Editorial

As Intel knocks on ARM's door, what is the future of Windows RT?

Intel has been working hard to scale down its chips to make them more mobile friendly, but what does this mean for Windows RT and ARM based devices?

Windows RT is an interesting product from Microsoft as it looks and feels like Windows 8, but neglects support for legacy applications. In fact, there has been a lot of negative noise around the OS with recent news that Samsung is mulling its options about pulling the platform out of Europe to cut its losses.

Taking a step back, Windows RT was/is positioned to be a variant of the Windows platform that is lightweight, offers great battery life, and has a terrific out of the box experience by shipping with Office pre-installed. One of the arguments behind Windows RT was that Intel was not able to scale its CPUs down quickly enough to be power efficient and at the same time, ARM had found ways to scale up its designs at a rapid pace to compete with Intel in the low-price market.

In theory, it sounded great, ARM based devices would dominate the low-end market (netbook-ish category of devices) and Intel/AMD would fight in the upper regions for those who wanted proper Windows 8 and the ability to run legacy applications. While good on paper, this separation has yet to appear in the market.

From a consumer perspective, Microsoft has done an awful job at defining the market segments for Windows RT. There is no line in the sand about who should buy what class of product and what the trade-offs/benefits are of each product is still poorly defined for consumers. It’s perplexing for the basic consumer and is an unnecessary distraction that Microsoft has introduced into the market.

The interesting thing about ARM and Windows RT is that the success of these products is based on Intel’s ability to scale down, not ARM’s ability to scale up. Think of it this way, if you had two devices, side-by-side, with similar features, similar price points but one could run legacy applications and the other was locked to modern applications, which would you choose?

This is the exact issue we see today. The hope with ARM was that it would introduce low cost device, but the low cost, isn’t low enough, unfortunately.  Right now, the average entry price of a Windows RT device is around $400. That’s paying $400 for a Windows RT tablet that, while it is competitive with the iPad, it becomes cannibalized by Intel’s based goods which go for $400.00.

Take a look at the ASUS Vivobook, it has an 11.6” touch screen laptop, 500GB hard drive, 4GB of RAM and at a price of $399. At this price point, you get a full Windows 8 machine, why would opt for an RT device at this same price point if it is limited in functionality?  

Here is another question, where are all of the non 10in class Windows RT (or even Windows 8 tablets)? Sure the price point at $400 is high for a Windows RT product, but if any of the RT class devices could come in at the Nexus 7 size and price point (~200), the value proposition of the platform increases exponentially. But here we are, no 7in tablets and a confusing array of operating systems with no defined market segments that is creating, but we digress.

The problem with Windows RT is that Intel is pushing on the floor so hard, that ARM is losing any sort of value proposition it had. Unless we start seeing low end tablets, such as a 7in device in the Nexus 7 arena, Windows RT doesn’t stand a chance as it can’t compete 1:1 with Intel based devices.

We will wait to see how Microsoft positions Windows RT in the near future and maybe they have non-traditional deployments in mind, but for now, Windows 8 and Windows RT are fighting in the same territory, so why offer both? 

Report a problem with article
Previous Story

Interview: Stardock's CEO talks about ModernMix for Windows 8

Next Story

Giveaway: Pioneers of Digital

51 Comments

Commenting is disabled on this article.

Doesn't anyone see it, there were two reasons to create Windows RT and none of them had anything to do with Intel's chip offerings.

Reason 1: To encourage developers to build metro apps so that the market place for tablet apps became much richer

Reason 2: To build native support in the Windows Kernel for ARM processors so when they finally merged Windows Phone with Windows it would require minimal effort.

Microsoft is not stupid contrary to the beliefs of many, they made a massive mistake with Vista but ever since then everything they have done has been according to a plan which is being executed step by step to unify their products to eventually a provide a single system which works on every device you can think of.

As with all of these articles denouncing Windows RT (and I'm pretty sure I've already read and commented on one within the last two weeks even on this very site), extremely short-sighted. Desktop applications might matter a ton now, but Microsoft clearly plans on them being near irrelevant in the eventual future.

