Consumers and PC makers might be turned off by Windows RT. Microsoft doesn’t share their ambivalence.
The company is sticking with the ARM-based version of Windows for the long haul. Michael Angiulo, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Windows planning, told CNet that Windows RT is an industry “disruption” that will get stronger over time.
“If you look forward a year or two and you look at the performance output of ARM chips, those are some really capable chips,” Angiulo said. “I think it has a very bright future.”
Angiulo argued that Windows RT’s ability to install only Windows Store apps and not legacy desktop software—a criticism many have lodged at the new OS—is actually a benefit because users can just re-download all their apps on any new machine. He also thinks ARM-based PCs will be more likely to ship with mobile broadband connectivity, due to their long battery life on connected standby, a mode that allows the device to pull in e-mails and other updates in a low-power state.
While Windows RT could become more attractive in the future, Angiulo’s statements rely on a few big assumptions.
First, he assumes that the app situation in the Windows Store will improve. That’s not a given, considering that the growth rate of Windows 8/RT app development has tapered off recently. Microsoft is trying to stoke app development with small paid incentives right now, but that’s unlikely to help the Windows Store catch up with rival app emporiums.
Second, Angiulo acts as though lots of great Windows RT devices are on the way, but so far, PC makers haven’t seemed eager to push on with ARM-based Windows hardware. Samsung opted not to bring its ARM-based ATIV Tab to the United States, citing poor demand for Windows RT in general, and HP hardware boss Todd Bradley said last year that he’s “not a big [Windows] RT fan.” Chip maker Nvidia, meanwhile, has called Windows RT sales “disappointing.”
Certainly, Microsoft knows more than the general public about future Windows RT devices, and there have been rumors of upcoming Windows RT tablets from HTC and Nokia. Acer also says it has resumed work on its own Windows RT tablet, after putting the brakes on development last year. But if the next wave of devices fares as poorly as the first, Windows RT devices might not be around in the next year or two.
Finally, Microsoft’s hope for Windows RT assumes that x86-based tablets from Intel and AMD won’t get even more competitive with ARM-based tablets. With existing Clover Trail-based Atom tablets from Intel, there’s not much of a price, performance or battery difference compared to ARM-based devices, plus users have the benefit of running all their legacy apps. Tablets with Atom processors also offer connected standby, making them well-suited for mobile broadband connectivity. AT&T already sells one. If the gap between x86 and ARM continues to close, the value of Windows RT will shrink.
There is something to be said for the simplicity of Windows RT. If Microsoft can make a proper Modern-style version of Office, and kill the desktop, Windows RT could actually achieve its goal of less clutter and more focus than full-fledged Windows 8. Microsoft seems optimistic, but a lot of things have to go right for the company to pull it off.