The First Windows 8 Tablet

It must be nice to be a Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Windows developer after the opening keynote at yesterday's BUILD developer conference.

Mr. Softy kicked off the conference, which lasts through the end of the week, with a demo of a fleshed-out developer version of Windows 8. The company handed out 5,000 tablets preloaded with a Developer Preview version of the OS, along with a year of 3G service provided by AT&T (NYSE: T  ) .

The tablet is built by Samsung, which we already suspected, but it didn't sport an ARM Holdings-based processor like NVIDIA's (Nasdaq: NVDA  ) quad-core Tegra 3, which I thought was going to do the heavy lifting. Instead, an Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) dual-core 1.6GHz Core i5 won the processor slot. Other standard specs include an 11.6-inch display, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of solid state drive storage, a gyroscope, and HDMI, USB, and Ethernet ports. Digging a little deeper, you'll find the touchscreen microcontroller is in Atmel's (Nasdaq: ATML  ) maXTouch family; the one found here is the first to support Windows 8.

There were other units on demo that weren't handed out to the masses. NVIDIA's Tegra 3 did make it into one of the demo units, along with Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM  ) .

In an intriguing semantic move, the company continues to refer to the devices as "PCs," rejecting the "post-PC" term that Steve Jobs popularized when introducing Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPad 2 earlier this year. To be fair, the moniker is somewhat fitting since the device will also support Windows 7 apps, unlike the iPad, which supports only iOS apps.

Distancing it from the iPad is a smart move, since non-iPad tablets aren't doing so hot. By scooting down the spectrum closer to the PC end, it will target a slightly different audience. Microsoft is making an ambitious move with Windows 8, and frankly, it needs to be bold if the company ever hopes to get up to speed in mobile.

What do you think? Can Microsoft succeed in the tablet market where others have failed? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.

Fool contributor Evan Niu owns shares of AT&T, Atmel, and Apple, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Check out his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Qualcomm, Microsoft, Intel, and Apple and has bought calls on Intel. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Microsoft, AT&T, Intel, NVIDIA, and Apple, creating bull call spread positions in Apple and Microsoft, creating a diagonal call position in Intel, and writing puts in NVIDIA. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy


Read/Post Comments (11) | Recommend This Article (6)

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  • Report this Comment On September 14, 2011, at 9:27 PM, HarryCarysGhost wrote:

    Hi there,

    This is probably a naive question.

    But when will Windows 8 be released for desktops?

    And do you find it best to wait awhile so the bugs get worked out?

    Ok, thanks I'm going to check out ATML now.

  • Report this Comment On September 14, 2011, at 10:29 PM, macgregor45 wrote:

    MIcrosoft can succeed anywhere it wants to. It has talented people, abundant resources, lots of relevant competencies, time, tons of money, patience, persistence. It lacks a little in the vision area, but I think it would be unwise to count them out. Apple isn't taking over the world, they are just doing a damned good job.

    Apple caught the wave, while nearly every one else was still on the beach. Now, they are kind of directing the wave to some degree. I think one challenge facing all the Apple competitors out there is that they are having to compete with the CURRENT Apple offerings, while Apple is two steps ahead on more revolutionary things. It's a constant game of catch up and not leapfrog. You have to lead the moving target, not aim at it, and that's where vision comes in. Other companies just don't have it in the same proportion as the folks in Cupertino.

    In short, I think (and that's all it is) that Apple is on the winning streak NOW, and that Microsoft MAY BE somewhat later. I'm neither selling my AAPL nor buying MSFT.

  • Report this Comment On September 14, 2011, at 10:47 PM, marv08 wrote:

    Windows 8 so far is another GUI layer on top of the classic Windows. We have seen it running on laptop hardware with a touchscreen, not on a tablet. We do not yet know how it will run on a tablet, what the performance and battery life will be, if there will be any decent touch screen apps (all legacy Windows apps are not), etc ad inf.

    We do know that MS tries to sell Windows tablets with a GUI layer on top of Windows since 2002, and nobody ever cared.

    I have yet to hear one single compelling point why this should change now ("now" being an euphemism, nobody even knows, when this will be ready and which OEM will even want to pay the price of a full Windows license, just to put it on a tablet).

  • Report this Comment On September 14, 2011, at 11:18 PM, IDCDark wrote:

    Marv you truly haven’t watched the keynotes. They showed a tablet during the first day and most of the day one keynotes where on it. I assume that anything that hurt may prove false your idea of a horrible Microsoft must be ignored at all cost. I would also like to point out it also doubled as a computer screen. I have watched all of the keynotes so far... They also have rewritten most of the windows 8 so please stop the lying, please and thank you. Also may I add that windows 8 has metro and your normal status Windows 7 look.

  • Report this Comment On September 14, 2011, at 11:34 PM, makelvin wrote:

    @marv08, I agree. Windows 8 is putting a Windows Phone 7 GUI layer on top of the existing Windows. The challenge with this approach is that it will need a lot of memory for their tablet. Apple's iOS can comfortably be run with as little as 256MB of RAM whereas Windows will need at least 2GB of RAM just to get by; 4GB of RAM is really recommended. This will add a lot of cost burden to the tablet.

