Sorry Windows RT, Windows 8 on an Atom has your number

Samsung Ativ Smart Tab

As I wander home from last week’s Consumer Electronics Show — I’m still on the road, currently on the West Coast — I keep thinking back to Windows 8. Although Microsoft had no presence on the floor, its showcase software was everywhere on desktops, laptops and tablet. Being a mobile guy, I was drawn to the tablets more than anything yet I can’t help but think the once exciting prospect of running Windows on ARM chips has already lost much of its luster.

Microsoft Surface RTI alluded to this last week when Samsung decided not to bring its Ativ Tab, a Windows RT slate, to the U.S. market. Since then, UBS analyst Brent Thill hasĀ estimated that one million Surface RT units were sold last quarter, which is generally in with other numbers being bandied about. That figure is half of Thill’s original estimate, but I actually think a million Surface RT sales is still a good number, considering the device has had very limited distribution channels.

Regardless of the actual figure, and even if Microsoft keeps expanding the retail and online outlets to sell the Surface RT, I expect far fewer Windows RT devices being sold from Microsoft, Dell and any other of Redmond’s hardware partners because of what I saw at CES: higher performing Intel-powered Windows 8 slates with fewer restrictions over their Windows RT brethren.

It’s a simple scenario, really. Consumers have three choices when it comes to Windows tablets. They can buy

  1. ARM-based: A Windows RT tablet for around $500 that has acceptable performance, a Desktop limited to Microsoft Office use, no support for legacy software and a device that runs for about 10 hours on a charge.
  2. Intel Atom-based: A Windows 8 tablet for around $500 that has slightly better performance, no desktop or software installation limitations and runs for 8 to 10 hours on a charge.
  3. Intel Core-based: A windows 8 tablet for around $900 that offers the best performance, hasĀ no desktop or software installation limitations and runs for 4 to 5 hours on a charge.

See the problem? For roughly the same price, consumers can choose between options 1 and 2. Any benefits of running Windows on an ARM processor — at current device prices — simply isn’t there.

Asus Vivo SmartDevices under option 2 do exist. Samsung isn’t bringing the Ativ Tab to the U.S. but its Atom-based Ativ Smart Windows 8 tablet with 64 GB of storage is $599 on Amazon. You can hit up Dell for its 32 GB Latitude 10 Essentials, another Atom-based Windows 8 tablet, for $499. And one of my favorite Atom-based Windows 8 slates that I played with at CES, the Asus Vivo Tab Smar,t is at the pre-order stage for $499: It includes 64 GB of storage capacity at that price.

When I first heard that Windows 8 was coming to ARM-based devices, I was thrilled. I figured that consumers would have a new option or choice. I wrongly assumed, however that these tablets would be priced noticeably lower than slates running on Intel chips. That price difference may appear someday, but today is not that day. Until consumers see the price difference between option 1 and 2 vary by 25 percent or more, Windows RT won’t be the Microsoft tablet platform for the masses.

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