Microsoft's Surface RT may win by default

Seven or more hardware manufacturers were slated to have Windows RT tablets out at this point, but Asus and Microsoft currently are the only horses in the race

Looking for a Windows RT tablet? Your choices grow slimmer by the day.

In early August, most industry observers expected to see a variety of Windows RT tablets from many manufacturers ship around the OS's General Availability time on Oct. 26. Toshiba showed a prototype (behind glass) at Computex in June, running on a TI chip. Acer announced it would ship Windows RT tablets in Q1 2013. In mid-August, Windows honcho Steven Sinofsky blogged, "Along with Asus, we are excited to share that there will be ARM-based PC designs from Dell, Lenovo, and Samsung running Windows RT." If you include Microsoft, that's seven different hardware manufacturers with products scheduled for release between now and early next year.

Oh, how times have changed.

Toshiba announced in August that it wouldn't have a Windows RT tablet available in October, blaming "delayed components." Although the components were never officially identified, as I mentioned two months ago, speculation centered around Texas Instruments dropping the ball. As one of just three annointed Windows RT CPU manufacturers -- Nvidia and Qualcomm are the other two -- TI's absence hurts.

On Tuesday Neowin's John Callaham posted an official statement from TI that reads like a capitulation: "The mobile market has become a less attractive long-term opportunity for TI's OMAP products, primarily due to vertical integration and market consolidation... [we] are accelerating the expansion of OMAP processors into a broader set of embedded applications such as automotive, industrial automation, thin clients and robotics, to grow the footprint beyond mobile."

Then there's Acer, the most vocal of Microsoft's partners/competitors. After publicly committing to Windows RT tablets by early next year, comments last week put those plans way up in the air. Reuters quotes Acer president Jim Wong as saying, "I don't know what's next, what Microsoft will do. ... We are watching how Surface is doing. ... How is RT accepted by customers, how Microsoft is aggressive on RT and on Surface, we don't know. ... We want to see."

Lenovo's IdeaPad Yoga 11 RT is due out in December, as is the Dell XPS 10 RT. Samsung promises an ATIV RT Tab, but hasn't yet announced an availability date in the United States.

Of all the promised RT tablets, only the Asus Vivo Tab RT is out and available, with Amazon, Newegg, Staples, Fry's, and many more showing it in stock.

Bottom line: If you want a Windows RT machine in the foreseeable future, you can get a Microsoft Surface RT or, for the same price ($599 for 32GB with cover; $699 for 64GB), an Asus Vivo Tab RT. Those are your choices.

The Microsoft Store currently lists the cheapest version of Surface RT -- the $499, no cover, 32GB model -- as out of stock. Both of the other models, at $599 and $699, are in stock.

It's impossible to tell how many Surface RT tablets Microsoft has sold to date. But with just two horses in the race, it looks like Microsoft's sales are going to tell the whole story.

This story, "Microsoft's Surface RT may win by default," was originally published at 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 on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.