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of curiosity, speculation and spec leaks, the first honest-to-goodness Windows 8 devices have finally been announced. At the
Computex trade show in Taipei Monday, Acer and Asus introduced a large suite of Windows 8 tablets, all-in-one PCs, and hybrid
The announcements follow last week’s Microsoft release of the final beta version of the Windows 8 operating
system, aptly named Windows
8 Release Preview. The
complete, shipping version of Windows 8 should be available around October.
As for the Windows 8 hardware announced at Computex,
some pieces will launch this fall, others will arrive in 2013. Details are still scant, but we should learn more about specs
and features closer to each device’s launch.
Apparently you need two displays on a single device to achieve
tablet and notebook zen. The Taichi line of convertible notebooks, available in 11.6-inch and 13.3-inch models (one’s
pictured above), remain as light as Asus Zenbooks, but sport a double display: One faces the QWERTY keyboard for notebook
use, and one sits on the top of the lid for when you just want a tablet experience.
Each FHD/Super IPS+ display is 1920×1080 pixels
in resolution, and there’s also a camera paired with each screen as well. Inside, you’ve got Intel Ivy Bridge
Core i7 processors, 4GB of RAM, and SSD storage.
One of the benefits of merging a tablet and notebook is that you don’t lose out on
peripheral connectivity. The Taichi has ports for mini VGA, micro DVI, and USB 3.0, as well as staples like a headphone jack
and power port.
Asus Tablet 600 and 810
The Asus Tablet 600. Image: Asus
The Asus Tablet
600 is a 10.1-inch hybrid laptop-notebook running Windows RT (the Windows 8 version for devices running ARM processors). It’s
got a 1366×768 resolution display, and inside you’ll find an Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM.
It also has a rear-facing 8-megapixel camera with an LED flash, 32GB of storage, and NFC support. The 600 should land in early
810 is the 11.6-inch version of the 600, but comes with an Intel Medfield processor for full-fledged Windows goodness (and
likely reduced battery life). The 810 has an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera and 2-megapixel front camera, and increases storage
from 32GB to 64GB.
Asus Transformer Book
For those looking for a bit more power than what the Tablet 600 and 810 can provide, the Intel Ivy Bridge-powered
Asus Transformer Book line could be the answer. The Transformer Books are Windows 8 tablets in 11.6-, 13-, and 14-inch flavors
with 1080p displays. They’ve got 4GB of RAM and are available with either an SSD and HDD. There’s an HD webcam
on the front for video chatting, and 5-megapixel shooter on back.
The Asus AiO Tablet 640. Image courtesy
Asus Transformer AiO
The Asus Transformer AiO is a curious beast. First of all, the monitor of this all-in-one PC comprises an 18.4-inch
detachable tablet, making it the largest Windows 8 slate around. But that’s not all — it also dual-boots Android
4.0. Other details are pretty scant. The display supports 10-point multitouch, but resolution and innards are still under
Aspire S7 Series
The S7 Series of touchscreen ultrabooks will be available in 13.3- inch and 11.6-inch models. Both include an aluminum
unibody design familiar to MacBook Air users, and a light-sensing keyboard whose backlighting adjusts depending on ambient
light levels. The 13-inch model offers 12 hours of battery life, while the 11-incher offers up to 9 hours.
Acer Aspire AiO
Aspire 7600U is a 27-inch all-in-one PC, and the 5600U is its smaller 23-inch counterpart. The 7600U allows for up to 64-point
multitouch and 0 to 90 degree viewing. It’s a scant 35 mm thick. The 5600U has a smaller range of tilt, from 30 to 85
degrees. Both all-in-ones feature a full HD display and Dolby Home Theater surround sound.
Acer Iconia W700 and W510
The Acer Iconia W Series. Image: Engadget
For a Windows 8 tablet with a pop-out keyboard, you’ll want to turn to members of Acer’s Iconia tablet
line. The W700 is a full Windows 8 tablet that
features an 11.6-inch, 1080p HD touchscreen display that can be tilted up to 70 degrees. It packs three USB 3.0 ports, an
HDMI port and a Thunderbolt jack. Camera-wise, it’s got a a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera and a front-facing camera
for video chats, and Dolby Home Theater audio.
