For many businesses, the most anticipated tablet of the year isn't running iOS or Android, but Microsoft's Windows 8 RT software.
This is the tablet version of the full-blown desktop OS that shares much of the same code, and more importantly, many of the same applications, including Microsoft Office. It's as close to a battery-efficient PC in tablet form as you can get right now, but the exclusion of Outlook may deter many businesses from even considering it.
While at work or at home, I use Microsoft Office applications on a daily basis. From writing up Word documents, to Excel spreadsheets, and even the occasional Powerpoint presentation, the Office suite is used by virtually anyone who works on computers in a business environment. Microsoft clearly knows this product is a great differentiator in the tablet market and they've made a very smart move by bundling tablet-optimized versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote with the Windows 8 RT tablets that will be shipping this fall.
Too bad they didn't take the same consideration when thinking about Outlook, the one Office RT application that is critical to businesses and noticeably absent from Microsoft's suite. And since Outlook mail is so prevalent in the business world, it might very well be the deal breaker for many businesses.
If you look at the desktop version of Outlook, you can see that it would be a considerable challenge to transform it into a touch-friendly and optimized app that could be run on small-screen tablets with low-powered ARM processors. Instead of a full-blown experience, Microsoft is hoping that users will be satisfied using Outlook Web Access (OWA) or a stripped down mail app.
But it's my guess that many business professionals will be very disappointed that a touch version of the Outlook desktop application is not included, as there are many key mail, calendar, and meeting features that can only be done through Outlook. I know of several people who continue to carry a laptop with them everywhere they go simply because they need to have access to Outlook at all times. Sadly, a Windows 8 RT tablet won't fix this problem.
It should be noted that the other applications included in Office 2013 RT look fantastic and should be a real hit with many business professionals. Additionally, many vendors are developing Intel-based tablets that run the full version of Microsoft Windows 8 and therefore can run Outlook and any other Windows 7 or 8 app available. The caveat here is that this requires more powerful and expensive tablet hardware.
In the end, I can't help but feel that Microsoft missed out on a home run by excluding Outlook from being transformed in their low-end tablet OS. Instead, we're left with a few great applications we need, while leaving out one critical one. And if I still have to carry around both a tablet and a PC to complete all my business tasks, then what's the point?