Asus tablet prompts speculation on competitors' offers

Prices could be less than an iPad, more than a Kindle Fire

Now that Asustek has shown off a 10-in. Windows RT tablet, speculation has grown hot and heavy over what competitors' devices will look like, how much they will cost and when they will go on sale.

The Asus Tablet 600 was shown off at Computex in Taipei on Monday running a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor and the Windows RT Tablet Preview edition. But reporters didn't get to play with the device freely.

The Asus tablet weighs 1.15 pounds, and is .32 inches thick, with an 8-megapixel camera at the rear, 2GB of RAM, 32 GB of storage and Wi-Fi. Windows RT will come with free Office 15 productivity apps and native Flash support. Asus didn't disclose any pricing or availability for the device.

The mere appearance of the tablet at a news conference at a major trade show was enough to speed up speculation about how soon the public will learn of other Windows RT tablets.

"The only one I've seen shown publicly is the Asus one, even though there's a lot of talk and a lot of closed-door presentations by competitors," said Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group. "Vendors are scared to death to reveal anything that would sacrifice any competitive edge."

He said the public might not see many details of Windows RT tablets until closer to launch dates in October or November.

Enderle and other analysts believe Asus will join Acer, Lenovo, Dell, Sharp, Samsung, LG, Huawei and others in producing Windows RT tablets running on ARM processors from Nvidia, Texas Instruments and Qualcomm. Hewlett-Packard is less a certainty, following its reversal on the WebOS tablet, Enderle said.

Enderle predicted that a 10-in. Windows RT tablet might be on the smaller side, with a 12-in. version more suitable for running and manipulating Office apps with a touchscreen.

Regarding price, Enderle suggested that Windows RT tablets will cost about the same as the iPad, a 9.7-in. tablet that starts at $499. However, Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said they could be priced lower, at "$300-ish" but still not as low as the $199 price for the Amazon Kindle Fire.

"I don't think Windows RT tablets can get down to Fire prices in the short term, since you need a lot more computing resources to run Windows than Fire's modified Android," Gold said. "And Windows RT tablets won't compete directly with iPads which will have more memory, better chips, better screen and more."

Jeff Orr, an analyst at ABIResearch, said that a Windows RT tablet will probably be $79 to $99 more expensive than an Android Ice Cream Sandwich tablet of the same size. For example, the Asus Transformer tablet at 7-in. priced at $249 will compare to a Windows RT device at $329 to $349.

What's unknown is how much of a discount Windows 8 manufacturers will receive from Microsoft for offering Windows RT on tablets in place of Android, Orr said.

One big issue for the success of Windows RT tablets is what applications beyond Office 15 will be supported, and how average consumers or business users will use them, analysts said.

"The challenge is going to be whether Windows 8 [and Windows RT] will have the application portfolio to attract enough users," IDC analyst Al Hilwa said. "Restrictions in terms of what legacy apps can be compiled for these devices might even discourage developers willing to make some accommodations in their apps for touch.... For many, the question is what exactly can we do with these devices?"

Hilwa said that having access to Flash-based Web sites and bundled Office apps will be "crucial to attract users" but getting developers on board may take longer for the ARM-based Windows 8 devices than Windows 8 running on x86 chips.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

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