The W510 has a 10.1-inch display and a detachable keyboard dock that can extend the tablet’s
battery life by 18 hours, and rotate up to 295 degrees. It’s got micro USB and HDMI ports, as well as slots for SIM
MSI Slider S20
The Slider S20 is a hybrid tablet PC with a useful tilting and locking mechanism that holds the display at angle,
transforming it from tablet to notebook in a snap. It will feature an Ivy Bridge chipset and 4GB of RAM, and HDMI and USBB
3.0 ports. It’s expected to land in Europe in September with pricing starting at around $1,000 US.
Asus probably wins the winner-wide-spread
award at Computex for showing off the widest range of tablets and hybrids.
Yet another in a collection of Android and Window 8-based designs is the Tablet 810, which runs Windows 8 on top of Intel's yet-to-be-officially announced 32-nanometer dual-core "Clover Trail"
is back, this time in the guise of a tablet computer with a keyboard dock," wrote CNET Asia.
That's not exactly a compliment as Netbooks of yore (circa
2009) were invariably slow. In short, they attempted the impossible: running resource-intensive Windows 7 on top of underpowered
the Metro interface on the Tablet 810 ran smoothly and there was no lag even with multiple apps open, it's hard to tell if
the new Clover Trail Atom processor within the device can sustain this once you start using more intensive applications,"
wrote CNET's Vincent Chang.
said, Windows 8 undoubtedly is snappier on an updated Atom processor than Windows 7 or Windows XP ever was.
The 810 also sports an "Super IPS+"
display, which offers good viewing angles, dual cameras -- a 2MP front-facing camera and a 8MP version at the rear -- and
2MB of memory.
not announced pricing and availability.
Lenovo was displaying
a Windows 8 ThinkPad tablet prototype that taps Intel's Clover Trail chip.
(Credit: CNET Asia)
And Lenovo was showing a prototype ThinkPad Windows 8 tablet that uses the same
Intel Atom Clover Trail chip.
has a 10.1-inch 1,366x768 display (whose "colors were bright and vibrant, the viewing angles excellent," said CNET
Asia), a rear 8MP camera and a flash, a 9.7mm profile, a docking connector, and micro-HDMI port, among other features.
Microsoft is ready to join the
tablet party this year with Windows 8. As dominant as the Apple iPad is, there is demand out there for a more versatile and
powerful mobile platform. So far, Android tablets and other rivals like the HP TouchPad and BlackBerry PlayBook have failed
to capture much attention, so there is still an opportunity
there for Microsoft.
Having an opportunity available, and capitalizing on that
opportunity are two very different things, though. Currently, there are a number of unknowns--we have just as many questions
about Windows 8 tablets as we do answers. Windows
8 tablets will bring some unique functionality
to the tablet game, but there is still plenty of room for Microsoft and its partners to make Windows 8 tablets dead on arrival
if they’re not careful.
Recipe for Success
Windows 8 is entering a crowded
tablet arena, but there is still an opportunity if Microsoft delivers.First, lets look at what Windows 8 brings to the table that differentiate them and could
make them a success in an iPad-dominated market. For starters, Windows 8 tablets have Windows. That
may seem obvious and silly, but don’t underestimate the value of having a consistent interface and cross-platform applications
that exist on both the desktop and tablet.
Frankly, it is one of the primary benefits of iOS as well--just in reverse. iPhones started the BYOD (Bring Your
Own Device) and consumerization of IT revolutions. The iPad rode in on the coat tails of the iPhone, and now the seamless
syncing and integration with Mac OS X is causing more businesses to look at switching to Mac. Microsoft has a much larger
base of Windows users, though, so if it can provide a similar integrated experience across tablets and smartphones it will
be a huge win.
executive editor of Windows8Update.com, says that the Metro UI, true user profile portability,
and tight integration with Windows on the desktop are all features that weigh in favor of Windows 8 tablets.
Potential Stumbling Blocks
There are a number of issues that could
make Windows 8 tablets dead on arrival, or at least a very tough sell. Two of the biggest will be price, and confusion over
differences between Windows on ARM (WOA) tablets, and x86/x64 architecture tablets.
ARM-based devices will probably be better tablets than their x86/x64 counterparts.
