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Qualcomm defends Windows RT tablets despite lackluster sales, biting criticism

Exec says chip maker is not discouraged: 'Qualcomm has long-term investment' in Windows RT

May 4, 2013 06:42 AM ET

A Qualcomm executive Friday defended Windows RT tablets despite poor initial sales, saying the mobile device chip maker is "very optimistic with the future of Win RT."

Qualcomm currently supplies ARM-based Snapdragon processors for Windows RT tablets launched in October by Dell and Samsung. The company also has plans to provide faster Qualcomm processors for next-generation Win RT devices from other tablet makers, said Luis Pineda, senior vice president of product management at Qualcomm. Pineda oversees Windows RT chips at Qualcomm.

"We're very excited about Microsoft's strategy around Windows RT," Pineda said in an interview with Computerworld.

Despite criticism from analysts about the Windows RT OS and Win RT-based tablets, Pineda said that "We're very optimistic with the future of Win RT and we see continued success."

"Windows RT launched on devices from major manufacturers last October and used Qualcomm Snapdragon processors," he added. "Qualcomm is working with many more OEM's to launch on Win RT in the future and has a long-term investment in it."

Pineda described a close partnership between Qualcomm and Microsoft, but refused to disclose any plans for altering or updating Winows RT OS in the coming year.

Some reports have speculated that Microsoft this summer will launch an update of Windows 8 called Blue that would merge Windows 8 with Windows RT. Pineda, however, repeatedly referred to the future interations of the OS as "Windows RT" during the interview.

Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8060A processor, clocked at 1.2 GHz, powers the Dell XPS 10 and the Samsung ATIV tablets. Pineda said the 8060A chip was developed more than a year ago and that Qualcomm is building faster processors, some with speeds of up to 1.5 GHz, for future-generation tablets.

Qualcomm is also working on integrated chips with faster Graphics Processing Unit speeds, Digital Signal Processors and the ability to support very high definition video called 4K resolution. Pineda refused to say whether those integrated chips will appear in the next tablets running Windows RT.

Pineda made his comments two days after IDC announced first quarter tablet shipment totals for all OS's and makers, which showed Windows RT grabbed just 0.4% of the market with 200,000 tablets shipped out of 49.2 million overall.

"We're not discouraged," Pineda said. "Whenever you launch a brand new ecosystem like Windows RT it would be nice to have a home run from day one. But there's lots of excitement about what's coming."

Pineda said the basic value of Windows RT running on ARM chips still applies: the processor makes less of a burden on a battery and allows a lighter, slimmer tablet. He personally uses the Dell XPS10 tablet instead of a laptop for international travel.

"This is the ideal machine for me," he said. "It gives me 20 hours of battery and runs more than a day, and is thinner and has no fan and provides 4G LTE access. It has all the software I need."

A major criticism of Windows RT has been that buyers are confused by what the OS offers, especially compared to a Windows 8 tablet powered by Intel X86 processors. Windows RT won't run traditional Microsoft desktop applications, including Outlook, which is one reason sales haven't been better, analysts said.

But Pineda said he can run the native Windows RT mail software client and interacts frequently with Excel spreadsheets and Power Point. LTE allows fast access to data in the cloud and a Citrix VPN allows remote desktop access for full work functions. The Windows Store now has more than 65,000 apps "and is growing daily," he said.

"Windows RT is for true work and play, and the play part includes full HD for video and even 3D graphics for gaming," Pineda added.

Microsoft refused to comment on the first quarter results for Windows RT or plans for the operating system.

When asked whether Qualcomm might be in the minority with its support for the tablet alternative, Pineda noted that processors for Windows RT tablets are also being built by Qualcomm competitor Nvidia. Nvidia did not respond to a request to comment on Windows RT.

Some tablet makers, including Samsung, have raised concerns about Windows RT. Samsung decided not to sell its Windows RT tablet in U.S. stores while Asus and Acer have avoided the OS.

Despite Samsung's position, Pineda said that the Samsung ATIV is on sale in the U.S. online through Amazon.com, as well in stores in Europe. "It is available," Pineda said.

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

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