The $199 Surface and Windows 8 RT OEMs

Microsoft’s entry into computer hardware has changed the game. The move has seen reactions across the spectrum, from excitement to about time to are they insane. The decision is very interesting for the simple reason that Microsoft will be competing with the strength of the Windows ecosystem—the OEM partners.

While Microsoft has been rather quite about the Surface and Windows 8 RT, the company’s VP for Ecosystem and Planning team penned down an article detailing the progress made by Microsoft and its hardware partners. Most of the article is information we already know rolled into one, however, the highlights are:

  • Dell, Lenovo, Samsung & Asus will be introducing Windows 8 RT tablets
  • Windows 8 RT battery life:
    • HD Video Playback—8 hours to 13 hours
    • Connected Standby—320 hours to 409 hours
    • Weight—520g to 1200g (iPad is 662g)

Toshiba’s omission from the list of WIndows RT OEM partners caught the attention of several Microsoft reporters and as it turns out, the company blames delays in obtaining parts.

Adding to the Windows 8 RT news, Engadget cited an anonymous source and claimed Microsoft’s Surface tablet’s starting price will be as low as $199. The rumor got several thinking about how this could be possible. One theory doing rounds is Microsoft will offer the Surface at a subsidy with subscriptions to Xbox Music, Office 365 as a way to lock the user into Microsoft’s ecosystem and make up for the drastically low Surface price.

The Surface will be available only through the Microsoft Store and the company already has this subscription-based low-cost model implemented for the Xbox 360—another Microsoft Store exclusive.

Given the Nexus 7’s $199 price-tag and Apple’s inevitable iPad Mini or iPad Air, offering Surface at this insane price of $199 might help Microsoft move these tablets into the market while the OEM partners do their best.

Microsoft Releases Windows RT To Manufacturing

We know that Windows 8 has been released to manufacturing, but what about its ARM tablet counterpart? The Next Web has learned through its sources that Windows RT has also been released to manufacturing on Wednesday, so companies who are working on ARM-based Windows tablets have the final bits of the operating system.

Now of course, don’t expect to be able to walk into a store and pick up a boxed copy of Windows RT; this flavor of the OS will be available only to partners/manufacturers.

This is good news; apparently, there were some murmurs of a possible Windows RT RTM delay, which would be disastrous as Microsoft would miss the holiday season sales cycle. However, everything has gone according to plan, and we can expect devices — PCs and tablets alike — to begin going on sale come October 26th, which is when Windows 8 will be generally available.

Yes, this means that the much-anticipated Surface should be coming out around this time as well.

No, Microsoft’s Entry-Level Surface Will Not Cost $1000

Microsoft’s announcement last month that they’re making their own tablet hardware — and directly competing with the very OEMs and partners that they license their software to — was huge in revealing a radical step forward for the company.

However, while it certainly is an important milestone and turning point for Microsoft, the event lacked plenty of important details pertaining to the product itself. We’re still in the dark about exact pricing and availability information, among other things, leaving many intrigued and mystified about key factors that could make or break the device.

Yesterday, WPCentral spotted that Swedish online store Webhallen listed the Microsoft Surface on their website, which sported some ludicrous pricing; the entry-level ARM-based 32GB Surface is priced at 6990 NOK, or roughly $1150 USD. What fascinates me is that there are posts aggregating this “story” that don’t immediately ridicule, but rather entertain the idea, as though it’s even plausible. On top of the outlandish pricing, we already know that the Surface will only be officially available through Microsoft Stores (and their online outlet.)

I also reached out to Webhallen, and they issued a comment stating that existing prices on the site are not based on any word from Microsoft whatsoever:

Our customers are very interested in pre-ordering these products, so we have set a high preliminary pricing for the lineup so that they may be able to pre-order them.

Just to clarify, we have not recieved any pricing from Microsoft regarding MRSP or purchasing net cost, and any people who have booked the Surface at this high price will of course have their order adjusted before any product is shipped. So we’re not going to overcharge anyone for being an early adopter.

I understand that Microsoft does some pretty unusual things, but they’re not batshit crazy.