Microsoft now has an app platform and an operating system that runs across both of the major architecture types, and is no longer tied to Intel for progress. Maybe if AMD had been pushing Intel (which hasn't happened since probably the original Core architecture) things would be different... but let's keep in mind that Intel has been using the same horrible Atom design for five years now, and only after they have the threat of losing most of their business to ARM do they come up with the dramatic (and exciting) redesign that Bay Trail is.

The fact of the matter is that by the existence of Windows RT, Microsoft isn't tied to a single horse any more, and so as Intel and the ARM licensees duke it out, no matter what happens, Microsoft (and the consumer by proxy) wins.

"Take a look at the ASUS Vivobook, it has an 11.6” touch screen laptop, 500GB hard drive, 4GB of RAM and at a price of $399. At this price point, you get a full Windows 8 machine, why would opt for an RT device at this same price point if it is limited in functionality?"

You could say the same thing about any tablet, especially the iPad, but people still buy it.

Isn't AMD also releasing some sort of power friendly CPU specifically designed for Windows 8? Intel and AMD efforts would certainly put some pressure on ARM.

This article assumes that ARM will be stagnant which is not true at all. I believe Microsoft has to be present everywhere it is possible.

The problem with RT is that it has same aspect and same Windows 8 name with the desktop version. There are a lot of people who don't know what's in the box. If it's windows 8 it should run same programs as the desktop one.
I've seen a lot of questions on different forums where people having some cheap ARM netbooks ( runing Windows Mobiel 5 or Android ) ask about how to install Windows ( XP, 7 and even 8 ) on them, to make them able to run their favourites programs and games.
So this is the main problem with RT. People expect more than it can do.

ARM is the future. At some point it reaches good enough level computing and X86 is dead. Legacy be damned as everything will eventually be converted to Metro. Why do you think the stock is trading at 80x multiple and headed higher? For the heck of it?

I don't know what the future of RT is and I agree with the reporter that as Haswell lands the proposition will reduce. However, this reporter like many others has fallen into slanting the story to support their beliefs rather than provide a balanced story.

Reporters with tjhis angle always look at things from the laptop functionality point of view only. As an example see the text from the story below where they compare laptop features to the RT and query why would you spend the same money on an AMD device when the intel laptop costs the same and runs more apps......

"Take a look at the ASUS Vivobook, it has an 11.6” touch screen laptop, 500GB hard drive, 4GB of RAM and at a price of $399. At this price point, you get a full Windows 8 machine, why would opt for an RT device at this same price point if it is limited in functionality?

The problem with this logic is that it ignores the features/benefits of the other device, in this case RT's ability to be far more portable and usable when portable than the laptop.

You could alternatively say that whilst you can't run lots of apps this is clearly not the market for the RT and unlike the laptop for the same money as the laptop you are truly portable.

Lets see if I get this straight.

Microsoft has two operating systems. One runs on ARM the other runs on Intel. The ARM version is for smaller, less capable devices. The Intel version runs on fuller-featured tablets, laptops, desktops and others. Apps written for one won't run on the other. They both share a common GUI. This is terrible.

Apple has two operating systems. One runs on ARM the other runs on Intel. The ARM version is for smaller, less capable devices. The Intel version runs on laptops and desktops but can't run on tablets. Apps written for one won't run on the other. They both have completely different GUIs. This is great.

It's not that Microsoft's situation is terrible and Apple's is great. The difference between Microsoft and Apple here is that you can get an Intel Windows notebook for about the same price as a Windows RT device, whereas Macbooks are only sold in the high-end range. I'd say this makes a great situation for Microsoft, though the side-effect is that Windows RT loses customers to Windows 8.

"Think of it this way, if you had two devices, side-by-side, with similar features, similar price points but one could run legacy applications and the other was locked to modern applications, which would you choose?"

