Are People Expecting Too Much from Windows 8 ARM Tablets?

The closer we get to the actual release of Windows 8 ARM tablets the more I’m mulling over the pros and cons, and wondering just how successful such devices will actually  turn out to be.  At the moment Windows 7 tablets are pretty powerful machines.  They have a great many advantages over every other tablet with support for just about any USB device and the ability to run full desktop apps such as Microsoft Office.  Add to this a friendly tablet interface and surely you’re on to a winner!?  Alas then comes the problem.  There is only one but for most people it’s a deal-breaker, and that is the poor battery life that comes with running Windows on Intel x86 based chips.  A battery that dies on a tablet after about only four hours simply isn’t good enough and there’s no indications that things are going to change any time soon.

So a Windows tablet on ARM architecture must be the way to go then?  Well, actually no.  The problem with an ARM-based Windows 8 tablet is that you will not only forego the USB device support, but also the ability to run existing Windows desktop apps and suites.  You’ll have fantastic battery life but these two problems are, frankly, the reason most people want to use Windows on a tablet in the first place.

grey Are People Expecting Too Much from Windows 8 ARM Tablets?What they’ll be left with is essentially a blank slate (sic!) where all the software will be new and none of their existing Windows programs will run.  Is this what people want a Windows tablet for?  The Windows app store, despite Microsoft’s attempts to build developer excitement for Metro, will take some time to get going and build momentum.  It will be leagues behind the app stores for the iPad, Android tablets and even the HP TouchPad and Blackberry Playbook, and this situation will last for many months if not years.

So are Windows tablets going to prove disappointing for people?  Well, this is all in how Microsoft design the code and architecture of the ARM tablets.  If they go down the route of tablets as we know them now then they’ll be no more Windows than an iPad or a Samsung Galaxy Tab is now.  If they do find ways to run existing Windows software, that software will have to be recompiled or perhaps even completely re-engineered to run on them, and many if not most software companies won’t be interested in doing this given that the sales market will be comparatively small.

We might find out more about Windows ARM-powered tablets this week at the Consumer Electronics Show, but it’s becoming clear that Microsoft need to tell us what what types of hardware and software (if any at all) these devices will support when they come to market, probably in early 2013.  Until then if you’re considering buying a tablet I wouldn’t advise you to wait.  If you aren’t fussed about Windows desktop programs and USB devices then any tablet on the market these days will suit you (and prices on the Blackberry Playbook are tumbling) and if you want the full-fat Intel experience then there are a few Windows 7 tablets either out there or coming soon that will fit the bill for when the Windows 8 public beta begins.  But if you’ve been waiting for a tablet that runs Windows, supports all your desktop apps and has a great battery life, you could end up disappointed.

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19 Responses to Are People Expecting Too Much from Windows 8 ARM Tablets?

  1. Graham Barrow January 8, 2012 at 6:13 am #

    Good point I would hope Microsoft is aware to do this would be trying to start afresh in a market they already dominate. It would mean facing competition from itself and with the other versions of Win8 plus the other OS’s. They will probably rework the Windows frameworks and allow Visual Studio to just recompile the code for ARM CPU’s as they do now with x86 and x64. They could even add an ARM emulator for testing.

    • Anonymous January 12, 2012 at 3:59 am #

      Can I just ask: Who actually uses tablets? No-one. You never see anyone using one and you never see anyone walk out the shop with one. They’re not popular. People are fine with regular computers. And believe it or not, you don’t have to be connected every waking moment of your life. Bitch.

      • Really? You're joking... January 12, 2012 at 8:52 am #

        Woah slow down there! I see plenty of people using tablets. While there never going to replace desktops (they will always have their place and use) they are gaining a ton of poularity. The main reason they are not even MORE popular (IMO) is because they cant use real Windows programs or use a dumbed down version/remake of a popular program. Once they get all the bugs worked out and figure out how to max batery life and keep the USB and legacy Windows support I think there going to take off like a rocket in sales.

        • Karl Pilkington January 12, 2012 at 9:35 am #

          Has anyone ever told you you’re a dickhead?

      • Anon January 23, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

        I use a tablet.  And when I go to church, no lie, tonnes of people have them as we have all our lesson manuals, hymn books, scriptures, etc available on ios and android, as well as most of it being available for kindle, blackberry, etc.

        I see people at work using them as their email client or calendar or notepad etc.  Sure it’s not a computer replacement, but I have a couple desktops, notebooks, a netbook, and an ipad2.  Sure my house looks like a best buy.. but I’m connected :-)

  2. Pete January 8, 2012 at 9:50 am #

    The whole point of a Windows tablet for me is existing windows apps. I doubt the majority of x86 apps will be recompiled soon for Windows ARM even lots of .NET apps that can in theory run on any processor are compiled specifically for x86.

    I think the best bet for me is to wait a while for Intels Ivy Bridge tablet offerings, these should hopefully give increase battery life enough for it to be a viable choice.

  3. ericl5112 January 8, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    Is lack of USB functionality confirmed?  I was planning on getting Asus’s Transformer like Windows 8 arm tablet (since I will almost guarantee they will do one) to develop for.  Android can use USB.  I would hope microsoft didn’t take that out.

    • Mike Halsey January 8, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

      @eric5112 Lack of USB compatibility isn’t confirmed, but it would require hardware manufacturers to write new drivers anyway, so it’s probably not going to happen sadly

      • ericl5112 January 8, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

        Acer, Asus, and Toshiba all provide great USB support on android for ARM. Why not windows for ARM? I like being able to stick a USB into my transformer.