    Intel's processor also drains a lot more battery power than ARM. Microsoft claim that Windows 8 will be able to run on ARM when it is released. But when it does, will it still be able to run existing Windows programs compiled under Intel? If not, then a Windows tablet based on ARM will not have much software to start with. If it does run Intel code, it would almost certainly have an additional emulation layer that reduces the program's performance. This is in addition to the fact that ARM's claim to fame is their low power usage, their processor's performance was never considered to be faster than Intel's. So the additional emulation layer using the ARM should definitely put a huge penalty to its performance.

    So it will be interesting to see how Microsoft can address all of these issues when they finally release it on the tablet. In order to compete with Apple, it will need to have the proper balance of battery life, reduce hardware cost, abundant software and content availability, size and weight, software performance responsiveness as well as the GUI. As you can see, the GUI is only a small part of a much larger equation. This is one of the reason why webOS never took off even though most critics raved about its GUI. So based on what Microsoft have shown so far, they are still far, far away from been able to compete with Apple at the moment.

  • Report this Comment On September 14, 2011, at 11:37 PM, bsimpsen wrote:

    I wonder if Apple's economies of scale will just make it too difficult for others. A dozen manufacturers all making variations on the Win 8 theme will require a dozen engineering and tooling efforts. Apple will move tens of millions of iPads with only one engineering/tooling effort.

    Will they lock up preferential pricing while retaining their aspirational appeal while everybody else races to the bottom with Win 8?

  • Report this Comment On September 15, 2011, at 12:04 AM, marv08 wrote:

    @IDCDark: I have watched the keynote, and one of my employees is even at the conference, so I know exactly what I am talking about.

    What they have show was a tablet form factor, not a tablet. As Evan's article above correctly reflects, the device was running a laptop CPU (dual-core i5), had a laptop main board, laptop connectivity, etc. It was a laptop, spec-wise, weight-wise and size-wise - it just had a touchscreen instead of a keyboard. The fact that an OS runs well on such a system (while causing the fan to almost disembody itself), does tell us zip, zero, nada, zilch about performance on a modern tablet, with less than half the weight, half the battery, and maybe only one fourth of computing power and RAM (you can't go by GHz numbers here, as the instruction sets and performance capabilities of ARM CPUs and Intel Core i CPUs differ vastly).

    No matter what MS does, desktop class applications will either not run at all, or abysmally on real tablets - there is a reason they do not even mention MS Office under Metro/ARM, because even MS knows that. The hardware for that is not there, and it won't be there in the next two to three years.

    So, Windows 8 might be able to run (with different GUIs and capabilities) on both a desktop/laptop and a real tablet, but you will still need two devices to get both benefits. A tablet for light/always on/long battery life and touch, and a desktop or laptop for the heavy work. So it is back to square one, really. MS could have just put Windows Phone 7 on a tablet and we would have the same thing. Why dont they do that? Because they want to protect the desktop license fees (nobody would give them $30-$100 for Windows Phone 7). Just, the benefit for the regular user (other than geeks trying to do nonsensical things on a tablet) is flat zero.

  • Report this Comment On September 15, 2011, at 10:42 AM, techy46 wrote:

    By scooting "down", no UP, the spectrum closer to the PC end, it will target a slightly different audience. That's like saying you scoot down the spectrum to buy a Ferrari. No way, Jose, you scoot down the spectrum to by tablets and smart cars. You guys just never give up on the self-serving PC's dead line when in reality the PC's mobile with Windows 8. You got it all wrong.

  • Report this Comment On September 15, 2011, at 10:48 AM, techy46 wrote:

    @marv08 - Windows 8 supports multiple shells, Aero, CLI, Metro, NOT GUI layers that run as apps above the Windows services layer. OS X is nothing but a Unix reincarnation with Apple's carmel shell. You obviously don't know squat about OS architecture or Windows NT.

  • Report this Comment On September 15, 2011, at 10:57 AM, TMFNewCow wrote:

    @techy46,

    On the spectrum line, I didn't mean to imply PCs were lower on the food chain than tablets/smartphones. Actually I sort of visualized the spectrum horizontally instead of vertically so didn't give much thought to up/down. Anyway, I agree that Windows 8 really questions the "PC's dead line" as well. I personally don't think PC's are dead as much as they are evolving. Anyway, stay tuned for a deeper look at Windows 8 I have coming out in the coming days.

    Thanks for reading,

    Evan

  • Report this Comment On September 15, 2011, at 10:59 AM, techy46 wrote:

    @marv08 - What they have shown was a tablet form factor, Not a tablet. Oh, what a load of BS. So now you (Apple) has to defend you're PC's dead BS with an Applelious definition of a tablet. The pure crap, a tablet is nothing but a touchscreen with the guts of a stripped down PC behind it. It can have anybody's hardware and OS in it as long as it's not made by Apple. As long as you can run multiple shells, ala Unix, like Aero and Metro, a tablet can run any app; desktop, laptop, smart phone or tablet. At $149 to $499 W8 devices are going to really shrink Apple's revenue and gross margins. Better enjoy the next two quarters while you can. I watch both keynotes also, where's Apple's enterprise ecosystem? Maybe they should start selling Linux.

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