Microsoft showed its plans for Windows 10 across a wide range of devices this week, but absent from its discussions was talk of the new operating system on ARM tablets. According to the company, it still plans to support ARM devices, but with some conditions.
Windows RT, the ARM-based operating system that powers Microsoft’s Surface and Surface 2 tablets, is essentially being discontinued by the company, as it won’t receive Windows 10. Terry Myerson, head of the operating system team at Microsoft, notably dodged the question of whether ARM-powered Surface tablets would receive Windows 10, merely saying the company was “working on an update for Windows RT.” Microsoft later clarified that the update “will have some of the functionality of Windows 10.”
Microsoft won’t entirely stop supporting ARM devices, however, but there will be restrictions for what devices Windows 10 will be offered on.
When asked by Neowin what kind of ARM devices would be supported by Windows 10, a Microsoft spokeswoman provided the following statement: “ARM devices will continue to be a crucial part of the range of devices Windows 10 supports, with an optimized experience for ARM-based phones, phablets and small tablets up to 8 inches. This week, we demonstrated the Windows 10 experience on phones for the first time and announced a coming technical preview for phones.”
Windows RT is essentially dead, long after hardware partners pulled their support for Microsoft's ARM operating system for tablets.
The decision to abandon Windows support on ARM tablets with screens larger than 8 inches comes after Microsoft’s hardware partners largely abandoned the low-power chips on tablets soon after the Windows RT launch in 2012. Lenovo stopped selling Windows RT products shortly after its launch, saying Intel chips eliminated the need for ARM-powered Windows tablets. Dell dropped Windows RT in 2013, leaving Microsoft as the only company selling tablets with the operating system until Nokia launched its Lumia 2550 later that year.
Partners pulling support for Windows RT quickly led to speculation that Windows RT would be discontinued, though several reports instead claimed it would be merged with Windows Phone. Microsoft declined to discuss its ARM tablet strategy at its first Windows 10 event in September, though it’s now clear that the company doesn't view the chips as essential to its strategy of offering Windows on larger tablets.
A Microsoft spokeswoman told Neowin the company will “have more to share in the coming months” regarding Windows 10 on ARM devices. The company will release its Windows 10 for smartphones preview in February, though more information about Windows 10 for small ARM tablets may not come until well after that preview program begins.
Based on previous leaks about Microsoft’s plan for Windows on mobile devices, it’s highly likely that Windows 10 for small ARM tablets will largely be the same as its version for smartphones, though it may have some slight modifications, such as the ability to view the homescreen in landscape view.
A major benefit to using the same style of interface on small tablets and smartphones could be the loss of the desktop, which was derided in reviews of Microsoft’s ARM tablets. Despite offering the desktop, the Surface and Surface 2 only supported bundled legacy applications and Microsoft’s Office suite, leaving the familiar environment with little purpose in Windows RT.