Meet Windows RT

Microsoft’s first serious foray into tablets came just after the turn of the new millenium, with Bill Gates demonstrating the first tablet PC prototype onstage at Comdex in the autumn of 2000. From there, OEMs started releasing tablets based on Windows XP Tablet PC Edition in 2002, with a full range of pen-enabled slates and convertibles releasing over the next few years. In addition to oftentimes prohibitive cost, each had its own set of drawbacks. Convertibles tended to be quite bulky compared to their notebook counterparts (the ThinkPad X-series being a notable exception), while slates were rather difficult to use - a symptom of shoehorning a desktop operating system into a purely touch-centric form factor. 

Fast forward a decade, to the beginning of 2010. After a number of conceptual non-starters in the tablet PC space - building tablet PC support into all editions of Windows Vista and 7 (other than Basic/Home Starter), the entire Origami class of devices - Microsoft’s touchscreen devices were floundering. The iPad had been announced to mixed reaction but an extremely high level of anticipation. Microsoft and HP countered with the Slate 500, an Atom-based device shown off at CES 2010 with solid state storage and Windows 7 in roughly the same form factor as Apple’s iPhone OS-based ARM tablet. With speculation pointing to a pricetag of just $549, the Slate appeared to be the most viable hope Microsoft had in trying to make mainstream headway with the tablet PC concept. But shortly after the iPad shipped in April 2010, rumors of the Slate’s demise started to circulate, and after a six month delay, the Slate 500 started shipping as an enterprise-only product in December of that year for $799. HP’s acquisition of Palm (RIP) definitely played a role in the sidelining of the Slate, but more importantly, it essentially spelled the end for the tablet PC. This was news that was perhaps known already, but the Slate saga officially pulled the plug on Microsoft’s original idea of what a tablet was. 

The problem was two parts software, one part hardware. Microsoft had developed a very interesting touch-oriented user interface for its handhelds, so at least one part of the equation was relatively straightforward. The hardware issue came down to this: the iOS and Android tablets succeeding in the market ran off ARM system-on-chips, which resulted in slim, power-efficient tablets that had idle times stretching for days. At the time, there was just nothing in terms of x86 hardware that could compete with that in low-power device realm (Clover Trail and Haswell, of course, change this part of the story considerably). The other question? How to converge the touch-centric UI with the classic desktop environment that had been the corner of Windows dating all the way back to 95. 

Meet Windows RT. It’s Microsoft’s first major foray into the modern tablet market, the shipping version of Windows-on-ARM, and it’s one of Microsoft’s most important product launches ever. Windows 8 shares the same touch-friendly user interface, but the ARM silicon makes RT an almost entirely tablet-centric operating system, the first for Microsoft. Combined with the focus on premium hardware experiences, this is Redmond’s most serious push to be competitive with the iOS and Androids of the world. How does it fare? Keep reading.

User Interface, Gestures, and Multitasking
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  • taltamir - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    Good observation.

    Being impartial I have to say I am applying the argument fairly to both sides.
    I held that Windows v Mac has windows as the clear winner due to sheer amount of software.

    And the iOS is clearly superior to Window (singular) Metro for the same reason.
  • PeteH - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    No one's going to install 10s of thousands of apps, but if you want an app with a specific feature that doesn't have wide appeal you might not find it unless the ecosystem you're using has 10s of thousands of apps to choose from.
  • StormyParis - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    You're confusing depth and breadth. 10,000 fart apps does not mean there *has* to be 1 medical clinic management app, 100,000 10 .. etc etc. I would assume the vertical market devs that most probably already have Windows apps, maybe even XP for Tablet apps, will be rather quick to port them not only to Win8, but to Metro. It will certainly not take a month though, probably more like a year or two, and MS need to prove quickly they can sell their stuff.
  • PeteH - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    No, I'm saying that the fewer apps a platform has, the less likely it is that the platform will have an app with a smaller target audience. It's the classic long tail argument, when there are only a small number of apps they will focus on the fatter head.

    Also, I'm not speaking of any platform specifically, just as a general rule.
  • Stuka87 - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    If you are making reference to the iOS App store, to say most of them are "fart and flashlight" apps is incredibly naive. Sure there are apps that are very basic and/or useless/pointless. But to say they are the majority is laughable.

    And does any one person install them all? Of course not. But not everybody has the same wants or needs. So it takes a large pool of apps to make everybody happy.

    It will be quite some time before the MS store gets enough apps to have the same coverage. I too think a month is being overly ambitious.
  • StormyParis - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    There was that bit last moth about 75% of apps not having been downloaded even once ?
  • PeteH - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    I hadn't seen that story, so I looked it up. It was an estimate by an outside agency (not official numbers), and was 60%, but that's still eye opening.

    Although thinking about it, is it really surprising? The more apps available the more crappy apps (or crapps, if you will) available. I would assume such a relationship is common across platforms, at least once some threshold is reached.

    What would be really interesting would be a breakdown of those apps. How many were free vs. paid? Of the paid apps, what is the distribution across price?
  • extra_medium - Saturday, October 27, 2012 - link

    Laughable? Are you serious? Of course the majority of apps are pointless / crap. Do you really think over 350k of the 700k plus apps available to iOS users are high quality?

    Also not surprised at the 60% - 75% of apps never being used estimates. With the sheer volume available I'm actually surprised that number isn't higher. The average user isn't going to dig to find undiscovered gems. They are going to look at top sellers, listen to Leo laporte, and see what their friends use.

    I do agree with the argument though that a huge marketplace is advantageous. Even if the vast majority is pointless, there are more of those gems out there.
  • Dekker - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I think that the pricing of the apps is going to be crucial. If the Windows RT apps are all $10-20 (like the Mac AppStore) then that kills impulse buying and they are not going to be nearly as popular as the IOS apps (typically $1-3). Windows RT will then suffer as a consequence.
    As mentioned by others this is a platform war and starting a virtuous circle in software development is very tough at this stage of the Tablet market. That is particularly so if developers are targeting the corporate market, which is only a fraction of the consumer market for Tablets.
  • a5cent - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    A good piece of software is certainly worth $10 - $20! People go to the cinema for that price too, right?

    A software title that is targeted at impulse buyers, isn't likely to be even worth $1. We don't need 100's of thousands of apps, we need a couple thousand really really good ones and if they cost a bit more that is absolutely fine by me. I'll take quality over quantity anytime.

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