Windows 8 Tablet Wars, Oh My!


Last week, Intel had a premier event where they showcased a large number of tablets and tablet hybrids that will be coming to market around the launch of Windows 8.  

Today, Meg Whitman, HP’s CEO, showcased their ElitePad 900 for business, which will be arriving early next year. And I know of a number of additional tablets that will be lunching over the next four weeks as we ramp to the Windows 8 launch.

I’ve been messing with a number of tablets this year and think I can make some recommendations.  

ARM vs. X86

While both products seem very similar and may even come in similar sizes and approach similar price points, they will provide very different experiences. The Windows RT version, which runs on ARM, is a PC appliance. It is tied tightly to the Microsoft store, won’t run legacy windows applications, and will be best for those looking for an iPad + experience.  These products will be toward the low end of the price band and actually come with a version of Microsoft Office built in – few of us have had the opportunity to use one. 

The best buyer is someone who wants an iPad experience but needs to use Office occasionally.

The x86 products will come in two basic flavors: one based on Intel’s Core processors and one based on their Atom processors. The more expensive core processor products will be more like touch laptops and will likely do best with larger screens and in hybrid configurations or touch laptops.   

The Atom-based products will be lighter, cheaper, and focused more on hitting ARM-based price points but still providing backwards compatibility to older Windows applications. From what I’ve seen so far, the Core products have the lowest batter life, the highest performance and the highest cost, while the Atom-based products have the lowest performance, competitive (to ARM) battery life and competitive (to ARM) cost.   

As a result, the core products would be best used by someone that wants to replace a laptop with something very similar, and bigger is therefore better with regard to the screen size. The Atom-based offering is chasing the same iPad market the ARM offering is but trading off performance for greater existing application compatibility. It will do more than the ARM product does but in things both products share that are native to Windows 8 the ARM offering should be noticeably quicker, and likely have stronger graphics performance (both Qualcomm and NVIDIA are pumping the graphics in their Windows 8 offerings).   

Picking the Right Product

The two vectors that are easy are the Core and ARM differentiation. If you want a laptop replacement then Core is the way to go, you’ll pay a premium but you won’t be disappointed particularly if you get a device with a screen size approaching or exceeding 12”.   If you want an iPad that is more capable of doing work, then you want the ARM-based offering and 10” is fine (though I still think bigger is better) and you won’t have to buy a copy of Office; it’ll come built in.

Now if you are part of this iPad crowd but you either don’t like the restrictions of the Microsoft store or need to run some legacy applications native, the Atom-based platform is likely the best for you. 

Be aware that this new Atom platform may be delayed

Picking between products, I’d go with the largest screen and fastest charging battery with a Core solution in a laptop or hybrid configuration. For ARM, you’re looking for the best display, lightest weight, and best battery life. Atom contains the same vectors as ARM but you’ll also want to make sure there is enough performance to run your necessary applications.  

Wrapping Up: AMD Wildcard

AMD is eventually expected to launch a wild card product in this mix that attempts to provide core like performance within an Atom price and battery life envelope. They will likely land in-between the two extremes resulting in a better compromise. We’ll know more when these products actually launch.

In the end though, start thinking about what is important to you now so that when you are motivated to buy, you end up with the best product for your unique needs and not the first flashy object that caught your eye.  I expect this will be an expensive quarter, but if you think through your purchase you’ll likely find the expense worthwhile.  

Edited by Braden Becker

President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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