Floodgates to open for Windows RT tablets in January

Microsoft will reportedly expand very short list of manufacturers for Windows RT tablets, giving users more hardware choices

Got your scorecard ready? The road to Windows RT has been filled with speculation about the software (we're still faced with many unanswered questions), but the hardware side's been just as hard to nail down.

Right now, we know for a fact that Microsoft has promised to ship the Surface tablet for Windows RT when Windows 8 hits "general availability" on Oct. 26. Microsoft's RT tablet will run on an Nvidia ARM chip, but we don't know which one.

Just about everything else we know has appeared in dribs and drabs over the past few months. Microsoft has only mentioned and demoed Windows RT machines based on ARM chips from three manufacturers: Nvidia, Texas Instruments, and Qualcomm. And we've been hearing for months that Microsoft allowed each of the chip providers to choose just two hardware manufacturers.

Nvidia is believed to have chosen Asus and Lenovo -- both of which use Nvidia processors on many of their Android tablets. That's in addition to Microsoft, itself, of course. Asus announced its Tablet 600 Windows RT tablet/notebook device at Computex in early June, with full specs, product shots, and videos. Lenovo is being characteristically tight-lipped.

TI is apparently lined up with Toshiba alone. At Computex TI showed (but didn't let anyone touch) a reference tablet running Windows RT. Tom's Hardware reports that Toshiba didn't get its demo products working in time for Computex, but it has two machines in the pipeline: a clamshell and a tablet with keyboard dock.

Qualcomm chose Samsung and Hewlett-Packard. Bloomberg reported earlier this month that Samsung will have a Windows RT tablet ready at General Availability, but in a surprise move a month ago -- just after Microsoft unveiled the Surface line -- HP announced it was dropping out of the Windows RT race. Spokesperson Marlene Somsak said, "at HP we continue to look at using ARM processors in business and consumer products. However, our first Win 8 tablet will be on the x86 platform focused on the business market. The decision to go with x86 was influenced by input from our customers."

That seemingly leaves us with a very short list of Windows RT hardware OEMs.

However, yesterday the Taiwan-based Chinese-language China Times published a report that adds two new twists: Dell may be trying to fill HP's shoes as an authorized Qualcomm-based Windows RT OEM, and Microsoft is going to relax its restrictions on manufacturers entering the Windows RT fray in January -- basically allowing any hardware manufacturer to offer Windows RT devices.

The first item, if true, could prove worthwhile for potential Windows RT customers, but Dell's going to be in an extreme manufacturing bind if it hopes to get anything on the ground in the United States by Oct. 26.

The second item has been hinted at for months. For example, Acer (which is not one of the annointed five manufacturers) announced almost two months ago that it was going to ship its own Windows RT tablet(s) in January. All speculation now focuses on other major Windows RT hardware announcements at next year's Consumer Electronics Show, Jan. 8 to 13 in Las Vegas.

One thing's clear: Microsoft needs a big hit in the consumer category -- whether it's Windows 8 or Windows RT -- for one major reason that's rarely discussed: Consumerization is pulling corporate IT in every direction except Microsoft. The 'Softies need a consumer hit to fight the erosion.

This story, "Floodgates to open for Windows RT tablets in January," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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