This Week in Tablets: Does Windows Blue spell the end for RT?

March 23, 2013

The big news early in the week was the news that Microsoft is hard at work on a big update of Windows 8, which is scheduled for release later this year.

Code-named Windows Blue, the update will focus on power efficiencies, apparently with a focus on Intel processors, particularly the Haswell family. A new CPU microarchitecture that should debut this summer, Haswell is small, fast, and designed for ultrabooks.

This much energy around an x86-based update feels like the end of Windows RT, at least as we know it. TabTimes’ columnist Ben Bajarin deems it important that the Windows Blue update will activate Windows tablets in the high-demand sub 10-inch range—a form-factor that Windows currently does not support.

Also important: the price point of the OS. Speculation is that Windows Blue will cost less, which will allow for more affordable Win8 tablet product lines.

(Bajarin also makes an observation that forebodes danger for Microsoft: In 2008, the Windows operating system ran on 95% of all computing devices. According to Forrester estimates, Windows now runs on only 30%, a percentage that will be eclipsed by Android by the end of 2013.)

Windows 9 also in the works

Based on rumors from Chinese tech site Win8China, it appears that Microsoft is already in hot pursuit of Windows 9. It’s not a huge surprise. Given how far behind Windows is, Microsoft had best be hard at work on the next version of its OS.

For Microsoft, a two-year upgrade cycle feels like it’s waiting too long. Given the fairly stable kernel of the Windows OS, this is one case where an Android-style run of 3 OS iterations in 2 years is warranted.

When you think about it this way, I start to think that Windows Blue will be a bigger deal and incorporate more updates and feature enhancements than we currently think. Microsoft can’t afford to think otherwise.

Thankfully, Microsoft is also offering Windows 8 users something in the here and now.  The company is working on a new update that roll out in coming weeks that will address numerous shortcomings in a whole bunch of its core apps, including Mail, Music, Bing, Photos, the Calendar, Camera, and more.

What does all of the above mean for Windows? It still feels like Windows 8 is a gravity shot whose primary goal is to converge with the rapidly evolving PC architecture (read: touch-based All in Ones and ultra-books ) as they became prevalent later this year and in 2014.

The big “if” here is how quickly Microsoft can help its partners (or its Surface line) move into the swelling 7-inch tablet category. In retrospect, Microsoft is probably wishing it had made its Surface RT tablet a 7-incher. Theoretically, there’s still time.

Tablet innovations everywhere

In other news, it felt like the week was more packed than usual with an assortment of interesting tablet innovations.

The most impressive was Wacom’s introduction of the tablet-within-a-tablet Cintiq 13HD, which is simultaneously the type of drawing, pen-based tablet Wacom is known for, as well as a 13.3-inch, 1920×1080 pixel display. For graphic designers, the Cintiq 13HD—which will available in April—is going to be heavenly.

Also interesting: Razer’s Edge Gaming Tablet, which generated considerable hype at CES 2013 for gaming-oriented accessories like a gamepad controller, extended batteries, and HDTV docking station.

And, on a slightly more disturbing front, there’s the iPotty, designed to help children potty train by keeping them entertained while sitting on the toilet. This feels more like a Saturday Night Live fake commercial than a real product, but it’s real.

This week’s loser: Samsung

Samsung’s week started with the company taking a few honest but tough follow-up shots from the technology press over its over-the-top Radio City media event for the Galaxy S4.

Say what you will about Apple, but it’s rarely been accused of being derogatory towards women because of its product announcements. 

How bad was the post-reaction? Shortly after the event, Robert Scoble wrote on Google+ that the Samsung “really screwed up”. More importantly, he made the point that the presentation didn’t explain the Galaxy S4’s new features well enough.

I’ve worked as a tech journalist long enough to know that this kind of reaction is typically the precursor to a fairly stringent product review and evaluation. Offensive, annoying, and—most importantly—unclear presentations will only heighten the scrutiny around the S4’s numerous new features.

I’m betting that under such scrutiny, a number of the new Galaxy’s features will not pass muster, or at the very least will be deemed less necessary than Samsung's hype.

Given all of this, it may have been a good week for Samsung to lay off the hubris. But no. In a fitting capper to the week, in a single 24-hour period, the company’s Chief Product Officer, Kevin Packingham, told TabTimes that the company’s line of tablet products is diverse enough that it trumps Apple, and rumors began floating around that the company is working on a high-end 2048 x 1536 OLED Galaxy Tablet.

It seems counter-intuitive, given how lucrative the company’s smartphone business is, but I can’t help but think that Samsung is heading for trouble here. The anti-Apple rhetoric was perfectly timed, but the whole Next Big Thing thing may just bite the company over the next half year. 

Finally, on the tablet front, it appears that Samsung market share is taking a bigger back seat to Amazon than many people expected. Recent reports from Comscore indicate that the Kindle Fire line is outpacing Samsung devices four to one in the United States. 

(All this said, a 2048 x 1536 OLED Galaxy Tab sounds like a winner in my book, with or without all the new custom OS enhancements Samsung announced last week.)

This week’s winner: Wacom users

For graphic designers, Wacom’s Cintiq 13HD sure seems like a winner. It’s much smaller and much lighter than previous entries in this product line, like the Cintiq 24HD.

A close runner up for this week’s winner are Barnes & Noble customers. In an effort to goose sales of its Nook HD and all of its ebooks, Barnes & Noble is offering customers a free Nook Simple Touch e-reader with the purchase of a Nook HD. Yes, it’s a move that smacks of desperation, but it’s still a good deal. 


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