Multiple reports out of China — which should be considered official leaks from Microsoft because that’s how the Chinese roll — indicate that the long-rumored Nook RT is still coming [Google Translate, Google Translate, Google Translate].
Or at least a cheap Windows RT tablet is.
Microsoft hasn’t given up its goal of
shoving RT down the throats an OS running on an ARM CPU and has decided to partner with Inventec and Allwinner.
Inventec does crappy industrial design. Allwinner makes second-tier CPUs that require cheating at AnTuTu to sell as tablets. This time, however, the rumor is that Microsoft intends to put RT on Allwinner’s new octa-core A80 CPU.
Let’s hope that’s true. Because if Microsoft decides to go really cheap and use the Allwinner A31s, it’d be a bigger disaster than the Surface has already been.
The Allwinner A31s CPU, as already stated, is a second-tier CPU primarily being used in iPad Mini clones.
The CPU leader in that space is Rockchip’s 3188, which has an AnTuTu score in the 20,000-range and is reflected in real-world user experience.
The Allwinner A31s — when not cheating — scores in the 12,000-range and that’s also reflected in real-world user experience, with games featuring intense graphics having a bumpy ride.
In addition, going with the A31s CPU would mean that whatever RT apps exist for PDFs would have a very tough time dealing with the massive Google Books PDFs that really stress hardware more than any game does.
So going with the new Allwinner A80 could be seen as beneficial to both parties. On the other hand, even though the A80 is based on Samsung’s design, we have no idea yet of how the chip performs.
Why do I continue to maintain this cheap Windows RT tablet with be headed to Barnes & Noble?
Because their Nook division is dying. They had deservedly-bad sales during the holiday season. Devices and accessories crashed, dropping 66.7% from the prior year’s sales, and Nookbooks also dropped 27.3%.
But Microsoft, which sunk a lot of money into Nook, might still want to try to protect their investment before giving up completely and writing it all off.
The Nook division itself is rumored to have an eight-inch Tegra 4 tablet in the wings. But given that even Nookbook sales are down, it’s clear to me that people are now abandoning Nook hardware.
Look, the brutal truth is that there’s just no reason for anyone other than Nook owners to buy Nookbooks. That’s due to the suicidal DRM scheme Nook has used since its inception.
Amazon has the largest eBook selection and sterling customer service.
Kobo uses “standard” Adobe DRM (as does the near-dead Sony Reader Store).
Nookbooks are the odd man out in many ways.
So, Barnes & Noble sinking more money into a new tablet would be throwing away more money on hardware no one is buying. They just don’t stand a chance any longer with any tablet running Android. All of their non-book competitors have better hardware.
This means any new hardware must be done on Microsoft’s dime. Thus the Nook RT, as I’ve been calling it.
What I’d like to see Microsoft do is be adventurous with this hardware and make it an eight-inch screen at 4:3 ratio. There’s nothing running Windows — RT or 8.x — like that. All current eight-inch tablets run full Windows 8.x and have 16:9 screens. A screen at 4:3 is just better for books and magazines.
According to the reports, Microsoft wants to hit a US$150 price point.
Even so, I can’t see retailers scooping this up — they’ve been seeing firsthand how bad sales have been of their current inventory of the new Surface (RT) 2.
That leaves just one retailer that could be forced to carry a cheap Windows RT tablet — Barnes & Noble.
Imagine two people who can’t swim desperately grabbing onto each other for help and you’ve got a clear picture of this situation.
So, yes, until it happens otherwise, I’m still calling this a Nook RT.
But it’s not going to save Nook or Windows RT.
I don’t think anything can.