So in conclusion, here’s a recap of yesterday’s highly credible blog posts: Microsoft, the company that needs every advantage it can get to even gain a smidgen of ground in the tablet market will charge a few hundred dollars more than a 32GB WiFi+3G iPad for its entry-level model, and upwards of $2000 for an Intel-based Surface Pro which is essentially an Ultrabook/Macbook Air competitor. Riiighhttt.

[Post updated with comment from Webhallen.]

Samsung Working on a Windows RT Tablet

Samsung may be working on a Windows 8 RT tablet, which will be unveiled following the launch of Windows 8 later this year. Samsung is already the largest Android tablet maker, and has hedged its bets with several platforms in the smartphone space.

It seems to be looking to do the same in tablets; hence the investment in a Windows RT tablet.

Windows RT tablets are expected to compete with the Apple iPad and other Android tablets and would be much cheaper than devices running Windows Pro. They would be powered by ARM processors, and would be much more power efficient than standard x86 tablets. Samsung’s Windows RT tablet will feature Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors.

Microsoft recently unveiled the Surface, with two variants running Windows RT and Windows Pro. By raising the benchmark for its tablets, Microsoft may have made a wise move that would force its hardware partners to compete with each other to create better tablets that could possibly challenge the mighty Apple iPad.

The tablet space is heating up with Google launching the Nexus 7 Android tablet recently and Apple reportedly working on a cheaper iPad Mini.

If I had to bet on any single manufacturer to take on the iPad, it would be Samsung. Stay tuned; we’ll keep you updated with Samsung’s every move.

via Bloomberg

What I Wish Today’s Microsoft Announcement Will Be

Windows Logo

On Thursday June 14, late in the afternoon, Microsoft sent out invites to media for a special event in Los Angeles, CA which promised to be a major announcement not to be missed. Since it was so cryptic, it created a flurry of rumors, leaks and conjecture. Several pundits have written about what it could be, connected the dots and come to a conclusion and in fact this morning, one of those guesses was even shot down.

Instead of trying to think of what it could be, I am going to write about what I hope it will be. Based on the fact that this event is in Los Angeles, I am hoping it has everything to do with entertainment tie-ups. At E3 earlier this month, Microsoft took the wraps off their new entertainment brand (Xbox-everything) and showed some bits of their new (improved?) Xbox Companion app, Smart Glass. Also, Microsoft gave a glimpse of Xbox Music, their successor to the Zune Music service. However, neither Smart Glass nor Xbox Music were looked at in detail. What we do know is they said that the Xbox Music service will have a catalog of 30 million tracks (compared to Zune Music today, which is around 20 million).

So, here’s my list of what I hope may come today:

  • Details of Xbox Music service: Additional deals to get the catalog from today’s 20 million tracks to the promised 30 million. Also, most importantly, access for the service from other platforms besides Windows (8, RT and Phone) – so, iOS apps and Android apps.
  • Unveiling of Xbox Video service: While it was made clear that Xbox is the center of Microsoft’s entertainment strategy, not much was discussed about Xbox Video. I hope that Microsoft is able to cut some deals with Hollywood to get exclusive content built into Xbox Video. Hollywood has got to be scared of Apple (and Netflix), so a good tie up with Microsoft would of course make sense for them.
  • Merge Zune Music Pass and Xbox LIVE Gold: The most ridiculous thing about Xbox as an entertainment device is that to access almost any entertainment service on the Xbox, you need an Xbox LIVE Gold account, listed at $60/year. Although there are a lot of promotions for the Gold account (Amazon routinely sells these for $45 or so), it is still an unnecessary cost for normal (read: non-gaming) customers to access services they already pay for. On the other hand, Zune Music Pass is an awesome subscription service which can be accessed over the Xbox in addition to the PC and Windows Phone. It is time for Microsoft to merge the two and call it the Xbox Pass which enables access to the video services on the Xbox platform, as well as unlimited music.
  • Xbox Lite: The Xbox today is still seen as a gaming device which can also do entertainment, never mind the stats which show that Xbox users now consume more content on the device than play games. Also, a lot of households have multiple TV sets and getting a $200 Xbox for each TV may not be worth it just for say, Netflix and Hulu. What if Microsoft made a Xbox Lite which like Apple TV would have close to no storage and would not be used for gaming. This would work great for the non-gaming customers who want to consume the unlimited music catalog and also get access to the tons of video services now available on the Xbox. If it is priced at $79, it would be a super hit, I’d imagine.
  • Announce global availability of all of the above: Most of the Zune/Xbox LIVE services are poorly represented around the world. It would be fantastic if Microsoft is able to get availability parity across the globe.

