Microsoft Surface Forces HP to Give Up on ARM-Type Tablet Plans

NEWS ANALYSIS: Because Surface will now be Microsoft's home-grown ARM-based tablet device of choice, HP, Dell and a score of other OEMs will be moving to Plan B: x86-based devices.

When Microsoft announced its Surface tablet PC on June 18, the repercussions of that event hit Hewlett-Packard and Dell where it hurt.

These two companies would dearly like a piece of that cash cow-like tablet market, and they wanted to compete in it with the more energy-efficient ARM-based operating system architecture inside their own tablets. But that's not going to happen any time soon.


Because Surface will now be Microsoft's home-grown ARM-based tablet device of choice to run all those all-too-familiar Windows business and consumer applications natively, HP, Dell and a score of other OEMs are moving to Plan B. Instead of being able to run the promising Windows RT operating system for ARM devices, they must fall back to the forthcoming Windows 8 for x86-based devices.

Plan B: Windows 8 on Intel Core i5

Nobody's panning x86-based mobile devices, mind you. These chips run hundreds of millions of units. In fact, HP, Dell and other manufacturers still will be able to run Windows 8 on the new--and very powerful--Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge processor, if they so choose. They are better-performing, yet use less battery power, than previous processors.

But x86 is the present, not the future, according to a growing number of industry analysts and several extraneous know-it-alls.

A little background, and some definitions, may be in order here. (If you already know all this, skip ahead a couple of paragraphs, and you'll save a few seconds--an eternity in Internet time.)

Windows RT, known during development as Windows on ARM, will be a version of the Windows 8 operating system strictly for ARM tablets and smartphones. It will only run software purchased through the Windows Store or natively included in the system, such as the standard usual suspects: Word, Excel, Exchange, SharePoint, PowerPoint and OneNote, among others. Microsoft will only be selling the operating system to device manufacturers directly, and not as a stand-alone product to consumers.

ARM is considered the tablet architecture of the future. It is a reduced instruction set computing (RISC) instruction set architecture (ISA) developed by ARM Holdings. It was named the Advanced RISC Machine and, before that, the Acorn RISC Machine. The ARM architecture is the most widely used 32-bit instruction set architecture in numbers produced.

Many of us need to be reminded about what is inside these wondrous tablet and smartphone devices. It's easy to take those little things for granted, yet we rely on them for so much service each day.

Evidence as to HP's Decision

Back to HP. As late as June 27, a company source had whispered to eWEEK that the company was planning to release an ARM-based, Windows RT-powered tablet this fall. But in the last few days, reports leaked out that HP was changing its mind.

Bloomberg News confirmed this with HP Personal Systems Group spokeswoman Marlene Somsak, who said that HP will indeed focus on x86-based Windows 8 tablets--but not necessarily because the Surface will soon arrive on the scene.

"The decision to go with x86 was influenced by input from our customers," Somsak told Bloomberg. "The robust and established ecosystem of x86 applications provides the best customer experience at this time and in the immediate future."

Fair enough. We have known Ms. Somsak as a colleague for many years and she is trusted. But what she's leaving out of the conversation is what this is all about.

HP and Microsoft have been joined at the hip for more than a generation; one device launch is not going to upset that relationship, that's for sure.

But the facts are these: HP planned a new-gen, ARM-based Windows tablet before the Surface became a real product, and now that Microsoft has its own, HP has changed its mind. Look for Dell and others to do the same.

The evidence is clear, don't you think?

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features and Analysis at eWEEK. Twitter: @editingwhiz

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...