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Commercial Windows 8.1 Tablets Showcased at NRF Show

After laying low at the Consumer Electronics Show last week, Microsoft pulled out all the stops at the National Retail Federation Show in New York, which kicked off Monday. While the NRF show is focused on retail, the large trade show also encompasses the entire goods supply chain.

Attendance at NRF topped 30,000 with over 500 exhibitors taking up the entire Jacob Javits Convention Center. Microsoft showcased how it is looking to transform business across a number of industries with hardened versions of Windows 8.1, big data analytics and its Dynamics platform. The company talked up planned enhancements for Dynamics for Retail including an unlikely boost from IBM, which will partner with Microsoft on large projects as well as with content management system supplier Sitecore.

I spent the good part of Monday at NRF, where Microsoft hosted a number of sessions to outline how various customers are using the rapidly growing number of Windows 8.1 tablets in retail-type of environments. Ashley Furniture, Avis, Delta Airlines and Kohls were there to talk up how they are using Windows 8.1 tablets and handhelds to enable clerks and sales associates to provide more information on the sales floor.

The operative word from Microsoft officials at NRF was "omni-channel," the emphasis on providing improved Windows-based point-of-sale devices, providing customers better information in the store and online and improving operational efficiency through integration and the use of analytics.

Microsoft's booth was so crowded that it reminded me of its CES and Comdex exhibits. In addition to a display of its Surface tablets, the "device bar" featured laptops, tablets and handheld Windows 8.1 devices from Dell, Hewlett Packard, Lenovo, Panasonic and numerous other players.

"Last year at NRF, in my backpack I had the entire portfolio of Intel Windows 8 devices to show off in the booth," said Paul Butcher, a retail strategist at Intel, speaking at a session on the use of tablets in retail. "This year there was absolutely no way I could have done that. I'm talking about the range of devices available to you as business-minded individuals who need to make a decision about what type of device you're going to deploy."

Tracy Issel, general manager of Microsoft's worldwide retail segment, apologized to a standing-room-only crowd of attendees that it took the company this long to get to this point. "Our customers have been very patient with us," she said. "It's taken us a little time to get where we are. We [can now] enjoy a very healthy share of point-of-sale systems and handheld terminals."

At the booth, Microsoft showcased what it called a "connected fitting room" (developed by Accenture and Avanade for  Kohls) that allows customers to select other merchandise from a touch display. It's designed so a sales associate with a Windows tablet is notified of the request to deliver the item to the customer so he or she doesn't have to leave the dressing room.

Also at the booth, partner FaceCake demonstrated an application that lets customers see how different products would look on them using a Kinect camera in a virtual dressing room. And RazorFish also demonstrated a pop-up store that would enable customers to design their own custom surfboards.

In many retail scenarios, customers are using Windows 8.1 Embedded, a "hardened" version of Windows 8.1, said Simon Francis, Microsoft's Windows Embedded U.K. enterprise lead, who walked me through the company's booth. The embedded version of Windows 8.1 has the same capabilities as the commercial implementation, though customers and partners can lock certain features out such as Internet Explorer or access to the Windows Control Panel. "A lot of these devices are going to be in front of the general public," said Francis. "So you need to lock it down."


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/15/2014 at 8:33 AM


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