        • Thomas Tomiczek January 9, 2012 at 4:23 am #

          Define “great USB support”. this is not about memory sticks – this is about stuff like printers that require drivers to be available.

    • Anonymous January 12, 2012 at 3:59 am #

      Why don’t you just use a regular computer and stop being so picky?

  4. WalkerGW January 9, 2012 at 5:39 am #

    I think you have hit on one of the reasons that MS has not been in such a hurry to get into the fray.  Windows 8 should be out after Ivy Bridge which will not fix all the battery woes, but it does make a good dent in it.  With the low TDP, built in graphics (not stellar but acceptable) tied to ssd, paired with a power conscious OS should give a far better battery life than any full function laptop to date. 

    All current tablets are compromised for battery life whether we want to admit it or not.  This is not the future of this genre and anyone who thinks it is is not looking long term.  ARM processors in computing are a stop gap measure and will eventually be replaced by more powerfull processors.  As they ramp up in power to meet the needs, they will be closer and closer to Intels home turf.  With Intel far ahead in the die size (know of any 22nm ARM chips?), Intel will likely be the winner in this race.

    I think this article is a little off the mark.  The choice will be more about what people are willing to pay.  Do they want a cheap tablet mostly for websurfing, or are they willing to pay more to replace their computer with a more mobile solution.

  5. JackGuy January 9, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

    I don’t know. I would be enormously surprised if Microsoft had not ported Office to run on ARM, and let’s face it, that’s pretty much the only thing that’s prevented people from throwing away their computers completely in favor of tablets. Plus, with HTML and JavaScript based apps, Microsoft will have a plethora of applications in a very short amount of time.

  6. RazorBlade January 9, 2012 at 7:47 pm #

    The question is if you would use a tablet in the same way
    you would use a desktop. Most of the traditional heavy workload Windows
    applications are not suited for a tablet anyway because of the limited resources.
    These might become available in the future as cloud based apps but right after
    the release you can most likely use them with remote desktop services, Citrix
    or any other virtual application platform.

    Most users will however use a tablet as a media consumption
    device.  It would already be great if you
    can seamlessly browse your fileshares in the cloud or on your private or
    company server and don’t have to worry all the time about files that are not
    going work on your Android or Apple device. If you have data on a USB drive
    then you are stuck with an iOS device, if you have all kinds of Office files
    then you are stuck with Android.

    Another great thing about a Windows tablet is that it can be
    used much easier in company environments. Active Directory policies can be
    enforced, which is invaluable for companies. You don’t want company data to be
    touched by an unmanaged, and potentially insecure platform. I know that there
    are ways to manage Apple and Android tablets, but the options are rather
    limited compared with Active Directory.

    And then there is the integration. Microsoft has always be
    famous for integrating all kinds of software and the same is true for Windows
    8. With Apple or Android, every app is a sort of standalone thing,  while with Windows 8 apps are connected and
    aware of each other.

    I would say, there are plenty of reasons why I would rather
    have a Windows 8 tablet than an Android or iOS tablet. Not being able to run native
    x86 applications is not a showstopper for me. I can always run them virtually
    and then they would most likely run much better because then I can use all the
    computing power that I want. Running applications directly on the tablet will
    drain my battery and even then it will most likely have not enough resources
    for traditional windows programs.  

    • Bob Dole January 12, 2012 at 4:01 am #

      No-one uses the cloud.

  7. Xenios January 10, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    What you wrote about battery life with Intel processors is not really true. Look at these charts:

    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/tablet-pc-samsung-windows-slate,3079-8.html

    And then consider the fact that Intel will release Ivy Bridge in Q2 2012 with 22nm Tri-Gate technology, improving life time another estimated 30%.

  8. JohnnyG January 12, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    I don’t think that it’s completely accurate to say that on ARM devices you forego the ability to run existing desktop apps and suites.  It depends on what you mean by ‘existing.’  If you mean a version that currently runs on an Intel processor, then yes that’s true.  If you mean that it will only run Metro apps, I think that’s not quite right.  I don’t think that’s what Microsoft has said.  (I could be wrong on that.)

    What I’ve heard stated is that current Windows desktop apps will not work on ARM without a recompile – because they are currently compiled for Intel processors.  However, if recompiled for ARM, they should work.  That said, some apps will be as simple as a recompile to get them to work.  Others will require more extensive conversion.  You probably can’t take apps that run on the current version of Windows 7, plop them on an Windows 8 ARM devices and expect them to work.  But apps recompiled to work on ARM will probably be just fine.  It depends a lot on the app.

  9. Guest January 16, 2012 at 9:39 pm #

    Increase the app store offerings and guarantee I WILL get OS/security updates from Microsoft without having to put up with carrier/manufacturer nonsense like you do now on Android and I’m sold.

  10. Michael Bradley February 6, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

    OK the comments are already old.  ARM A15 will stay within the watts of A9 (less than 2 watts), we’re going from 35 microns to 15 or fewer microns, by the time Win 8 is released, tablets will be as powerful as notebooks/laptops were at 1/1/2012. 

    So by then you take the best O/S for the user (duh, Windows) with the right hardware (phone, tablet, notebook with a large monitor/dock).  Watch out for a flurry of new “I’m the best right now” tablets/phones/laptops/desktops/ (not to mention servers).

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