Microsoft recently handed out 5000 Samsung tablets running Windows 8 to developers at its Build conference, in a bid to encourage app development. These apps will be able to take advantage of the low-power, long battery life ARM tablets, which have Intel Core i5 CPUs in.
It isn’t just Samsung who are going to be manufacturing the tablet, we saw a range of pre-release Windows 8 ARM tablets at BUILD, with NVIDIA, Qualcomm and Broadcom prototypes on display in the expo hall, where swiping through the Metro Start screens is as fast and fluid as it is on the Samsung Windows 8 tablets.
We also got a look at the NVIDIA Tegra ‘breadboard’ development systems (running the new five-core Kal-El processor) used for demonstrations in sessions and carefully packed away into flight cases after each outing.
Will ARM tablets get the Windows desktop?
All that secrecy is because Microsoft isn’t ready to announce exactly what Windows 8 will look like on ARM tablets, although we know that it will only run apps that come from the new online Windows store.
For PCs running the x86 processor, that store will include ‘desktop’ apps that run in the Windows 8 version of the familiar Windows desktop, but ARM tablets will only get Metro apps from the store.
There’s no way to make an existing Windows desktop app like Firefox run on Windows 8 ARM as it is and Windows chief Steven Sinofsky describes the ARM version of Office that Microsoft showed earlier this year at CES as purely a “technology demonstration”.
However ARM tablets will have to have some version of the desktop (and the underlying platform technologies that make the desktop run) because the task manager is staying as a desktop-style app, according to Sinofsky. He commented that “there are some tools we choose to build [Metro-style interfaces for] and some we don’t, and Task Manager right now is not one of them”.
Qualcomm also showed off an ARM Windows 8 prototype tablet running the desktop version of IE10, with hardware acceleration for Adobe’s Flash plugin.
Take a tablet – all day
We did get a few more details from the engineers who were showing their prototype ARM tablets under Microsoft’s watchful eye, and from the architects of a new Windows 8 power state called Connected Standby. This suspends all the running applications and turns off the screen, the processor, the memory and just about everything except the Wi-Fi – which gets its own CPU so it can stay connected, look for incoming notifications and wake up the PC if it needs to save information (like an email) or give you an alert (like an incoming Skype call).
The system requirements and other details aren’t public yet but we know that Connected Standby needs new low-power memory, USB 3 and a low-power version of Bluetooth called Bluetooth LE. On system that have Connected Standby, even with a 10” or 11” screen – which is what uses up a large proportion of the power – both Qualcomm and Broadcom are suggesting that Windows 8 ARM tablets will have over ten hours of battery life. And equally important, that battery life will be consistent, so it's ten hours, whatever apps you're running.