Note, I am staying away from tablets, phones and cellular stuff. I do hope that it is not about a Microsoft tablet or a Nokia phone. On the cellular front though, some random rumor about a Verizon event have some tie in to this Microsoft announcement intrigues me – Verizon is a huge hold out when it comes to Windows Phones and any partnership they have with Microsoft, I see it as a positive step.

What do you think? Too much to hope for?

Asus Unveils ARM, Intel Windows 8 Tablets

With Windows 8 nearing its final stages of development and Computex right around the corner, it’s no surprise that companies are beginning to out their plans for Windows 8 tablets. Asus is the first company to do so, revealing two such devices: The Tablet 600 — a Windows RT ARM device — and the Tablet 810, which is an Intel-based x86 tablet.

Let’s talk specs: The Tablet 600 packs an NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core processor, a 12-core GPU, 2GB of RAM, and a 32GB eMMC storage solution for local storage. Disappointingly, the 10.1″ display offered by the tablet has a mere resolution of 1366 x 768, though it does have a vivid Super IPS+ display. The Tablet 810 on the other hand offers a next-gen Intel Atom processor, 2GB of RAM, twice the storage (64GB of eMMC storage), and an 11.6″ display with the equally pathetic resolution of 1366 x 768. It has 10-point multitouch support though, along with Wacom digitizer stylus support.

The laptops do have one prominent thing in common, though. Both come with a mobile dock with a QWERTY keyboard, trackpad, additional USB ports, and a secondary battery for extended juice on the go that allows you to “transform” the tablet into a clamshell ultraportable device. The two tablets also come with NFC sensors and Asus SonicMaster technology for quality audio on the go.

Intel CEO Knocks Windows RT’s Legacy Limitations

While the general sentiment amongst most sane people is that the legacy desktop doesn’t belong in Windows RT, there is one man who unsurprisingly holds a different view. Intel CEO Paul Otellini thinks that the limitation of the legacy desktop — where non-sanctioned third-party apps are not allowed to run — is actually a vulnerability of the ARM platform:

“With one button you can get to legacy mode…this is critically important for CIOs who want to preserve all of their investments in software,” he said, referring to “tens of millions” of programs built around Intel’s x86 design.

“We have the advantage of the incumbency, advantage of the legacy support. Not just in terms of applications but devices.”

As you can see, he feels that the support of legacy applications that Intel-based x86 tablets can offer users far outweigh the limitations of ARM. I largely disagree. Obviously, tablet users don’t want the Classic Windows UI or applications; they want something that’s far more suited for touch. However, a part of me does think that Intel has a sales advantage.

Microsoft’s choice to retain the classic legacy desktop in ARM to begin with was a completely idiotic decision, and I’m going to only focus on one reason — reason #5219874, to be exact — as to why that is. Average consumers will be so confused when they find that they can’t download normal software on their ARM tablet. It looks just like their desktop OS, but why doesn’t it work? So, perhaps this problem could be avoided through educated and informative salespeople, right? Well, if they tell consumers that something “doesn’t work”, while it will on another tablet, it may sway some people towards purchasing an x86 tablet, even if it’s more expensive.

They’ll justify the cost just because they want everything to work. And the people who buy an ARM tablet uninformed will be rather pissed at Microsoft when they cannot download MSN games like Belle’s Beauty Boutique to their device.

Mozilla Hates Microsoft’s Classic Desktop Limitations on Windows RT

Once again, Microsoft has found itself in the crosshairs of rival web browser companies who are accusing the company of unfair, anti-competitive practices. And somehow, the latest accusation — coming from Mozilla — is even more sensationalist and ridiculous than those of the past. In a blog post from Harvey Anderson of the Mozilla General Council that, in a nutshell is six paragraphs of senseless bitching, Mozilla accuses Microsoft of not allowing third-party browsers to fairly compete with IE as developers cannot build apps in the “privileged” Windows Classic desktop.

