoxious Flash element. With a Windows tablet, you can view that restaurant’s details on your tablet without having to grab your laptop. IE also allows you to long-press to open hover menus on websites that were never designed for touch.

Internet Explorer’s interface seems more optimized for touch. For example, the tab bar is hidden by default and shows visual previews of your open pages when you swipe to reveal it. You can go back and forward swiping from the left or right sides of your screen. Compare this to the tablet version of Chrome, where you have to switch tabs by tapping a desktop-style tab bar and go back and forth by tapping the toolbar buttons.

That Said, Windows Tablets Aren’t Perfect

Windows tablets still aren’t the ideal solution, it’s true. The iPad and Android tablets are way ahead of Windows 8.1 when it comes to apps. All those great tablet features don’t really matter if the apps you want aren’t available.

So no, this doesn’t mean you should race out and buy a Windows 8.1 tablet. That kind of tablet may not be the right fit for you — as someone who uses a lot of Google services, they’re not even an option for me right now. But don’t dismiss them out of hand. Microsoft is doing some really great things, and hopefully Apple and Google take them seriously enough to compete.

If tablets are the future of computing, I hope I’ll be able to use more than one app at a time.

Image credit: Microsoft, Chris Hoffman

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