Microsoft’s been pushing tablet computers for the best part of a decade, so you can imagine how happy the iPad‘s success makes them.
But Microsoft doesn’t give up easily, and Windows 8 tablets will be one of the big tech stories in 2012. So what’s Steve Ballmer going to be shouting about when he shows them off?
Windows 8 tablets will have the new Metro interface
As we saw from the Windows 8 preview, Windows 8 tablets will have a marvellous new interface that looks rather like Windows Phone 7, called Metro.
“Fast, fluid and dynamic, the experience has been transformed while keeping the power, flexibility and connectivity of Windows intact,” says Microsoft’s head of Windows Experience Julie Larson-Green.
“Although the new user interface is designed and optimised for touch, it works equally well with a mouse and keyboard. Our approach means no compromises – you get to use whatever kind of device you prefer, with peripherals you choose, to run the apps you love. This is sure to inspire a new generation of hardware and software development, improving the experience for PC users around the world.”
But the process hasn’t been without difficulty for Microsoft. It has had to defend the decisions it made with the Start Menu in Windows 8.
In late October 2011, Microsoft was also forced to talk about how Windows 8 tablets would deal with portrait orientations – all the demonstrations thus far have been of Windows 8 tablets in landscape.
And in November 2011, rumours surfaced that ARM versions of Windows 8 tablets wouldn’t have the traditional desktop as well as the new Metro interface – only allowing Metro apps.
Windows 8 tablets’ release date
In December 2010, the New York Times wrote that Microsoft would unveil tablets running Windows 8 at CES 2011 in January, which proved to be incorrect.
The NYT credited an unnamed source for the leak, which suggests that Microsoft’s keynote will be enlivened by the arrival of the next generation of Windows, as well as Samsung and Dell tablets. As it turned out, no Windows 8 tablets were shown at the show.
However, the Windows 8 release date may be sooner than you think. A Windows 8 beta surfaced at Build, a developer conference being held by Microsoft in September, so we may be looking at a mid-2012 release.
Windows 8 tablets manufacturers
After it confirmed that it was to keep making PCs in late October 2011, HP also said it would be making Windows 8 tablets.
It has also been widely reported that Dell is pinning its hopes on Windows 8 and that it will be launching tablet products featuring the OS.
On 9 May 2011, we reported on a rumour of a forthcoming Nokia Windows 8 tablet. The info comes from phone commentator Eldar Murtazin, who wrote on the Mobile Review forum that Nokia will launch a tablet in 2012, possibly pushed back to 2013. Nokia said at October 2011′s Nokia World that Windows 8 represents a “broader opportunity” for the company, (reported by TechCrunch).
Nokia CEO Stephen Elop later said that the company was looking at the tablet market and is considering just how to take on the might of the iPad.
“There’s a new tablet opportunity coming… Unquestionably, that will change the dynamics [of the tablet market].”
It would appear the Nokia Windows 8 tablet could be slated for June 2012.
A leaked slide from Netbooknews.de indicates that Asus will begin selling Windows 8 tablets in Q3 2012.
Windows 8 tablets will have a lot of support
During an earnings call in mid-August, Nvidia’s Jen-Hsun Huang also said: “I’m very bullish about Windows 8,” adding: “I think it’s going to be an amazing operating system. Windows 8 tablets and Windows 8 clam shells that Tegra is going into, I hope will translate into real growth for our company in the second half of next year.”
“We’re not leading the charge on Windows 8, but as we become comfortable that [Windows 8] is a viable ecosystem [and] that the quality of innovation and quality of services and quality of capabilities [are] being delivered there, we will certainly be open to that,” he said in response to a question.
Motorola has also said it is “completely open to Windows as a platform” according to Cnet.
Australian site Smarthouse.au claims some vendors will even move away from Android tablets in favour of Windows 8.
Windows 8 tablets will be thin and light
While Dell makes some unusually shaped tablets already, the Samsung tablet is “similar in size and shape to the Apple iPad, although it is not as thin.” Unlike the iPad, “it also includes a unique and slick keyboard that slides out from below for easy typing.”
Some Windows 8 tablets will be designed for business
“The company believes there is a huge market for business people who want to enjoy a slate for reading newspapers and magazines and then work on Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint while doing work,” the NYT says, quoting the inevitable “person familiar with the company’s tablet plans”.
Windows 8 tablets will have apps and an app store
Apps are a big part of Windows 8, with Microsoft convinced that “app development will move to the web” and building a Windows Store with manufacturer-specific entrances. Again, we saw a lot more detail on this from the Windows 8 preview.
There have also been some leaked Windows 8 tablet apps.
Windows 8 tablet specifications aren’t strange or startling
We’d expect Windows 8 tablets to have similar specifications to other iPad rivals such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab or BlackBerry Playbook, essentially netbooks in a different form factor: a gigahertz processor, a gigabyte of RAM, 802.11b/g/n wireless and multitouch capacitive displays. Expect lots of connectivity too, with USB ports a key selling point.
Windows 8 tablets will run on ARM, Intel and AMD chips
On 18 May 2011, Intel confirmed that there will be separate editions of Windows 8 that run on ARM processors as well as standard x86 processors from Intel and AMD – all companies involved are serious about tablets, though ARM has stolen a lead; all major tablets on the market are ARM-based.
The x86 versions of Windows 8 will feature a Windows 7 compatibility mode, while ARM versions won’t.
But, as we’ve written, the different processor variants may pose a problem for Microsoft.
Windows 8 tablet prices should be similar to Android ones
Windows 8 tablets will be up against iPads, Android tablets and Chrome OS netbooks, so if they’re not priced very aggressively they’re going to be a tough sell.