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ARM, Nvidia hit the road to talk up Windows RT

PC makers need to focus on mobility, ARM's Jeff Chu says, suggesting that means it's time for Windows RT.

"Everything we've gotten used to in mobile phones - the touch interface, all-day battery life, all these things - are flowing into computing as a whole," he said.

Chu, ARM's director of consumer client computing, and Nvidia's Mark Aevermann were on a road trip to show off Asus's Windows RT-based Tablet 600 and plug Microsoft's new OS, which brings Windows from Intel's x86 processors over to ARM designs.

"The thinnest, sleekest form factors are going to come out on Windows RT," Chu said.

Windows RT doesn't run legacy Windows apps; all-new apps will have to be written, although Chu said it will be a "one-button" process for developers to compile apps for Intel-powered Windows 8 PCs and Windows RT tablets.

That's in part because Windows RT apps need to be written with touch screens and power management in mind, Aevermann said.

"RT is all about power aware apps. [Microsoft] Office is very cognisant of power management ... these [apps] are not only power-aware, they also take advantage of touch, sensors, and location-based services," Chu said.

But where's Microsoft and its headline execs (like Steve Ballmer, above) in all of this? Not on tour selling the Windows RT idea, that's for sure. When we appealed to Microsoft for a briefing on Windows RT, they just pointed us to some existing blog posts. Coupled with a lack of big-name third-party app announcements for the new OS, that keeps us sceptical.

We were also left a bit wary by Aevermann's demo of the attractive new Asus tablet. We weren't allowed to touch the tablet ourselves; Aevermann showed us the home screen and a few apps, but wouldn't venture off script.

This is all pretty bare-bones compared with RT's two major competitors, Windows 8 for x86 and Apple's OS X Mountain Lion, both of which have full developer previews available.

Moving Beyond Speed

Windows RT on ARM is going to require a different way of thinking about PC performance, Chu suggested. The sheer speed of a main CPU will be less important than how it balances overall experiences, including graphics performance, power consumption, UI responsiveness and case design, Aevermann said.

"We've reached an era of 'good enough' computing," Aevermann said. There continues to be a hunger for better graphics performance (as shown in the new spate of high-res tablets), better battery life and thinner devices, but those are different priorities than the ones on which the Windows world has traditionally been focused. Nvidia technologies like Direct Touch, which improves touch responsiveness, and Prism, which improves battery life by reducing screen backlight usage, might not show up on standard PC benchmarks, he said.

"That's a mindset that has been missing from the legacy x86 market, which just asks, 'what is the gigahertz?" he said. "This mobile market has been redefining computing."

Intel, of course, is going in the same direction with devices like the Orange San Diego, the first truly viable smartphone using an Intel Medfield processor. But Chu warned that in the mobile market, Intel has a long way to go to match the extremely wide range of options ARM provides.

"ARM has breadth, and the market's very broad," he said.

And How About Android?

Android-powered tablets will thrive, too, Chu and Aevermann said. The key price point seems to be £199, where the Google Nexus 7 has had success, Aevermann suggested. And with Android Jelly Bean, tablet makers will start to solve their app and upgrade issues.

"You've heard Google talk about how they scale better now. We're hoping Jelly Bean as a whole offers that. Go back to the Cupcake (1.6) and Donut (2.0) time frame for phones; the ramp-up of that was relatively slow. Honeycomb (3.0) was really Android 1.6 for tablets, so what you're going to see now is generation 2, maybe generation 3," Aevermann said.