Despite the histrionics on Aug. 5 by Acer chairman J.T. Wang regarding Microsoft’s plans to produce its Surface tablet to run Windows RT and Windows 8, other OEMs are moving ahead with plans to introduce their own models on the same day that Microsoft announces Windows 8 and releases the Surface tablet.
According to an MSDN blog entry by Microsoft’s Steven Sinofsky, and partially written by Microsoft’s Mike Angiulo, Lenovo, Dell, Samsung and Asus are gearing up to ship these devices.
Even Acer’s Wang has backpedaled and has decided that it’s OK if Microsoft makes a tablet, as long as it’s not too cheap. I’m sure this is a huge comfort to Steve Ballmer. In addition to naming some of the makers of the new Windows RT tablets, the Microsoft blog released some additional information about Windows 8 RT. For example, Windows 8 RT will share a common Windows binary for Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments ARM processors, which should make updates vastly easier than say, Android. It will also avoid the fragmentation problems that plague Android users.
Asus has already announced its Asus Tablet 600 with Windows RT. The Asus quad-core Tegra 3 device comes with 32GB of storage and a 10.1-inch display. About the only thing it’s missing to compete with the iPad is a Retina display. Lenovo, meanwhile, has announced its Tablet 2 with Windows 8. There’s apparently also a Windows RT tablet coming from Lenovo, according to ABC News. It flips open all the way to form a tablet called the Yoga.
While the Windows RT tablets are still early in their respective development, it appears that if Microsoft achieved one thing, it was to set a standard for engineering quality in its tablet line. Unlike the chaos that reigns in the Android world where tablets range in quality from exceptional to impossibly lousy, Microsoft wanted to take control of the Windows RT ecosystem from the beginning. It did that by producing the Surface, which seems to be an elegantly designed, well-built example of tablet hardware.
As a result, companies such as Acer, which have been known (by the CEO’s own admission) to build substandard hardware, don’t seem to have earned a place at the Windows RT table. Instead, the quality standard, plus the single binary, seem geared to ensure that the problems of Android don’t overtake the Windows RT world, while also ensuring that the customer experience will remain high when the new tablets come out.
It’s worth noting that Microsoft is collaborating with the hardware OEMs that are building the devices that will be competing with the Surface. While Microsoft will be selling the Surface actively, unlike Apple’s approach with the iPad and iPhone, it’s not keeping the device to itself. Instead, Microsoft is helping a number of other companies build comparable devices.
Plenty of Apps Will Be Ready to Run on Windows RT Units
The difference is that while Microsoft won’t own the market share for Windows RT devices, it has a very good chance of building market share much faster. Ultimately, when there are five or six companies all selling Windows RT tablets, each with slightly different features, different sizes, different weights and different physical implementations, Microsoft ensures that there are plenty of reasons for people to buy Windows RT devices and plenty of choices.
The picture for Windows 8 tablets is slightly different. Microsoft won’t be shipping its Surface for Windows 8 until early in 2013. Other manufacturers, however, plan to start shipping tablets running Windows 8 Professional Oct. 26, the day that Windows 8 ships. The ThinkPad Tablet 2 is one of those.
Lenovo is already saying that the Windows 8 version of the ThinkPad Tablet 2 will have a full version of Microsoft Office, for example, which is something that you can’t get with Windows RT. The Windows 8 tablet should also be able to run nearly anything that can run on any other Windows 8 machine, which means most Windows 7 apps. While the user interface for Windows 7 applications won’t be as touch-friendly as dedicated Windows 8 apps, they should still work fine.
Equally important, most of the Windows 8 apps from the Microsoft application store should run properly on Windows RT.
What’s perhaps most important is that Microsoft seems to be on schedule in working toward the release of Windows 8 and Windows RT. According to Sinofsky, Windows 8 and RT have been released to manufacturing. In addition, Microsoft has sent about 1,100 prototype units of Windows RT tablets to manufacturers to help with the collaborative process.
All of this, of course, leads to a big question. Will Microsoft actually be able to take on the iPad? That question is hard to answer for a couple of reasons. First, the Surface and other Windows 8 tablets are ultimately aimed at a different user base than the iPad. While there will be some competition between the iPad and Windows RT tablets, it’s not clear just how much. The Windows 8 tablets are clearly aimed at the enterprise, which has never been a great fit for the iPad, despite all those apps.
But unlike all those other tablets out there, the Surface and the other Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets bring a level of choice that Apple doesn’t offer. You want near-field communications? There’s a Windows tablet for that. You want a built-in USB or Secure Digital (SD) card port? You can get that, too. But perhaps more important, Apple has a focused, well-funded, committed competitor, and that’s good for both companies.