Meet Windows RT

Microsoft’s first serious foray into tablets came just after the turn of the new millenium, with Bill Gates demonstrating the first tablet PC prototype onstage at Comdex in the autumn of 2000. From there, OEMs started releasing tablets based on Windows XP Tablet PC Edition in 2002, with a full range of pen-enabled slates and convertibles releasing over the next few years. In addition to oftentimes prohibitive cost, each had its own set of drawbacks. Convertibles tended to be quite bulky compared to their notebook counterparts (the ThinkPad X-series being a notable exception), while slates were rather difficult to use - a symptom of shoehorning a desktop operating system into a purely touch-centric form factor. 

Fast forward a decade, to the beginning of 2010. After a number of conceptual non-starters in the tablet PC space - building tablet PC support into all editions of Windows Vista and 7 (other than Basic/Home Starter), the entire Origami class of devices - Microsoft’s touchscreen devices were floundering. The iPad had been announced to mixed reaction but an extremely high level of anticipation. Microsoft and HP countered with the Slate 500, an Atom-based device shown off at CES 2010 with solid state storage and Windows 7 in roughly the same form factor as Apple’s iPhone OS-based ARM tablet. With speculation pointing to a pricetag of just $549, the Slate appeared to be the most viable hope Microsoft had in trying to make mainstream headway with the tablet PC concept. But shortly after the iPad shipped in April 2010, rumors of the Slate’s demise started to circulate, and after a six month delay, the Slate 500 started shipping as an enterprise-only product in December of that year for $799. HP’s acquisition of Palm (RIP) definitely played a role in the sidelining of the Slate, but more importantly, it essentially spelled the end for the tablet PC. This was news that was perhaps known already, but the Slate saga officially pulled the plug on Microsoft’s original idea of what a tablet was. 

The problem was two parts software, one part hardware. Microsoft had developed a very interesting touch-oriented user interface for its handhelds, so at least one part of the equation was relatively straightforward. The hardware issue came down to this: the iOS and Android tablets succeeding in the market ran off ARM system-on-chips, which resulted in slim, power-efficient tablets that had idle times stretching for days. At the time, there was just nothing in terms of x86 hardware that could compete with that in low-power device realm (Clover Trail and Haswell, of course, change this part of the story considerably). The other question? How to converge the touch-centric UI with the classic desktop environment that had been the corner of Windows dating all the way back to 95. 

Meet Windows RT. It’s Microsoft’s first major foray into the modern tablet market, the shipping version of Windows-on-ARM, and it’s one of Microsoft’s most important product launches ever. Windows 8 shares the same touch-friendly user interface, but the ARM silicon makes RT an almost entirely tablet-centric operating system, the first for Microsoft. Combined with the focus on premium hardware experiences, this is Redmond’s most serious push to be competitive with the iOS and Androids of the world. How does it fare? Keep reading.

User Interface, Gestures, and Multitasking
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  • khanikun - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    Think you hang out with a lot of kids, cause everyone I know doesn't promote games. They promote useful apps. Cardstar, vehicle traffic apps, gas prices around you apps, etc. Well, at least what I saw in the DC/Baltimore area.

    Maybe in middle-of-nowhere, where there is barely any traffic, 1 supermarket, 3 gas stations, they don't need such apps and just play games.
  • dysonlu - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    Well, I guess you hang out with middle age people who drive gas guzzlers and trucks then. See what I did there, dick?

    Just take a look at the Apple App Store charts, mostly games and entertainment apps rule. Do some reading. It's not just coincidence that Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, etc., became household names.

    Oh and try to argue without insulting or degrading others. You may not be a kid but you should grow up.
  • designerfx - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    yeah this was never true, even for android and ios. it was a rumor started by....wait for it, wait for it..............

  • NeuroticNomad - Monday, October 29, 2012 - link

    You ARE aware that Apple stopped accepting fart apps back in September of 2010... over 2 years (and 500,000 apps later), are you not?

    App Store count at the end of Aug 2010: Just under 250,000

    App Store count September 2010: 703,189

    Fart App Ban: September 2010
  • NeuroticNomad - Monday, October 29, 2012 - link

    Second link is for 2012, not 2010.
  • appliance5000 - Thursday, November 1, 2012 - link

    I find that disappointing.
  • cappasay - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Yesterday the latest report said 7k apps. I can't attest to their quality.. but your statement about taking "at least a year" for "tens of thousands of apps" seems a bit off.
  • p05esto - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    How many stupid apps do you actualyl use? I installed about 20 apps when I first got my tablet and have hardly installed anything else. I surf the web mostly, check a little email and play checkers....that's about it!
  • tbutler - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I also think the review is being overly optimistic about Metro apps.

    The argument is that Windows 8 will have a huge install base, therefore developers will write Metro apps for Windows 8. But the review itself admits "for mouse-based navigation, you’re better off treating it as a glorified Start menu", and indeed the 'traditionalist' reply to Win8 critics seems to be "other than the Start screen, you can ignore Metro and just use it like you used Win7." If this is the way people are going to use it, the installed base argument is worthless; all those supposed millions of Windows 8 users are going to be in desktop mode, so there's no incentive to write Metro apps for them.

    Metro app development is going to have to rise or fall on the strength of the tablet market, which is a much iffier prospect.
  • a5cent - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I expect to see the market split between power users / IT workers and consumers.

    Professionals requiring the heavyweight software packages (MatLab, Maya, Photoshop, etc) will probably stick with the view that the start screen is nothing but a glorified app launcher.

    After an adaptation period however, consumers will find themselves using Metro more and more often and at some point, desktop mode will become irrelevant for many, including those with laptop and desktop PC's. So I do think notebook/desktop sales will help strengthen the market for Metro app developers.

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