Microsoft is making some huge changes with the release of its Surface tablet, but that doesn’t mean the company is totally leaving its hardware partners behind. To show that it’s still faithful to (at least some of) its OEM relationships, Microsoft on Monday confirmed the initial Windows RT partners and detailed the collaboration process required to build the upcoming ARM-based devices.
Dell, Lenovo, Asus and Samsung all made the cut to deliver Window RT devices at launch. Currently, the only officially announced Windows RT devices include the Surface RT tablet and the Asus Tablet 600. But according to Microsoft, we can expect not only several WinRT tablets coming from its four initial partners, but also PCs with “full keyboard and touchpad solutions, whether removable/dockable or a traditional clamshell.”
In the Monday blog post, Microsoft’s vice president of its Ecosystem and Planning team Mike Anguilo goes on to describe how the company is working with its manufacturing partners to bring the totally new ARM-powered PCs to market. The company has worked very closely with Dell, Lenovo, Asus and Samsung (as well as its silicon partners like Nvidia) in order to make sure that the hardware integrates well with the radically different software. Each hardware company has shared very early versions of its devices with Microsoft, and according to Aguilar, “designs were informed and revised by our collective efforts through development and testing.”
Missing from the list of WinRT partners are HP, HTC (which is not surprising considering news from earlier this summer), and Acer, whose executives have been very vocal about their distaste for Microsoft’s Surface. But Aguilar’s blog post seems to indicate that Microsoft considers Surface only one piece of the Windows RT ecosystem, echoing what other Microsoft execs have said in the past.
Aguilar highlights a few of the key areas that Microsoft and its partners focused on while building the Windows RT devices. Specifically, always-on battery technology played a large role. Microsoft wants its Windows RT devices to stay in a connected standby state without using too much battery power.
The company released some stats to show how well Windows RT batteries are currently performing with the RTM (release to manufacturer) code. With HD video playback, the devices have between eight and 13 hours of run time, and in connected standby they last for between 320 and 409 hours — up to around 17 days.
Microsoft also outlines the typical measurements of the upcoming lineup of Windows RT devices. Weights vary between 520g to 1200g, or around 1.14 to 2.65 pounds, and devices are between 0.33 to 0.61 inch thick. For comparison, the new iPad measures at 0.37 inch and weights 1.44 pounds, while the MacBook Air is 0.68 inch at its thickest and weighs 2.38 pounds. That puts the Windows RT devices at comparable sizes to what is currently available on the market.
Beyond battery power and size, Microsoft also worked with its partners to make sure that the WinRT devices would be able to “share information intuitively and easily.” This means that at least some of the WinRT tablets and PCs will come with built-in NFC capabilities. And the devices will also support all or at least most of the standard sharing technologies including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, WWAN, and USB.
For devices that will come with touchpads, Microsoft has worked with touchpad component vendors — Synaptics is one example — to create several touchpad-specific gestures that mimic the touchscreen interface gestures. We already saw a few of these in the Release Preview of Windows 8, such as swiping in from the right to pull up the Charms bar. But Microsoft is also showing a few more that will make their way to the Windows RT touchpads, such as two-finger scrolling and two-finger pinch. (See graphic above.)
I’ve had some hands-on time with the Surface RT tablet, and like many others, was impressed with Microsoft’s own take on the Windows 8 and Windows RT hardware experience. But as CEO Steve Ballmer said at his keynote speech at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference: “Surface is just a design point. It will have a distinct place in what’s a broad Windows ecosystem. And the importance of the thousands of partners that we have that design and produce Windows computers will not diminish.” That means that it’s still in Microsoft’s best interest to work closely with its partners to make their devices competitive, both alongside and with Surface.
And from Aguilar’s post, it seems that the company is right on that track.
As much as we want Microsoft to screw its hardware partners and as gorgeous and full of potential Surface is, Microsoft isn’t Microsoft without at least some partners. It’s clear, however, Microsoft is at least being very selective when it comes to something as unfamiliar as Windows RT. The company is playing a much larger collaborative role in the hardware development process, making sure that the devices that do come out will be just as, if not more, impressive than Surface.
But the company hasn’t changed all of its approaches. In a classic Microsoft-esque manner, the company assures us that there will be enough choices that “allow every customer to find a PC that fits their needs and lifestyle perfectly.” You can expect to see a large variety of devices, in a broad range of form factors, coming from the four initial hardware manufacturers.