Deciphering Microsoft’s Latest Windows Blog on Windows RT

by Patrick Moorhead   |   August 14th, 2012

For over 20 years, I worked with Microsoft as a customer or a technology partner. Microsoft has a huge job in guiding their enormous Windows ecosystem down certain paths, and over those two decades I have seen many flavors of communication styles. For Windows 8, Microsoft has adopted a significantly different way of communicating with the ecosystem versus prior OS releases. For the broad ecosystem, Microsoft is communicating with their main “Building Windows 8” Blog, which appears as a direct link to the engineering team. Their latest blog on Windows RT truly is an interesting one. While not that significant on the surface, if you dig deep with context, it is actually saying a lot, providing deep insights to Windows RT.  It also highlights the amount of pacification Microsoft is doing to the financial community and the OEMs.

It is helpful to put some context around Windows 8 and Windows RT. As I’ve written about previously, Windows 8 truly is the biggest risk Microsoft has ever taken. Microsoft is risking over 50% of their operating profits by deprioritizing the Windows desktop and leading with the “UI formerly known as Metro”. If Metro is a hit, it greatly increases Microsoft’s probability of success in tablets and phones. If not, they’ve risked a huge part of their company profits and reputation. Along the path, Microsoft has to keep multiple constituents aligned, many who are at odds, particularly when it comes to Windows RT where it’s truly X86 versus ARM. And this is where the latest blog gets interesting in what it says and doesn’t say.

“Surface Didn’t Kill Other Consumer Windows RT Tablets, Really”

With Surface, Microsoft is competing head-to-head with their customers. Whether we want to sugar coat it with phrases like “priming the pumps” the end result is still the same in that OEMs will be competing for mindshare and market share with companies like Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer and Samsung. Microsoft has not once said that if a certain threshold was achieved, then they would stand down or pull back. I don’t want to open the debate yet on whether Microsoft needed to do this or not as I will save that for a future column. One of the biggest things Microsoft is trying to say here is that even post-Surface, OEMs are still very interested in Windows RT tablets. So in the blog, Microsoft pointed out with exuberance that in addition to its own Surface, Dell, Lenovo, Samsung, Acer, and Asus will launch ARM-based Windows RT devices. Why did Microsoft do this? It was primarily to pacify investors who were concerned with the potential beginning of a crumbling of Windows as a platform.

“Acer May Be Upset, But Not That Upset” (UPDATED)

Acer’s CEO JT Wang has really been coming after Microsoft lately over by making some very caustic comments about Surface. They are veiled threats in a way, almost as if it’s a negotiation in the public forum. Wang is basically saying that Microsoft has no business doing hardware and they should leave it to the OEMs or risk mass defection and big hardware headaches they aren’t ready to take on. He may be right long-term, but OEMs really don’t have a viable option short term other than Android. Android for 4-7” devices may be doing well, but there are still less than 500 Android tablets apps available after a year and a half. Microsoft’s statement in their blog about OEMs leads with ASUS and it’s not just about alphabetical order, either, as ASUS gets their own, special hyperlink to their product, unlike the other OEMs. The blog says, “If you are following Windows RT, perhaps you have taken note of the Asus Tablet 600 (Windows RT) announcement or Microsoft’s own Surface RT™ news.” I love this part. It literally binds ASUS and Surface together as if to say, “Everything’s OK with Acer, really.”  ASUS isn’t Acer but they compete heavily in Asia and Europe.

“Dell Doing a Work Tablet, Like Lenovo, But with ARM-based Design”

Only one OEM got a quote in Microsoft’s latest Windows RT blog, and that was Dell. The rumor mill had been swirling for weeks on whether “Microsoft would allow Dell” to make to make a Windows RT tablet. This was a bizarre rumor in that it really wasn’t Microsoft’s decision on who does the first tablets; it was primarily Dell’s and the silicon provider’s choice which then needs to be approved by Microsoft because they are investing resources, too. Sam Burd, Dell’s VP of the PC Product Group says in the blog, “Dell’s tablet for Windows RT is going to take advantage of the capabilities the new ecosystem offers to help customers do more at work and home. We’re excited to be Microsoft’s strategic partner, and look forward to sharing more soon.” Note he leads with “work” and follows with “home”. This is in direct response to Lenovo’s Intel-based business tablet entry last week, which, interestingly enough, was cited in a Windows RT blog. Microsoft also intends this to counter Lenovo’s slides that show Windows RT as a lousy corporate client.

“Where Are the Web Browsing Battery Life Figures?”