WOA tablets will most likely be lighter, cooler, have longer battery life, and--most importantly--be cheaper. ARM-based tablets
will be more on par with the competing tablets already in the market like the iPad, Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab, and
That all sounds
great, but WOA tablets also come with significant handicaps that nullify most of what makes a Windows 8 tablet appealing.
For example, WOA tablets can’t run traditional Windows software--they require apps written for the Metro UI.
Wes Miller from GetWired.com and Directions on Microsoft poses the question, “For enterprises who will have
to rewrite their (non-Web) applications in Metro for WOA anyway, the question comes up, "why wouldn't I rewrite it for
iOS instead?", since there is no way to run non-Microsoft Win32 apps on WOA.”
The bigger issue for WOA tablets is that Microsoft has revealed
they are intended for “unmanaged environments”. What that translates to is that WOA tablets will not be able to
connect to Windows domains and be managed like x86/x64 Windows 8 tablets, and other Windows systems.
Amobi says that there are arguments to be made for and against
WOA tablets, and it’s still too early for a final verdict. But, he stresses, “If they cant join domains--game
We still have x86/x64 Windows 8 tablets to fall back on, right? True, but there are some caveats.
An x86/x64 tablet is just squeezing a notebook or desktop
into a touchscreen, flat-panel form factor. That has advantages, but we also know that running Windows takes a fair amount
of processing horsepower and memory. While it may be possible to run Windows 8 with less RAM, 4GB is probably the minimum
for acceptable performance. That is four times what most ARM tablets use.
When you build a tablet on x86/x64 architecture, and try to beef up the RAM to
deliver adequate performance, the tablet starts to face other issues. As previously mentioned, users want tablets that are
thin, light, and have endurance to last all day on a single charge. It is unlikely that x86/x64 tablets can truly compete
with ARM-based rivals in these areas.
To a large extent, Microsoft is at the mercy of its hardware partners. Microsoft seems to have done its part in creating
an innovative, appealing, capable operating
system suitable for tablets. But, if the hardware
it comes on is too bulky, or costly, users will just opt for similarly priced ultrabooks, and Apple will continue to enjoy
a virtual monopoly in the tablet arena.
Around the time the iPad came out more than two years ago, Microsoft executives got an eye-opening jolt about how far Apple would
go to gain an edge for its products.
Microsoft learned through industry sources that Apple had bought large quantities of high-quality aluminum from a
mine in Australia to create the distinctive cases for the iPad, according to a former Microsoft employee involved in the discussions,
who did not wish to be named talking about internal matters.
The executives were stunned by how deeply Apple was willing to reach into the global supply
chain to secure innovative materials for the iPad and, once it did, to corner the market on those supplies. Microsoft’s
executives worried that Windows PC makers were not making the same kinds of bets, the former employee said.
The incident was one of many over the
last several years that gradually pushed Microsoft to create its own tablet computer, unveiled last week. The move was the
most striking evidence yet of the friction between Microsoft and its partners on the hardware side of the PC business. It
is the first time in Microsoft’s almost four-decade history that the company will sell its own computer hardware, competing
directly with the PC makers that are the biggest customers for the Windows operating system.
For hardware makers, the PC market has long been a struggle
because Microsoft and Intel, maker of the microprocessors that power most computers, have long extracted most of the spoils
from the industry, leaving slim profits for the companies that make them. Manufacturers pay hefty fees to license Windows
from Microsoft, putting pressure on them to make computers as cheaply as possible using commodity parts.
That, in turn, has limited their ability to take the kinds
of risks on hardware innovation that have helped define the iPad. Furthermore, with the iPad, Apple has proved that there
are significant advantages to designing hardware and software together. When separate companies, each with its own priorities,
handle those chores, integrating hardware and software can be more challenging.
“You’ve got this sclerotic partnership structure where the partners
don’t have any oxygen to be innovative,” said Lou Mazzucchelli, an entrepreneur in residence for a venture capital
fund backed by the state of Rhode Island and former technology analyst. “I believe Microsoft was painted into a corner.
If they’ve didn’t move soon, Apple would have so much of a lead, it would be almost impossible to catch them.”
Mark Martin, a spokesman
for Microsoft, declined to comment for this article.
One of the best illustrations of how Microsoft came to the decision to create its new tablet, the Surface, is the
company’s sometimes rocky relationship with Hewlett-Packard, the world’s biggest maker of PCs. Even before the
iPad was announced in early 2010, Microsoft executives understood that computers were on the verge of a transformation because
of a shift to touch-based controls from keyboards and mice.