If you're talking about one with Atom, then absolutely, I'd choose the one that DIDN'T support legacy programs. Why? Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. Atom can't run Photoshop how I like to use it. Atom can't run Adobe After Effects. Atom can't have multiple tabs open (15 each in two browsers) and watch HD video whilst also having Office open. Atom is as much of a compromise as ARM.

Not only that, desktop programs were not written with power efficiency in mind. There was no low power state, no polling, because when the desktop thrived, computers were plugged into the mains.

When I jump into x86 portable Windows, will be when Haswell or Broadwell offer a laptop power performance in an ARM power envelope. Right now, I will only run Windows RT on a tablet.

I think Windows RT is great, XDA are making it even better! I've had an Android Tablet (Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1), a Windows x86 tablet (Dell Inspiron Duo) and the Surface RT. Out of all of these Surface RT is my favourite, it is the most useful and practical.

I love my Surface RT - Light, malware free, excellent battery life, standby time is far better than Atom tablets, has all the applications I need. My iPad 2 collects dust.

MS should just go for two SKU's for the next release: Surface with Bay Trail for battery life and regular Windows 8 for average consumers and Surface Pro 2 with Haswell and Windows 8 pro for performance and power users. Sorted.

MS had the perfect opportunity to make waves with the Surface RT. However, they chose to let greed and arrogance get in the way. The Surface RT should have been launched at $299.00 without OEM having an opportunity to make the RT as they would and should focus on Windows 8 tablets. I wish MS would fire Ballmer and their Marketing team.

Oh, please, the Surface costs around or less than $300. They'd be selling it a little more expensive than at building cost, which is what they should be doing considering they're trying to jam a new ecosystem down everybody's throat. And I say this as someone who loves both his Win8 desktop PC and WinRT tablet.

The goal for Microsoft shouldn't be to sell devices at cost or at a loss a la Amazon or Google. No, they should be going for a premium image and an expanded catalog. That means:

Surface RT @ $499 is a great price point, especially compared to the competition.
Surface Pro @ $899 is a great price point, especially considering it's a tablet with a digitzer with ultrabook capabilities.

That's enough price differentiation there between those devices.

When their 7"-8" version of the Surface comes out, you'll have something like:

Surface Mini: $299
Surface RT: $499
Surface Pro: $899

Then, when the next version of the devices come out, they can sell their previous generation for cheaper a la Apple, so something like:

Surface Mini: $299
Surface RT: $399
Surface RT 2: $499
Surface Pro: $799
Surface Pro 2: $899

This makes perfect sense. You don't want to play down. The goal of Surface RT was a limited production to gauge market reaction. That set up their numbers for Pro, which meant they limited Pro numbers. Now they have a baseline, they expand their distribution (Best Buy, Staples) as well as into other countries. They've been working on the Surface RT 2 since last year.

The problem for Intel is price. Windows RT exist to make Intel and AMD processors cheaper trough direct competition with ARM.

"Take a look at the ASUS Vivobook, it has an 11.6” touch screen laptop, 500GB hard drive, 4GB of RAM and at a price of $399. At this price point, you get a full Windows 8 machine, why would opt for an RT device at this same price point if it is limited in functionality? "

While I agree that I'd much rather own an x86 machine due to compatibility, I can see the value proposition in ARM at certain price points. I just bought an Asus VivoTab RT on amazon, $430 with the keyboard included. That means an awesome IPS screen, Office included, detach-ability to use as tablet or notebook, about 15h of battery life thanks to 2 batteries and, to a lesser extent but still valuable, no viruses (x86 can't run on ARM). I only need IE to surf the web and Office (word/excel/ppt) in my on-the-go machine, so why pay a similar price for a non-detachable (thus always heavier/bulkier), 9h battery life, non-IPS, office-less x86 laptop?

As you can see, it's all perspective. Both x86 and ARM systems have their respective advantages. It all depends on how you intend to use it. Not long ago the VivoTab RT was around $600/700 depending where you looked. Just this week before buying it from Amazon I checked at my local Chicago BestBuy and they told me it'd run me a cold $840 for the same stuff I paid $430 in Amazon. Crazy right? If it were more than $500 I wouldn't pay for an RT device even if drunk. At around $400 though, I find the RT devices MUCH better value than x86 ones, but then again, that's just ME, because these RT devices perfectly fit MY needs for an on-the-go device.

