Nvidia will stay on board with making Tegra ARM-based processors for Windows RT tablets despite sluggish early sales of the devices, making the same commitment that Qualcomm has made, an Nvidia executive said Wednesday.
Windows RT tablets, such as the Surface RT, offer long battery life, a lightweight form factor and convenience, making them ideal for future generations of mobile users, said Rene Haas, Nvidia's vice president of computing products. Nvidia's next-generation Tegra 4 processors will run on "multiple" upcoming models of Windows RT tablets, he said.
"Nvidia is very invested and very committed to Windows RT, and we feel it has a bright future," said Haas said. "We feel this [platform] is where things are going."
Windows RT tablets, including the Microsoft's Surface, shipped 200,000 units in the first quarter, comprising just 0.4% of the 49.2 million tablets shipped overall on all platforms, according to research firm IDC said. To those lackluster figures Haas responded: "We're not discouraged by the start and very, very excited going forward."
Qualcomm provides ARM-based Snapdragon processors for some Windows RT tablet models. Last week a Qualcomm executive expressed the same faith as Nvidia in Windows RT.
"It's very early in what is a very significant transition for the PC platform," Nvidia's Haas said. "If you step back and look at how we use computers today, everything is driven by mobile and access to information everywhere. Windows RT devices are very thin and have a very long battery life, and these are the key tenets of what a PC will look like in the future. Windows RT is an initial effort by Microsoft to move the PC into the tablet arena, which starts with RT powered by the ARM architecture."
Haas noted that ARM processors power 100% of the world's smartphones primarily because ARM is an energy efficient design. "There's no reason to believe ARM won't have dominance in tablets as well," he added.
To improve sales of Windows RT devices, Haas said Microsoft should continue to add more apps to the Windows Store, which has 65,000 apps. "The faster that growth continues, the better for the overall platform, but we're in the first inning of this ballgame and it's not over by any means," Haas said.
Despite comments by Nvidia CEO Jen Hsun Huang in March calling on Microsoft to provide an Outlook email client for Windows RT, Haas said, "I don't think Outlook's a have to have" for the next-generation Windows RT.
Huang told financial analysts in March: "If Outlook were to show up on RT, my life would be complete. I am one Outlook away from computing nirvana. Outlook god, please..."
Haas laughed at Huang's comment and remarked that Huang "has more faith in that god, but Outlook would be a real positive."
Windows RT doesn't run traditional Windows applications as does Windows 8, which appears on X86-based tablets, and analysts have said consumers are confused about the value of purchasing a Windows RT device. Several analysts have called on Microsoft to kill Windows RT or merge it with an updated Windows 8 in the next generation, with what is being called Windows Blue.
Microsoft hasn't been explicit about what Windows Blue will include, although Tami Reller, Windows marketing chief, recently said in an interview with Geekwire: "We want to leave no doubt about our commitment to ARM."
Microsoft was recently asked to comment on Windows RT to Computerworld, but declined.
Huang, according to Haas, told investors in March that eventually users of Windows tablets won't know if they are using a tablet running X86 or one running ARM and will just know they are using the Windows "modern" user interface. "How or when that happens, we don't know," Haas said.
Nvidia provides Tegra 3 processors for Microsoft's Surface RT tablet, as well as the Asus VivoTab RT and the Lenovo Yoga 11, which is actually a convertible device that can be used as a clamshell laptop, or converted to a tablet.
Haas said next-generation Tegra 4 processors will run on "multiple" versions of upcoming Windows RT tablets, although he would not name them say when they will be available.
The Tegra 4 was unveiled in January at the International Consumer Electronics Show and is a quad-core system-on-a-chip based on ARM's most advanced Cortex-A15 architecture. It has a second-generation battery-saving core as well. The Tegra 4 has been clocked at 1.9 GHz but it also includes 72 custom graphics processor cores to support super high-definition 4K resolution, console gaming and High Dynamic Range photography.
Haas said he personally uses the Surface RT and the Yoga 11. He said the Yoga 11, at 11 inches, gives him plenty of display size, but with plenty of battery life for a flight from New York to San Francisco and much more left over. "It is very light and easily fits in a bag, and I can use it as a tablet or clamshell and it has good mechanics going back and forth," he said.
The Surface RT with the Type keyboard attachment easily has enough battery life for a full 14-hour work day on Nvidia's campus, he said. "When I flip it shut with the keyboard, it's like any other tablet," he added.
"There's no fan and no rotating hard drive, so it's light. I get a quick boot, so if I'm sitting in an airport or a coach seat, I can easily shut it off, put it in the seat and when I pull it back out, I don't have to wait 10 seconds to resume work. It's easy to run around with," Haas added.
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