Toshiba cancels Windows RT tablet

'Timely launch impossible', says OEM, citing delayed components

Toshiba has confirmed what Microsoft intimated yesterday: It won't be delivering a Windows RT-based tablet anytime soon.

"Toshiba has decided not to introduce Windows RT models due to delayed components that would make a timely launch impossible," the Japanese electronics company said in a statement to Bloomberg earlier today. "For the time being, Toshiba will focus on bringing Windows 8 products to market. We will continue to look into the possibility of Windows RT products in the future while monitoring market conditions."

Last June, Toshiba showed two Windows RT-based concepts -- a tablet with a docking station and a "clamshell" design that resembled a keyboard-equipped ultralight notebook -- at Computex. The devices were not operational, however.

Based on those concept devices, most had included Toshiba in the slowly-growing list of OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) that were believed to be preparing Windows RT hardware for launch this year or early next.

On Monday, Microsoft trumpeted Windows RT and the OEMs crafting hardware for the Windows 8 spin-off. The list -- Asus, Dell, Lenovo and Samsung -- omitted Toshiba as well as Acer, which said in June that it planned to ship ARM-powered tablets and PCs running Windows NT in the first quarter of 2013.

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, noticed the omission of Toshiba. "The assumption is that they're behind on their implementation," Moorhead said in an interview. "Texas Instruments is behind both Qualcomm and Nvidia in their drivers."

Texas Instruments (TI), Qualcomm and Nvidia are the three system-on-a-chip (SoC) designers that Microsoft has said are creating the ARM-licensed processors to power Windows RT devices.

Toshiba is the only previously-announced Windows RT OEM to rely on TI for its processors.

Moorhead was skeptical of Toshiba's claim that the delay was caused by hardware components. "I am not buying the part about the chips not being available," said Moorhead in an email. "It's all about the drivers."

Those drivers, said Moorhead, include ones for the tablet's graphics chipset and its video digital signal processing (DSP) silicon.

Toshiba's withdrawal -- perhaps permanently, maybe just temporarily -- is a blow to Microsoft's efforts to enlist as many OEMs as possible in its Windows RT campaign. Microsoft is betting big on the new operating system; it has virtually no presence in the growing -- and for Apple at least -- lucrative consumer tablet market.

According to numbers released Tuesday by research firm IHS iSuppli, Apple's iPad accounted for nearly 70% of all tablet sales in the quarter that ended June 30.

The lack of OEMs committed to Windows RT, and those OEMs' tablet designs, were the prime reasons why Microsoft took the unprecedented step in June of unveiling its own hardware, experts have said.

But Microsoft has also tried to calm OEM jitters. Last month, CEO Steve Ballmer argued that Surface was simply a "design point" for OEMs, not a replacement for what they might design and sell themselves.

"Surface is just a design point. It will have a distinct place in what's a broad Windows ecosystem," Ballmer said. "And the importance of the thousands of partners that we have that design and produce Windows computers will not diminish."

Microsoft has promised to start selling the Surface RT -- its Windows RT-powered 10.6-in. tablet -- Oct. 26, the launch date for the more inclusive Windows 8 operating system.

Toshiba did not reply to email requesting confirmation of the statement quoted by Bloomberg.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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