Like others, I was glad to see the Windows RT battery life figures. The HD playback numbers make sense as video playback is limited to a very small part of the SOC and in some cases can do it without even lighting up the CPU or GPU. The connected standby is also a very impressive number, but I am curious about the variables around it like the type and persistence of the connection. One figure though that was glaringly absent was the lack of a web browsing battery life figure. This one is real important as it is also an indication of how well Metro apps will do as many are based on web technologies. Their absence probably means that the numbers aren’t great or inconsistent and they are still tweaking drivers.

“Windows RT Does Deliver a Differentiated Experience, Really”

Microsoft starts their Windows RT blog with a tip of the hat to both Intel and AMD. The industry was surprised when Intel provided OEMs low power silicon with acceptable performance and I think how well AMD’s Trinity does, too. Intel downplayed their achievements on Medfield, too, which makes sense as they lost  mobile credibility on Menlow and Moorestown. Microsoft’s tone in their blog is as if they are saying, “OK, Intel does have competitive silicon that works with the full-featured Windows 8, but there is value in Windows RT, too.”

And what is Microsoft saying about the incremental value? Essentially, they are parroting exactly what NVIDIA’s CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said months ago, and that it’s about consistency of experience. Microsoft talks about consistency in battery life, graphics, gestures, and even physical characteristics.

Microsoft may have a point here in that the focus and options are much more dialed in on Windows RT than on Windows 8. For example, because Windows RT cannot install Windows 7 apps, there’s no way that a consumer will install BattleField 3 and have a lousy experience. Also, the touchpad experience on Windows 8 is crucial, and according to the blog, all Windows RT tablets will support the side-swipes and swipe-up/down. Does this mean that you cannot find these features on X86-based Windows 8 tablets? No, but it doesn’t mean all of them will have it either.

Where is Toshiba?

One of the biggest missing OEMs from the blog was Toshiba. Toshiba and Texas Instruments both were showing off Windows RT tablets at Computex, but they were nowhere to be found in the Microsoft blog. Shara Tibken at the Wall Street Journal cleared up any ambiguity with her article. Toshiba will not do a Windows RT-based tablet now and place focus on Intel and AMD-based tablets. This does not bode well for TI, who has significantly lagged NVIDIA and Qualcomm on drivers for the Windows RT platform. While I have personally used NVIDIA and Qualcomm-based RT tablets, I haven’t been able to actually try out on based on TI silicon yet, so all I can comment on what I have heard from developers. With TI’s focus primarily on Android, it makes sense they would prioritize that development over Windows, even with the direct help they are receiving from Microsoft. I believe the future of TI-based Window RT devices is in question now, at least for launch.

Conclusion

Microsoft felt the need to pacify their OEM customers and investors and used this latest blog to do it. They came under attack of late for launching Surface with Windows RT that cast doubt on the future of any other RT tablets being successful. Ironically, with Intel-based Windows 8 tablets being announced as well by Lenovo that look very compelling, Microsoft needed to reiterate why Windows RT is incrementally valuable and different. Will the blog be enough to sway what people think in the ecosystem? I don’t think so, as what people really want to know is how many well-known, high quality Metro-based applications will be available at launch, as this will be the true decider of how well Windows RT will fair, at least in the short term. We should know more tomorrow, August 15, as the doors to the paid Windows 8 store opens up.  As we learned from the Blackberry PlayBook and the webOS-based Touchpad, first impressions do matter and I hope Microsoft has heeded that history.

Patrick Moorhead

Patrick Moorhead was ranked the #1 technology industry analyst by Apollo Research for the U.S. and EMEA in May, 2013.. He is President and Principal Analyst of Moor Insights & Strategy, a high tech analyst firm focused on the ecosystem intersections of the phone, tablet, PC, TV, datacenter and cloud. Moorhead departed AMD in 2011 where he served as Corporate Vice President and Corporate Fellow in the strategy group. There, he developed long-term strategies for mobile computing devices and personal computers. In his 11 years at AMD he also led product management, business planning, product marketing, regional marketing, channel marketing, and corporate marketing. Moorhead worked at Compaq Computer Corp. during their run to the #1 market share leader position in personal computers. Moorhead also served as an executive at AltaVista E-commerce during their peak and pioneered cost per click e-commerce models.
  • Peter Scott

    I don’t really see how Microsoft is really risking that much with
    Windows 8. Worse case they have another Vista and people cling to Win7.
    MS gets paid either way. MS really does have a desktop monopoly and for
    most user they will come back for another serving of MS dogfood even if
    it gets less palatable.

    • steve_wildstrom

      That’s an argument stuck in about 2000. Microsoft’s market share has been eroding for some years and if you look at traditional PCs+tablets, they don’t have anything vaguely resembling a monopoly. Microsoft can survive Windows 8 rejection on the desktop–but only if the Windows 8/RT tablets are a solid hit.