Until I can get a surface that will give me 10 hrs of battery life there is a place for RT. Battery life to me is more important than running old apps. Hopefully haswell brings that but I will be skeptical until they actually get products out there getting that kind of battery life or the atom devices get support for more ram.

Once Office is available for Modern UI, you'll probably see Windows RT be Windows without the desktop. You'll have the option to enable it, but it'll be some jailbreak job a la Android, iOS, etc.

You'll then have a differentiation: Windows RT for Modern UI apps, battery life, etc.

I fully believe that Windows RT in its current incantation was a stop gap. Desktop available because Office wasn't quite ready for the Modern UI, yet. They also wanted to ship Surface. But also they want the app collection to mature. Once it matures, then there's a compelling reasons (alongside Office for Modern UI) for Windows RT, especially with 7"-8" offerings.

We may very well see a marriage of Windows RT and Windows Phone once the desktop is abandoned. If the desktop is abandoned, of course, for ARM.

derekaw said,
Windows RT is dead, I dont think it will be coming back from the dead.

I prefer to say it "Obsolete", as it uses Tegra3, that already rendered outdated by recent SoC release (Tegra4).

Metro apps are coming way too slow. Only downloaded a few apps in the last 2 months.

I do hope that Haswell lives up to the hype. Looking forward to the next round of tablets.

Price can play a huge part here, if RT based devices can hit $199-$299 they will certainly do better in the market.

Microsoft really dropped the ball with Windows RT. The biggest issue is the price, as who wants to buy a Windows RT tablet when an iPad costs less, has better specs and has a better app ecosystem?

I'll give you App ecosystem, and better specs... but cheaper?

I was of the understanding that surface tablets of the equivalent memory size were about $100 cheaper then iPads.

Amazon UK:

Surface RT 32GB (no keyboard) - £430
iPad Retina 16GB - £385

That's the cheapest model available for each brand. It should be noted that even though the Surface has twice the storage on paper it actually has a very similar amount to the iPad in terms of usable space. It's even cheaper if somebody opted for the iPad 2, which is only £302 - that's a price point that Microsoft simply can't match.

as far as I know Amazon isn't an official surface retailer so you're probably seeing 3rd party reseller prices.. I show retail pricing at official channels 399

spudtrooper said,
as far as I know Amazon isn't an official surface retailer so you're probably seeing 3rd party reseller prices.. I show retail pricing at official channels 399

According to Google Shopping £430 is the cheapest price for the Surface RT 32GB. However, searching specifically for the Microsoft Store does indeed reveal it to be £399. Even so, that's still more than the iPad Retina and £100 more than the iPad 2. Google has got it right with the Nexus 10, which offers great specs and at £319 it's cheaper than the iPad.

Microsoft can't get away with premium pricing for a brand that isn't considered premium.

gkeramidas said,
but RT comes with office, does the Ipad?

No, but there are free alternatives. It should also be noted that the version of Office included with the Surface RT doesn't use the Metro interface, so it doesn't have the same usability as the dedicated Apple alternatives.

theyarecomingforyou said,
Microsoft really dropped the ball with Windows RT. The biggest issue is the price, as who wants to buy a Windows RT tablet when an iPad costs less, has better specs and has a better app ecosystem?

Surface RT also has Office on it, which boosts the cost. Think you're getting that for free?

theyarecomingforyou said,
Amazon UK:

Surface RT 32GB (no keyboard) - £430
iPad Retina 16GB - £385

That's the cheapest model available for each brand. It should be noted that even though the Surface has twice the storage on paper it actually has a very similar amount to the iPad in terms of usable space. It's even cheaper if somebody opted for the iPad 2, which is only £302 - that's a price point that Microsoft simply can't match.

