Thursday, May 9, 2013

As most self respecting tech enthusiasts have probably known by now, a few days ago Acer had a splashy launch event in NYC. At the event, they launched two , arguably interesting, Windows 8 devices and a quad core , low priced, 8 inch Android tablet. Each of these devices has its own importance in the current state of the big war on mobile as I will attempt to show you in the following paragraphs.

First up is the Acer Iconia A1. It's a $200 ish,  7.9 inch Jelly Bean tablet that shares the same screen specs as the iPad mini. Acer's previous low budget offering, the B1, shipped with old school TFT panels, which makes it an instant no go for many. This one, on the other hand, has a decent IPS panel. However, what's most interesting to me about the A1 is not its screen nor its price tag, but the SoC (System on Chip) that powers it, namely the quad core Mediatek chip. Although Acer did not specify the exact chip type , I think it is safe to say that it is a derivative of the MT6589. 

This chip is interesting as although it has "only" four ARM A7 based processors instead of the latest A15 variety, it has the SGX 544 GPU clocked at either 286 MHz (for the MT6589) or 357 MHz (for the MT8589T). Either way, those clocks are higher than the SGX 543 found on the 3rd generation iPad and the iPhone 5!  Imagine that, a $200, 8 inch IPS tablet with graphics that are at least on par with or more likely better than Apple's flagships.  That, btw, is another example of Apple's exorbitant profit margin.

The other devices that Acer launched that day were two convertable ultrabooks namely the Acer P3 and the Star Trek inspired R7. They come with Intel Core CPUs and priced starting at around $700 and $1000, respectively. 
Now I'm not going to go into great detail about the challenging design routes  that Acer had chosen for these two devices as I'm sure many have discussed them before. What I'm more interested in is the fact that none of the devices Acer launched runs on Windows RT.

Unrelated to the launch event, Acer has also been reported to be working on an 8.1 inch Windows tablet called the Acer W3-810. This one is also rumored to be running the x86 version of Windows 8 instead of RT.

This is understandable because Intel has been making some serious strides in optimizing its x86 platform for mobile. One only need to go and look at Anandtech's article on Intel's future Silvermont platform to see what the future brings for x86 on mobile.

With that said, it is hard not to wonder where the future lies for Windows RT. If a company which has been historically concerned about catering to the budget market like Acer will not pick up Windows RT, who will?

Me and my friend +Ryan Hurst had a rather lengthy discussion about this , and we both agree that the future of Windows RT lies in Windows Phone. What? Let me explain.

Currently, Microsoft is supporting three different OSes (albeit sharing the same kernel) that are inarguably tough to sell. Every week we hear news about how people are reluctant to buy Windows 8 devices , about how Surface RT sales has not been as well as expected, how Windows Phone can't seem to make a dent in the global smartphone market, and how both WP and Windows 8 touch UI app ecosystems are struggling to gain traction among developers. It does not make much sense for a struggling company like Microsoft to continue supporting three different and not exactly market friendly OSes, does it?

Between the three difficult children of Microsoft's, Windows RT and Windows 8 actually have more in common in terms of apps. Apps developed for the touch UI portion of Windows 8 (formerly known as the Metro UI, now just Modern UI) are able to be run on both Windows 8 and Windows RT. While in terms of hardware that they run on, Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 share more in common as both run on ARM processors. 

Wouldn't Microsoft's chances of having their ecosystem gain traction be bigger if they only have ,effectively, a single ecosystem to promote?  

Another fact that might support this argument is Windows RT's ability to run Microsoft's Office suite natively.

Imagine if all Windows Phones run on Windows RT. Owners would be able to simply plug their phones to a Monitor and a set of keyboard and mouse and work just like they would on desktops. Business users would surely love to be able to do that. Plus guys like me who type on keyboards to make a living wouldn't need to even buy any PC. Theoretically I can just have a Windows RT phone and plug it into a monitor at the office to get some work done, and do the same at home. 

This idea is not that far fetched, since, as stated above, both Windows RT and Windows Phone are designed to run on ARM processors. In fact even a non profit developer at the XDA forums has proven that he could run Windows RT on a 3 year old, Snapdragon S1 powered HTC.

If I were Microsoft, I know which limb I'd prefer to cut. 

However, there is still one little devious detail I haven't touched. If Microsoft did decide to cut off Windows Phone 8 and run Windows RT on Windows Phones, it would not be the first time that Windows Phone supporters are getting their current devices chopped off of any hope for future upgrades. They did that when they switched from WP7 to WP8 remember? 
Boy am I glad I didn't jump and buy a WIndows Phone 8 device.