That didn't take long. HP has publicly confirmed that it has cancelled plans to bring a Windows RT
(aka Windows on ARM) tablet to market in time for the Windows 8 debut. The company has decided to focus on its x86 customer base instead. HP spokesperson Marlene Somsak has said that "The decision was influenced by input from our customers. The robust and established ecosystem of x86 applications provides the best customer experience at this time and in the immediate future."
Sources we spoke to confirmed that Microsoft's Surface
unveil last week was a huge factor in this decision. HP
isn't willing to go head to head with Microsoft when it comes to launching new, unproven products. Abandoning x86 is impossible, but dropping Windows ARM
is a way for the computer manufacturer to signal its supreme displeasure without unduly risking market share. It also increases the burden on Surface itself -- if other OEMs follow suit, MS could find itself as the only
vendor selling ARM-based W8 tablets.
Angry Steve Ballmer
HP is claiming that it made the decision to kill ARM development before Microsoft announced Surface, but that's a bit too coincidental to believe. The company had reportedly partnered with Qualcomm to build a Windows RT tablet, and Qualcomm's CES presentation last January made it clear that the company was very serious about breaking into the tablet/netbook market. With its major partner gone AWOL, the mobile manufacturer's plans for this space could be crippled.
This could be a significant blow to Microsoft's aspirations as well. The point of Windows RT was to give Microsoft access to both the x86 and ARM markets. If hardware manufacturers start pulling away from Windows RT, it'll cripple Microsoft's attempt to break into a space currently dominated by ARM chips and iOS/Android devices. Alternatively, smaller OEMs with less market share might see HP's pullout as an opportunity to grab more market share for themselves. Asus, Lenovo, and Toshiba might be more willing to bet on Windows RT if they think they have a better chance of gaining ground with HP out of the picture, even if that means going head to head with Microsoft itself.
If other OEMs follow Microsoft's example, it could have a nasty impact on Nvidia
, Samsung, and Texas Instruments as well. Nvidia has led the charge to build Windows 8 devices, but if the device manufacturers start pulling out, there's not much the company could do to stop it. Smaller OEMs might pick up the slack, but starting over with new designs takes time and the mobile market continues to move at a rapid pace.
We knew Surface was a huge bet for Microsoft and that the likes of Dell
and HP might see it as a threat, but a move this big has long-term implications for the HP-Microsoft partnership. How those conflicts will resolve remains to be seen.