One Possible Explanation for Why Windows 8 Tablets Are Hard to Find

Last week, I wrote about how hard it was to find Windows 8 tablets on store shelves, even though Microsoft's latest operating system launched nearly a month ago. Here's one possible explanation.

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Last week, I wrote about how hard it was to find Windows 8 tablets on store shelves, even though Microsoft’s latest operating system launched nearly a month ago.

Here’s one possible explanation: Intel is reportedly having trouble supplying its Clover Trail-based Atom chips to hardware makers. Those chips are featured in several Windows 8 tablets due to launch this year.

The news is tucked into a larger report from InformationWeek about the supposed “disarray” of Microsoft’s tablet plans:

The problem is Clover Trail. Intel just doesn’t have it ready for mass production. Insiders say that, among other things, there’s a problem with the chip’s power management software. Intel ignored my request for a comment yesterday.

There are some puzzling elements in InformationWeek’s report. The story claims that Microsoft’s Surface with Windows 8 Pro tablet is facing a “delay,” when in fact Microsoft always said it would ship the tablet 90 days after the launch of Windows 8. As far as we know, it’s still on schedule. InformationWeek’s speculation that the departure of Steven Sinofsky is somehow tied this situation seems like a leap to me.

Still, the article rightly points out that pinning down release dates from other tablet makers has been difficult. The Acer Iconia W510, for instance, was supposed to launch on November 9, but retailers like J&R still say it’s in pre-order. Dell originally had a November 13 ship date for its Latitude 10, but now Dell’s website says December 12 at the earliest.

A delay in Clover Trail processors makes sense as an explanation, and looking into it further, this isn’t the first report of problems on Intel’s end. In October, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that Intel was behind in delivering software that conserves battery life in its Clover Trail processors, which in turn caused holdups in Microsoft’s approval process.

Intel’s Clover Trail-based Atom chips are supposed to be competitive with ARM-based processors, the type that appear in most phones and tablets as well as in Microsoft’s Surface with Windows RT. Tablets with Clover Trail inside promise long battery life and support for connected standby, which lets them keep e-mail and other apps up to date while resting. Best of all, they don’t have the software limitations of ARM-based Windows RT devices.

But in the past, Atom has been known for sub-par performance, so potential buyers will need to get their hands on these new devices to see whether they’re adequate as tablets and, in the case of hybrid devices, as thin and light laptops. I’m curious about this myself, as I’ve yet to test any Clover Trail-based Windows 8 computers.

These are still early days for Windows 8, so I’m not sure if “disarray” is the right word to describe the situation. But for shoppers looking to see what Microsoft’s operating system can do, it’s definitely a letdown.