But of course there are quite a few things the Windows RT tablet can do which the ipad can't. Hooking up other devices, printing to non air print devices (the vast vast majority), displaying video from normal file shares in various codecs. Not to mention the fact that Windows RT IS Windows, with file system access, office and connectivity options. Of course you are also forgetting thst whilst the retina screen is nice (although the marketing certainly is better than the actual experience) the Windows RT screen is a bit bigger and offers widescreen.

Taking this into consideration, the surface RT is actually a much better deal than the ipad.

theyarecomingforyou said,

No, but there are free alternatives. It should also be noted that the version of Office included with the Surface RT doesn't use the Metro interface, so it doesn't have the same usability as the dedicated Apple alternatives.

That's a weird statement.

You're saying that the full version of MIcrosoft Office application doesnt have the same usability as text editors on iOS.

theyarecomingforyou said,
Amazon UK:

Surface RT 32GB (no keyboard) - £430
iPad Retina 16GB - £385

That's the cheapest model available for each brand. It should be noted that even though the Surface has twice the storage on paper it actually has a very similar amount to the iPad in terms of usable space. It's even cheaper if somebody opted for the iPad 2, which is only £302 - that's a price point that Microsoft simply can't match.

Amazon US and UK do not officially sell the Surface, you are looking at 3rd party retailer prices (which are almost always higher).

MidTxWRX said,
That's a weird statement.

You're saying that the full version of MIcrosoft Office application doesnt have the same usability as text editors on iOS.

No, I'm saying it's not properly optimised for touch.

theyarecomingforyou said,

No, I'm saying it's not properly optimised for touch.

It's a full version of Microsoft Office... it's not meant to be.

OneNote MX is optimized for touch. You may see Word MX and/or Excel MX sooner or later.

For what its worth, when you use touch on Office Word, the buttons on the ribbon become bigger and have more space around them to allow you to use touch comfortably.

Do you really see yourself writing a research paper or something on Word using the touch screen?

Windows RT (not winrt) was borked from the start, it needs a specific market and MS has yet to say what that is and deliver products in that market.

Windows RT made perfect sense when MS started making it.

At the time Intel had absolutely nothing that remotely compared to ARM CPU's in power consumption. To get in to the mobile market MS had to also use ARM just like Apple and Android do. But as usual MS was late to the game so by the time Windows RT finally shipped, Intel finally had a CPU/SoC (Clover Trail) that matched ARM for power consumption.

In the long run ARM support will likely pay off, simply because ARM based CPU's are the mostly widely used in the world. Theres more ARM stuff out there than Intel and AMD combined. MS would be stupid to have their most popular OS not support it.

I have a Surface RT. It is a fantastic device. The OS is maturing well as the application pool expands. The idea they made a mistake is one centered on a Polaroid and not the movie.

gregalto said,
Windows RT (not winrt) was borked from the start, it needs a specific market and MS has yet to say what that is and deliver products in that market.

I think by releasing WIndows RT, it drove Intel harder to compete with the lower end market. When you see ARM come to Windows, that's kinda scary and you're not going to sit around and do nothing about it. So even if Windows RT fails in the long run, it at least changed Intel's perspective about things so that they become more competitive.

1Pixel said,
Windows RT made perfect sense when MS started making it.

At the time Intel had absolutely nothing that remotely compared to ARM CPU's in power consumption. To get in to the mobile market MS had to also use ARM just like Apple and Android do. But as usual MS was late to the game so by the time Windows RT finally shipped, Intel finally had a CPU/SoC (Clover Trail) that matched ARM for power consumption.

In the long run ARM support will likely pay off, simply because ARM based CPU's are the mostly widely used in the world. Theres more ARM stuff out there than Intel and AMD combined. MS would be stupid to have their most popular OS not support it.

What I don't get is that Windows RT has performance problems because it's using freaking year old SoCs! Tegra 3 was first available in products December 2011, when they could have used the just released Snapdragon S4 Pro and gotten far better performance and battery life, plus have enough GPU power to drive 1080p displays.