      • Peter Scott

        I specifically said “Desktop Share” and this is where the losses are proclaimed to be, so that is what we should look at. AFAICT it is still 90%+ world wide:
        http://www.neowin.net/news/windows-xp-market-share-goes-down-in-february-2012
        What real alternative is there? Expensive Macs or Kludgy Linux? There will be no mass migration. Windows Desktop users will stay with windows because there is no real desktop alternative for most people.

        • Rich

          Computing in the enterprise may have been completely dependent on desktop machines in 2000, but that’s no longer true. Employees are working in the field, at home, and even when they come to the office more and more of them bring their own non-desktop (i.e. tablet) computers with them. You’re talking like you’re not aware of this major trend.

          • Peter Scott

            Tablets don’t replace desktops. You are mixing trends. The main
            beneficiary of BYOD has been iPhones/Android Phones to the detriment of
            RIM.

            People who work on Enterprise desktops editing documents or
            developing software aren’t bringing in their iPads to edit text and
            debug software on.

            The Destkop Market is still massive, still overwhelmingly Microsoft and
            there is no real desktop alternative (certainly not an iPad). It also is strong in enterprise and in the home.

          • steve_wildstrom

            There’s an unmistakeable downward trend in the PC sales data for both enterprises and consumers, and that is only going to accelerate. If Windows 8 were to catch on in either market, it would drive a lot of hardware sales because the UI not called Metro doesn’t work very well on current equipment. If it doesn’t, neither enterprises nor consumers with Win 7 systems are going to geel a lot of pressure to replace them, which i really bad for both Microsoft and the OEMs. I think enterprise adoption of Win 8 on traditional PCs will be lower than Vista; it creates a tremendous training burden–where’s my Start button?–for very little benefit.

          • Peter Scott

            I like Horace’s sales of everything graph to get some perspective on sales trends:
            http://www.asymco.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Screen-Shot-2012-01-15-at-1-15-5.54.54-PM.png
            I don’t see a rapid PC decline happening there. Though it may have peaked. We need a lot more data to call this an unmistakeable downward trend. I mean you could have called an end in 1990 if you look at short term trends.
            I do think we are already in a period of longer upgrade cycles as PC are very powerfull and upgrading after 3 years isn’t quite as important as it was years ago.
            While I agree that Win8 will likely face another stiff headwind like Vista (possibly worse), the overall effect on PC sales will likely be similar. On the graph it is hard to even spot a Vista slowdown effect on PC sales.
            I am a Windows/Linux user and I hate (don’t call it) Metro. But when it comes time to get a faster new PC, I will either specify Windows7, or if unavailable, get Window8 and apply the hacks I need to banish the cartoon squares and return my start menu. I alreadly use classic shell on 7 because I didn’t like some of the Start Menu changes.
            If there is longterm trend where people determine that all they need is tablets, then not even an excellent operating system is going to alter that trend away from desktops. But I see tablets as desktop additions, not replacements.

            For now, if you run a desktop Windows PC and you need a new desktop PC, the alternatives don’t really apply. Which is my point.
            Desktop sales aren’t going to drop off a cliff, and desktop sales will continue to be almost a Microsoft exclusive. They are in no real danger. Even if Metro is an absolute disaster a quick patch can return the Start Menu and put Metro in the background and there really won’t be much of an issue anymore.
            Though at first Microsoft is going to try to make everyone eat the (don’t call it)Metro dogfood to jumpstart that ecosystem, but if it fails they have an easy fallback.

    • http://techpinions.com/about-tech-pinions/patrick-moorhead Patrick Moorhead

      The alternatives will be very apparent to the PC and Microsoft needs to get Windows 8 or risk 53% of their operating profit.

    • Rich

      You’re forgetting BYOD, which is having a very significant impact in the enterprise and means employees are less dependent on Windows.

      You say “MS gets paid if people cling to Win 7.” How does that work when Microsoft has already *been* paid for Win 7? That’s money in the past.

  • GadgetFreak

    Tablet I think is better because it is more practical and easy to carry also read: IOS Feature 6 Feature Beam Vs Jelly

    • http://techpinions.com/about-tech-pinions/patrick-moorhead Patrick Moorhead

      I think a docked tablet makes sense, but the absence of a mouse or trackpad lowers its utility now.

  • Pingback: New Windows Tablets: the Good, the Not-So-Bad, and the Ugly - Businessweek | NMS Designs

  • Rich

    “It was primarily to pacify investors who were concerned with the potential beginning of a crumbling of Windows as a platform.” If that happened, it would be on top of Microsoft stock already being dead money for 10 years.

  • m Arch Tom’s on Bar N Ass

    METRO. far too much of a african sound. (fun, chimpanzee, drums, music, dance) not a business oriented interface then, is this to please northern african emerging countries or a northern african marketing strategy to attract customers ? marc