While the post did a horrible job at explaining why, Asa Dotzler penned a post with a more technical explanation:

That means that IE on ARM has access to win32 APIs — even when it’s running in Metro mode, but no other Metro browser has that same access. Without that access, no other browser has a prayer of being competitive with IE.

Essentially, Mozilla feels that it cannot build a proper browser without access to the legacy win32 APIs.

Also, I want to point out something that I haven’t seen any tech blog point out as of yet. This isn’t a targeted attack against browsers. Microsoft executives didn’t gather with their monocles and three-piece suits and decide that it was time to ruin competing browsers by eradicating their access to essential APIs. Nope. Instead, for quality control reasons, no third-party developers will be able to create applications that run on the Windows RT legacy desktop. Apart from the apps bundled with Windows — including IE — features of Windows like Windows Explorer for filesystem access, or the “classic” control panel, and an ARM-optimized version of Office, no other applications are allowed.

So no, anti-establishment, Microsoft-hating weenies. Put away your signs and pitchforks, and cancel that #OccupyRedmond protest you were inevitably planning to destroy the evil corporation. For whatever reason, Microsoft wants to offer a crippled legacy desktop for ARM tablet users that shouldn’t even be there. Nobody cares about filesystem access on their tablet. But, they do acknowledge its uselessness, and, for quality reasons, they’re simply not allowing other developers to make stuff on ARM, or access APIs to power Metro apps.

But Microsoft isn’t forbidding third-party browsers. Mozilla are free to go ahead and develop something awesome through WinRT. That is what they would have done if there was no legacy code in Windows 8.

But, I do wonder how Microsoft will handle this situation. Will they begin to allow select partners to have additional access — under their supervision, of course — to win32 APIs, or even worse, the ability to develop full-blown legacy applications on ARM? That would be awful. There’s no need for the legacy desktop, and, like most users likely will, developers need to ignore it.

Image Source: eBaumsworld

Nokia Chairman: Tablets And Hybirds Are Being Looked Into

Whenever asked whether or not there are plans to develop a Windows RT tablet, Nokia has generally beat around the bush and strayed from issuing any definitive answers. However, Jorma Ollila, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Nokia — who will be departing the company after a 27-year run this week — has told the Financial Times on Wednesday that the company does plan to launch both tablet and “hybrid” (smartphone + tablet) devices in the future.

He said this in particular referring to tablets:

“Tablets are an important one, so that is being looked into, and there will be different hybrids, different form factors [handset designs] in the future.”

Nothing was said about specific device plans, or whether or not these devices will run Microsoft software at all. But, I think that it’s pretty much a given at this point that if Nokia indeed develops a tablet, it will be an ARM-based Windows RT device. It will be quite the challenge if they do go this route to get their foot in the door of an iPad and Android-dominated market. This will be yet another market where the company is an underdog that will have to go above and beyond to succeed.

Another interesting thing here though is Ollila’s mention of “hybrids” and other form factors. Is Nokia considering entering the market defined by the Galaxy Note, which is a very bizarre market segment to say the least? Perhaps Nokia may feel that, instead of trying to overtake a market that has largely been created and dominated by the iPad, they want to be the pioneers who “do things right” in the hybrid space. Still, I am a bit biased as I’m not a fan of the Note, or that breed of device.

I am, however, extremely excited at the prospect of a Windows 8 tablet from the company.

Windows 8 Release Preview Set For Early June

At Japan’s Windows 8 Dev Days, Windows boss Steven Sinofsky dropped the news that the next preview release of Windows 8 — dubbed the Release Preview — will touch down a little more than a month from now in the first month of June.

We currently know little about what the RP will bring to the table, but having spent a few additional months in the oven compared to the Consumer Preview, which was released in February, here’s hoping that various stability and UI bugs have been ironed out in this release. One thing we do know however is that Microsoft will be adding 33 more countries to the Windows Store, hopefully diminishing the amount of people exiled to the “Rest of World” part of the Windows Store.

This news suggests that Windows 8 development is well on-track for an RTM by October, as rumors have suggested. Which is a great thing, as Windows RT tablets will then be able to get their foot right in the door of the holiday market.

Just last week, Microsoft revealed that it had simplified the SKUs of Windows 8 to just two which regular consumers can purchase, and three if you count the WOA SKU, Windows RT. The other two SKUs are for developing markets and the enterprise space.