A decade earlier, Bill Gates, Microsoft’s chairman, had even introduced a forerunner
to the iPad — called the Tablet PC — but the product, manufactured by other hardware companies, was clunky. It
was a flop.
In 2007, the
iPhone opened the eyes of the technology industry to the
possibilities of touch-based mobile devices. Microsoft included some crude touch capabilities in its Windows 7 operating system,
released in 2009, though few users had computers that could take advantage of the features.
With rumors swirling about Apple’s pending introduction
of the iPad, H.P. and Microsoft scrambled to create a new tablet computer, a prototype of which Steven A. Ballmer, Microsoft’s
chief executive, showed during a keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas
on Jan. 6, 2010.
it came to making a finished device though, the H.P. tablet — later named the H.P. Slate 500 — began to change
for the worse, according to the former Microsoft executive and a former H.P. executive who worked on the project and requested
anonymity in discussing internal matters. While its early visual designs impressed many people within the two companies, the
product was “completely ruined” as H.P.’s manufacturing organization began to procure the parts they believed
would be sufficient to power the device, the former Microsoft employee said.
In the end, the H.P. tablet was thick, the Intel processor it used made the device
hot, and the software and screen hardware did not work well together, causing delays whenever a user tried to perform an action
using finger gestures on its screen. “It would be like driving a car, and the car not turning when you turn the wheel,”
the former H.P. executive said.
That kind of problem was unacceptable, especially after Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s late chief executive, unveiled
the first iPad, to glowing reviews, just three weeks after the H.P. device was shown.
Microsoft worked with other hardware partners to cook up products that would be
competitive with the iPad, but it ran into disagreements over designs and prices. “Faith had been lost” at Microsoft
in its hardware partners, including by Steven Sinofsky, the powerful president of Microsoft’s Windows division, according
to the former Microsoft executive.
Meanwhile, H.P. fumed at Microsoft for not doing more to create Windows software that was better suited to touch-screen
devices. Executives complained that Windows 7’s keyboard software did not work well, and that on-screen icons were too
small for fingers to tap.
refused to commit significant resources to help H.P., partly because the company was devoting its energy to Windows 8, a new
version of its operating system being tailor-made for touch-screen devices.
A second former H.P. employee said the company and other computer makers needed
more innovation from Microsoft than it was delivering. He said computer makers viewed the licensing fee they paid for Windows
as a subsidy for Microsoft’s research and development, an investment that would enable them to have competitive products.
Henry Gomez, a spokesman
for H.P., declined to comment.
In April 2010, H.P. made a bold move to gain more control over the software powering its products by paying $1.2
billion to acquire Palm, maker of the WebOS operating system for mobile devices. An important factor in that decision was
Microsoft’s repeated delays in releasing a new operating system for smartphones, which paralyzed partners like H.P.,
according to one of the former H.P. employees.
But poor sales of the WebOS tablet and smartphones doomed the effort. (It did not help that H.P. fired two chief
executives during that period for unrelated reasons). The company has released WebOS as open source software but no longer
makes devices based on it. Last year, H.P. briefly contemplated spinning off its PC business before reconsidering the move.
Against this backdrop,
Microsoft began to invest more in developing its own tablet hardware, though the company still had not decided whether to
sell such a device itself or license its design to other companies by the end of 2010, the former Microsoft executive said.
Some who study the technology
industry still believe Microsoft will get out of the business of selling its own tablet computer as soon as it can persuade
other hardware companies to build compelling devices of their own. “I think once they jump-start it, they plan to make
money the way they always have — from licensing software,” said Michael A. Cusumano, a management professor at
In a nod to Apple’s
work with aluminum, Microsoft began to closely study materials that could be used to create a distinctive case for a tablet.
Members of the Windows team gravitated toward magnesium, a lightweight metal that felt good to testers when held in their
hands, according to the former Microsoft executive. The company was also eager to develop a process for molding the metal
into cases that it could patent so it could protect the design from copycats.
Last week, Microsoft executives spent a significant portion of their presentation
describing the magnesium case of Surface, which they described as strong and scratch-resistant. “The case is one-of-a-kind,”
Mr. Sinofsky said, holding the gray device in his hands.