What we expect: Windows 8 Tablets

3/22/2012 5:14:36 PM

So far, there have been not much things heard or seen about Windows 8 tablets. Jared Newman and Melissa Perenson search where they are and what will come out in the future.

The latest version of Windows 8, the next version of Microsoft OS, has been planned to launch in the end of this year. There is a lot of news about expected features, but there are not many details about necessary hardware to run Windows 8 – especially related to the tablet. It’s quite strange because Microsoft performed this operating system on a Samsung tablet in Build conference in September.

We also waited for CES exhibition in January that would be full of Windows 8 tablets; but it was also quiet about that.

Three companies which displayed Windows 8 running on ARM processor in Build were also erratic in CES. nVidia demonstrated Windows 8 that ran smoothly on a reference platform; Qualcomm tablet which had been seen in Build appeared, and Texas Instruments exhibited a Windows 8 reference platform.

Some Chinese manufacturers demonstrated popular tablets running Windows 7, but there was only a company telling about Windows 8 plan in detail: Kupa ran Windows 8 Developer Preview on X11 - the tablet is currently running Windows 7 on Intel Atom Z670 processor. The company said they were ready for Windows 8, because of 16:9 screen, 1366x768 (which was suitable for the best goal of Microsoft for Windows 8) that was the specification on a par with Samsung Series 7 tablets shown by Microsoft in Build.

Besides this 1366x768 resolution, Microsoft said tablets needed at least 1 GB of memory, 720p camera and the support of Direct 3D 10.

Moreover, all Windows 8 tablets and tablet-laptop must have at least 5 hard buttons for power, rotation key, up and down volume and a Windows key. Tablets have to support 5 simultaneous touch points, and include an ambient light sensor (which may be used to automatically adjust brightness), a magnetometer (for compass applications), accelerometer and gyroscope (for motion control).

Microsoft has not announced the requirement about system memory and minimal processor yet, but they said all Windows 7 computers were able to run Windows 8. Windows 8 Developer Preview has listed requirements composed of 1 GHz processor, along with 1GB or 2GB of RAM and 32 and 64bit operating systems.

Not ready to talk

Apart from few illustrations we have mentioned, there is a small number tablet manufacturers which are willing to talk about their Windows 8 plan; they even don’t discuss what we can expect to see in that shape factor. Even Samsung has nothing to add into information we’ve already had.

Paul Moore, director of development products of Fujitsu, implied that Microsoft was encouraging a brand new image of tablets running the fresh operating system. But “it’s remained vague till now”, he admitted.

Stylistic Q550 tablet of Fujitsu runs Windows 7 on Atom CPU but they plan to pronounce some updates for its specifications in the middle of 2012. It is expected to increase performance to play videos better. “It seems to be biggest challenge on Atom”, Moore confessed. “And it’s the biggest complaint of customers: videos are a bit lagged.”

CPU question

It’s not obvious to see whether Microsoft has any advantages in the tablet market when Windows 8 is launched. It’s partly because Microsoft hasn’t said clearly if Windows applications worked on ARM processors and how they worked. ARM tablets will have pros of weight, power and may be price compared with tablets running x86 processor, which makes the space of ARM tablets attractive to see.

Waiting for a violent attack of tablets based on ARM, Intel is ready for a two-side defense. Single core “Mefield” platform which is designed for Android is expected to launch in the second quarter of this year, while “Clover Trail”, which designed only for Windows 8, will be released in the end of 2012. Clover Trail will replace Atom chip which is using in most Windows tablets now – just Samsung, with Series 7 based on Core i5, has released a Windows tablet using CPU which is more powerful than laptops.

Activities are always on

Qualcomm introduced a second sample of reference system Windows 8 in CES, this time the company showed it with the enable feature which was standby to connect (connected standy). It was the state that the system was off but it could continue immediately to help Windows 8 save energy and prolong battery life.

“Microsoft has discussed the concept which was always on and connected. We consider it as a combination of smartphone function and computing,” Steve Horton, the director managing software and product of Qualcomm commented.

While tablet manufactures are still reserved when they are asked about how ARM platforms affect their tablet designs, using ARM processors will be certainly noticeable. In a conversation in Build, Horton noted that there was no limit on ARM tablet designs, except for 16:9 screens. Image contrast ratio allows the screen to align the best screen size for Metro interface of Windows 8.

When being asked about Windows 8 tablets running on ARM processors, Junghwan Hong – a senior designer and Sangwon Yoon – a chief designer, who took part in creating ultra-thin Samsung Series 9, avoided particular details. However, they admitted the potential of ARM processors that makes opportunities and challenges for new designs.

“As designers, we are doing research on ARM”, Yoon said. “We have many different shape factors for ARM devices. ARM doesn’t have a fan (for cooling), so it’s a good feature”.

Yun explained a logical problem designers were facing: the low price of ARM tablets restricted using “interesting” materials, but the computer had to be good-looking.

There was no thorny matter in CES, 2012 is expected to become an amazing year for tablets running the next operating system of Microsoft.

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