Some other strange hardware points from the base unit: It’s good that there’s a 2.0 port for any older wired keyboards you might want, but it feels weird that the wireless keyboard and mouse Asus shipped with this device needs you to shove a goofy little dongle in that port to work. The keyboard itself was perfect adequate, it was long and had all the keys you might want (I’ve seen some truly tortured wireless keyboard layouts before). The mouse was maybe a little small and light, but functionally just fine.
About that optical drive: Did you know Windows 8 does not support DVD playback out of the box? It’s apparently not cool in this always-on streaming Internet world. Seeing as Asus included a DVD port they decided to installed some of their own crapware for a playback solution, which upon loading immediately suggests you spend another $60 to upgrade to a better version. And trust me, if you want to watch DVDs on this device you’ll need something better than what they included. But you know what, Asus? Don’t ship hardware that you can’t be bothered to provide quality software to support, that feels like the kind of sleazy 1990s business tactic that PC users have learned to loathe.
These niggling issues are far from the only time the AiO is let down by Microsoft’s operating system. Remember, Windows 8 has a tablet platform, RT, so why didn’t the AiO just ship with that instead of Android? Meagre sales of the Microsoft’s own Surface certainly suggests one reason why there’s no RT on the AiO. It’s my view that RT isn’t actually tablet software, just badly made touchscreen laptop software. It’s also possible Asus learned the same hard lesson from its previous experience with its other two detachable-monitor hardware ideas, the VivoTab (which came with full Windows 8), and the VivoTab RT (which has the cramped, awful RT version of Windows).
No, I would argue the reason this is a hybrid two-operating system device is simple, if painful: Windows 8 is a slow-moving disaster. Desktop PC sales have been down for several quarters, and look to be going down again in 2013 according to recent numbers from IDC. Windows 8 was supposed to be the tablet-like OS that would save OEM partners like Asus, but many analysts blame Microsoft’s flawed software for the market’s inability to right the ship. The touchscreen live tiles are still an interesting idea, but the system interface is still confusing and the way users are frequently shunted to the Windows 7 shell that lives inside the OS, in order to perform basic computing and system tasks, is well-documented awkwardness. This is simply not the game-changing OS Microsoft was hoping for when they went all-in on touch as the future of computing.
Whatever Asus’s reasons, it makes sense to get Google’s library of apps on any tablet you might want to build – both the one’s Mountain View makes themselves and the hundreds of thousands third-party stuff in the Play store. Microsoft’s app store has not grown quite as robustly after all. But when it comes to other things we consume on digital devices – cloud services, music, books, movies and games – those are areas where Microsoft and Google have competing products. Users of the AiO are likely to have to choose between booting into Android or Windows to enjoy that content. Is it better to rent this movie from Play, or from Xbox? Should I use Microsoft’s streaming music, or one of the options on Android? I hate to prejudge user behaviour, but Microsoft may not like the results of a head-to-head competition with Android on the same hardware platform.