The Windows 8 Tablets are Coming

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It's October, which means that Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Windows 8 operating system is due to be released in just a few weeks. A lot has been said, both good and bad, about the OS in the months leading up to this release, and though many seem content to call the new operating system a failure before it hits store shelves there will likely still be a lot of people upgrading during the first few months of release. While it's quite likely that Windows 8 won't be as popular as its predecessor was, I imagine that the question of whether or not the OS will completely fail as a product should be revisited in the months following its release so that adoption rates can more accurately be gauged.

With the release of Windows 8 comes Microsoft's new Surface tablet, marking Microsoft's first foray into the modern tablet market. While some of Microsoft's OEM partners were very vocal about their displeasure that Microsoft has apparently put itself in direct competition with them, others, such as Dell (NASDAQ: DELL), seem much less concerned.

Michael Dell, the company's founder and CEO, has even gone on the record as saying that he believes "the impact will be limited" in regard to how much the Surface affects the tablet market, due to the lower number of units Microsoft plans to ship. He goes on to say that he thinks the Surface is Microsoft's attempt to create a base user experience for Windows 8 tablets, something that could be good news for consumers if tablet manufacturers plan on going above and beyond Microsoft's offerings.

So Who's In the Game?

Dell and Microsoft aren't the only ones preparing to dive into what they hope will be a lucrative Windows 8 tablet market, of course. Asustek Computer and Samsung are both confirmed to have Windows 8 tablets in the works which will be available through AT&T (NYSE: T) in time for the Christmas season; the tablets will feature 4G LTE connectivity, which AT&T will offer for as little as $10 per month through its new Mobile Share data plans. It's unknown at the moment whether AT&T will also subsidize either of the tablets, like it has with Nokia's (NYSE: NOK) Lumia 900 smartphones.

Speaking of Nokia, rumor has it that its long-promised Windows 8 tablet may be officially announced soon, as alleged pictures of the tablet have found their way online. Rumors have also emerged claiming that Microsoft itself is using the tablet to test apps for Windows RT, the ARM-based version of the operating system that doesn't offer the Desktop or some other features of the full version of the OS. This should all be treated as just a rumor until an FCC filing or official announcement, but given Nokia's existing partnership with Microsoft it shouldn't come as a shock that it would expand to develop hardware beyond just Windows smartphones.

Rounding out the collection of major Windows 8 tablet producers are Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ), Acer and Lenovo. HP has actually come under a bit of fire regarding its ElitePad 900 Windows 8 tablet, which is aimed at business users; with a 16:10 display featuring a 1200x800 resolution, the tablet doesn't meet the requirements for the Windows 8 "Snap" feature that allows two apps to run side-by-side. Snap requires at least a 1366x768 resolution, and without it only one full-screen app can be displayed on the tablet at a time. HP defends the decision to go with its current resolution by saying that the 16:10 resolution it chose is better for business apps such as Outlook and Excel. The company went on to point out that Snap can still be used by hooking the tablet up to an external display that meets the resolution requirements.

But What about Price?

Even though the release window for some of these tablets is only a few weeks away, there are actually a number of tablets that we don't really know much about regarding price. Even the Microsoft Surface only has a ballpark "sweet spot" of between $300 and $800, and that includes both the Windows RT version and an Intel-driven Pro version that will contain a full version of Windows 8.

That's not to say that there aren't any tablets with known prices, of course; the Acer W700 tablet and others have been priced, and a few other suspected prices have been leaked. For the most part, the prices are similar to that of Apple's iPad tablets. It's also worth noting that not all of the tablets in the works are going to launch near the release of Windows 8, and some may not even launch this year.

Some people have found this pricing to be a bit disappointing, as early hype and rumors had suggested that Windows 8 tablets might significantly undercut the cost of iPads to provide users with a premium tablet experience without quite so much of a cost. Unfortunately, part of the reason that the prices are higher than expected may lie with Microsoft itself; licensing for Windows RT is rumored to be as high as $85 or more for OEM developers, adding nearly $100 to the cost of developing and releasing their tablets.

While it's possible that we might eventually see the once-rumored $200 Windows tablets, it's unlikely that we'll see them anytime soon unless some manufacturer figures out a way to significantly reduce the cost of creating it (and if they do, it's unlikely that the tablet experience will be worth having.)

So Are They Worth It?

This is the big question: are Windows 8 tablets worth getting excited about? Honestly, it depends. For those who plan on upgrading to Windows 8 anyway and are looking forward to the release of Windows Phone 8 smartphones, one of these Windows tablets is likely a no-brainer. With Microsoft Account and SkyDrive integration, your Windows experience will stretch across multiple devices and will (theoretically) be fairly seamless. For others who just want a good tablet, whether it's worth it to you will depend largely on what you want to do with the tablet and which specific tablet you buy.

Full Windows 8 tablets will likely run between $800 and $1000 or more, so you might be better served by an Ultrabook or hybrid devices. Windows RT tablets could run anywhere between $300 to $600, which might be a bit pricey for a limited Windows experience.

It remains to be seen how well these Windows tablets will be adopted, largely because the prices may end up being higher than what people are willing to pay. If prices are as high as they appear to be then you might not want to be an early adopter unless you absolutely just have to have a Windows tablet or plan on using Windows 8 extensively; you may find yourself getting burned if you pay a premium for a Windows tablet now and prices start falling early next year.


Croaxleigh owns shares of Microsoft. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.If you have questions about this post or the Fool’s blog network, click here for information.

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