Ever since Microsoft announced that it would be making ARM-based versions of Windows 8 collectively called Windows RT (and originally code-named Windows on ARM—WOA), we’ve wondered about the details of these systems. Which hardware makers are making them? How much will they cost? When will they become available? And how will they compare with existing computing devices such as the Apple iPad? This week, finally, Microsoft started pulling back the curtain.
“We know many are interested in how we extended ... our engineering collaboration [with hardware partners] ... to a new generation of PCs built on the ARM platform,” Microsoft’s Steven Sinofsky writes in the introduction to a new post on the Building Windows 8 Blog. “We are all very excited by the innovation and creativity that will arrive in the market this October.”
In the post, Microsoft reveals that both Windows 8 and Windows RT reached the release to manufacturing (RTM) milestone simultaneously, as they’re based on the same code. And though Windows 8-based PCs are pretty well understood, given the decades of improvements that have occurred on the Intel-compatible side of the fence, what we’re most interested in is new information about Windows RT.
Here’s what’s happening:
Hardware makers. Microsoft says that ASUS, Dell, Lenovo, and Samsung are all making Windows RT-based devices. (Microsoft is, too: Its Windows RT-based Surface tablet will debut in October.) What Microsoft didn’t tell you, however, is that Toshiba and Vizio are also delivering Windows RT devices this year.
Connected Standby. All Windows RT devices (and those PCs that are based on Intel System On a Chip—SOC—designs) will offer a new feature called Connected Standby that lets the device be always on and connected with virtually no impact on battery life. The result is instant-on waking and a completely updated device that’s ready to go with your latest email, social-networking updates, and other information. These devices can remain in Connected Standby for 320 hours to 409 hours, depending on the device, Microsoft says, without fully powering down.
Battery life. One of the vaunted advantages of ARM over traditional PC designs is that this platform provides superior battery life. According to Microsoft, RTM-based Windows RT devices running HD video can achieve between 8 and 13 hours of battery-life runtime—a significant improvement over Intel-based PCs.
Weight. “Typical” Windows RT devices—tablets—will weigh between 1.3 pounds and 2.1 pounds, Microsoft says. (As a comparison, the Apple iPad 3 weighs 1.44 pounds.)
Thickness. “Typical” Windows RT devices—again, tablets—will achieve a thickness of 8.35mm to 15.6mm. (By comparison, the iPad is 9.4 mm thick.)
NFC. Windows RT devices will feature Near Field Communications (NFC) technology for sharing information between compatible devices. (“By simply tapping two NFC-enabled Windows RT PCs together, users can easily share photos, URLs, map directions, and anything else that our software partners have designed into their Windows apps,” the posts notes.)
Not just for tablets. Although hardware partners are expected to emphasize tablet designs with clip-on keyboard bases as an obvious answer to the iPad, Microsoft says that we’ll see traditional laptop-like designs and other PC-like form factors.
App compatibility. Although Windows RT cannot run traditional third-party Windows applications, Microsoft designed the new Metro-style apps platform to support both Windows 8 and RT. And according to the company, over 90 percent of the apps in Windows Store support Windows RT, too.
That’s some good information. But there are more questions, and the big one is about pricing. And though I can’t reveal the Windows RT device lineup I’ve viewed, I can tell you that these devices will indeed be priced comparably with the iPad. As a reminder, Apple prices the iPad at $499 to $829, depending on configuration. And not surprisingly, the Windows RT device price range will look shockingly similar to that. Shockingly.