With Apple’s iPad 2 now starting at US $399 (AUD $429), and the expected iPad Mini to likely come in at even lower prices, despite naturally higher prices for the new iPad (3), the cost of Windows 8 tablets continues being in contention.
Android and Android-based tablets (such as the Google Nexus 7 or the Kindle Fire models) start at even lower prices, from US $199, putting Microsoft and its OEM on the spot to ensure entry-level Windows 8 Pro and Windows RT tablets are not only price competitive, but performance competitive, too.
Intel and its OEM partners has pinned their hopes on Intel’s new dual-core 1.8GHz “Clover Trail” Atom Z2760 processors, complete with hyper-threading technology that makes the Atom look like a quad-core processor to the Windows 8 OS, delivering the 10 hours of battery life that ARM processors promise, while running all the current x86/x64 software that ARM processors (and Windows RT tablets) simply cannot.
The new Atom also has Intel’s “Burst” technology to increase clock speeds when under load, ensuring that much more performance is delivered from the processor.
Of course, these capabilities don’t mean that the Z2760 Atom is all-of-a-sudden comparable to an Intel Core i5 or i7 – those processors remain far more powerful than any Atom but at the cost of battery life and heat, so we’ll just have to wait until October 26 and the widespread launch of Clover Trail Atom-equipped tablets and hybrids first.
If they truly do stack up, they’ll be arguably far preferable to ARM-based Windows 8 tablets, as they’ll run the software you expect – rather than Metro/Modern/Windows 8-style full-screen apps only.
Meanwhile, ultrabook tablet hybrids, such as Microsoft’s Surface Pro with 3rd-gen Core i5 processor and others will be the true “power” Windows 8 machines, letting power users take full advantage of Intel’s best and most powerful mobile processors, albeit at a higher cost.
Now, given the widespread availability of iPads and ever-improving Android tablets, complete with hundreds of thousands of apps that people actually want to download and use, Microsoft clearly has its work cut out for it to ensure Windows 8 tablets of all flavours truly become major mass-market success stories.
Part of this battle will be the price that Windows 8 tablets start at.
Byte Magazine’s George Ou suggests that a US $399 price point will be the one Microsoft and its OEM partners will have to meet to make this happen, despite suggestions from around the web that Windows 8 tablets powered with Clover Trail processors will come in at least $200 or $300 in price higher than Mr Ou’s US $399 starting price point suggests.
At least the diversity of the Windows marketplace should ensure that someone has Windows 8 x86/x64-based tablets at such “low” entry-level prices, but perhaps if Windows 8 tablet sales aren’t pumping quite as quickly as Microsoft hopes, the company still has time to work with its OEMs, pre-December, to fine-tune prices further.
After all, despite the long beta/release candidate/RTM schedule Windows 8 has enjoyed, it’s still much more of a very polished “version 1.x” OS blended into the most of Windows 7’s mature code base, making it a harder sell to those who simply want an iPad and/or Android tablet (like everyone else) to complement their existing Windows 7 laptop (or MacBook Air/Pro).
So, with Windows 8 and Windows RT machines still to go on sale in actual retail stores, rather than being the subject of endless pre-sale previews, the big challenge for Microsoft and its OEMs is whether the company can come out of the gate charging and champing at the bit for consumer and developer acceptance and attention – and whether it can do so at the right price, while satisfying the performance requirements and expectations we all have.
If anyone can do this and turn a position of market weakness into market strength, it’s Microsoft, a company that has done this many times in the past through Windows itself, office apps, games consoles and more.
Microsoft has had its failures, too, what with Zune players, MS Bobs, Vista and even, to a degree, Windows Phone 7.x, but as always, Microsoft is betting the company once again in the quest to finally win the tablet war – a war its been fighting for well over a decade – if not even longer when Pen Windows 3.1 is taken into account.
A starting price of US $399 for a Windows 8 tablet (with very similar pricing in Australia) while delivering performance that has to be noticeably superior to that of the anemic Atom netbooks of years gone by could well be the “surprise” entry point Microsoft is aiming at.
We’ll certainly find out in about 20 days whether that’s the case, or not!