Can Windows 8/Windows Phone 8 ship in June 2012

While most observers expect to see Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 no earlier than next fall, there have been various indicators that we could see one or both much earlier. Indeed, there is increasing evidence that we might see them in early summer, specifically in June. The most credible indicators come from Nokia executives who seem to have developed what police call “diarrhea of the mouth”, aka inability to keep their mouths shut. Most recently Nokia execs have claimed both Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 are coming in this earlier timeframe. Can this indeed be the case?

It’s possible.

The way most observers come up with their fall dates is by looking backwards at the Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7/7.5 development cycles. Those both suggest fall deliveries, but don’t take into account potential changes in how Microsoft and OEMs execute the “end game”. Historically for both Windows and Windows Phone there is a multi-month testing period between the final software build (known as RTM for historical reasons) and General Availability. Historically this allowed for the manufacturing and distribution of floppies and later CDs and DVDs. It also allowed an OEM to add their own final drivers, do final testing, switch over their manufacturing processes, and push systems through their distribution network to retailers. Well, what if Microsoft and it’s OEMs could do more of this process in parallel? You could drop a few months of time between Microsoft’s RTM to system availability down to days or weeks!

The primary reason OEM’s take so long after RTM to bring products to retail is that historically Microsoft has made too many last minute changes for the OEMs to complete their own work in parallel. But Microsoft already demonstrated with Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7/7.5 that it has the discipline to avoid this. With the right set of commitments, and OEM trust that Microsoft will live up to them, an OEM could finalize drivers, testing, etc. of pre-RTM builds and be ready to go when Microsoft delivers RTM bits. I believe Microsoft and OEMs, particularly those with the closest relationships such as Nokia and Dell, are going down this path.

Another factor is specifically around tablets. Since tablets have a more limited set of potential (at least initial) configurations to worry about, it is likely that Microsoft would be able to make a stronger set of assurances to OEMs around them. In other words, they could give OEMs something like the Windows Phone chassis definition and focus testing and stability on that. This would allow the time from RTM to GA for tablets to be shorter than it is for desktops/laptops. Historically Microsoft would have held launch until all form factors were ready. But I suspect that they are so desperate to launch their full-court press on the iPad that they would now support GA of tablets a couple of months earlier than on other configurations.

Last, Microsoft has been working hard on its update processes for multiple releases now. It is entirely conceivable that they would allow OEMs to ship a pre-RTM version of Windows 8 or Windows Phone 8 on their devices but require a mandatory update by the consumer prior to the device becoming fully functional. This would let OEMs fill the channel with devices prior to RTM and then release the devices for sale the moment Microsoft has the RTM and updates ready to go.

The bottom line here is that historically for Microsoft to have products available for the holiday shopping season the would have hit RTM in June for Octoberish General Availability. Now it may be possible for an early June RTM to result in late June General Availability! One practical advantage of this would be to hit the back to school shopping season. And having college students start to show up at school in the fall with Windows Tablets rather than iPads would surely be a big win.

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10 Responses to Can Windows 8/Windows Phone 8 ship in June 2012

  1. Fallon Massey says:

    What price point do you think MS will ship tablets at? My guess is that they still believe that Apple is the gold standard, and they’ll probably be $399 at the cheapest.

    If so, they’re going to follow Apple down the same rat hole, because tablets are throw away devices that need to be about $50-$100.

    Tablets are much less versitile than Phones, which are NEEDED. Tablets are also much less capable than Desktops(or laptops) which are NEEDED.

    The un-needed device is the tablet, which is a convience device, and it’s price has to reflect that. Prices WIIL fall like a rock in this space, and margins will be thin, which means anyone not shipping volume is in trouble… MS for sure and Apple come to mind.

    • halberenson says:

      Well, Microsoft doesn’t price tablets the OEMs do. And i expect OEMs to produce a rang of devices from $200 ($0 with carrier subsidies) to $1000 or more (full laptop replacements with workstation-like performance) Note I disagree with your premise. I do not see laptops and tablets as such distinct categories. And that is where Microsoft will shine.

      • Fallon Massey says:

        A few of things.

        Firstly, Microsoft absolutely does determine the price of tablets through its licensing. If they were smart and licensed the WP7 OS for peanuts, then the cost of the device could/would be cheaper

        Secondly, there should be no “Carrier Subsidies”, very few people need a tablet to be part of a data plan. WiFi is enough for 90+ percent of people. Anyplace that doesn’t have WiFi probably isn’t worth pulling out your tablet for anyway.

        Thirdly, tablets are not laptops, never were and never will be. The fact that you don’t see how distinct they are, confuses me a bit, because if what you believe to be true, then one of them doesn’t have a big enough reason to exist.

        The fact is that you’re wrong, and the evidence will be all over Xmas 2011, when the first of the cheap tablets start to eat into iPad, and totally destroy the Win8 strategy(two OS’s in one… dumb). however, I won’t hold it against you, I’ll just come back and remind you :)

        Where Win8 will shine is on intel UltraBooks. These laptops will give you close to tablet power efficiency, and all the power you need to do anything business or personal. i’ll be snapping one up as quickly as they can ship them. So remind me why I need a tablet? Well, I want one mostly for home, sort of like a book next to my bed, where I can just turn it on instantly, get email, surf the web, maybe make some notes, all because I don’t want to use the good stuff for those simple tasks… convience!

        The other place Win8 will shine is on the server! Unlike the Win8 Desktop, the Server is LOADED with great new features and technology. This is, IMO, the best server OS MS has ever released. Now that’s a visionary product !

  2. Alique Williams says:

    @ Fallon Massey

    Myself and every friend I knew who owned a tablet eventually sold it. Ergonomically, they’re horrendous. I honestly believe that Apple could have dropped anything in the market and it would have sold. This is what we’ve seen from the iPad. The only reason I bought a touchpad was simply because the firesale price was $99.

    Also Hal, MS based tablets cannot be sold at a price of $200. How can it be? OMEs have to pay for an upfront license fee which usually carries significant cost; That coupled with manufacturing cost should push the price pass $300 at least.

    • halberenson says:

      I am seeing the exact opposite with tablets, at least with iPads. The majority of people I know who have purchased iPads have given up on their notebook computers for personal use and only carry those when work requires it. Otherwise they carry their iPad. The tablet form factor is far better for carrying around sans briefcase, for use on airplanes, in restaurants, in cars, etc. iPads are tuned to be content CONSUMPTION devices and work well in that role. They are poor content CREATION devices. One of the nice things with the Windows Tablet (with Windows 8 Developer Preview) that I’m playing with is that for creation I just snap it into a keyboard/mouse dock and it becomes just like a notebook. So I could (no apps yet, so I’m not carrying it regularly) carry it around as a pure table most of the time and then take the keyboard dock with me if I’m going to be doing more than reading, watching movies, and surfing.

      BTW, making a judgement call based on inferior (and in the case of the Touchpad, failed) tablets isn’t the right way to go about it. As one of my few friends who dislikes tablets points out, with phones sporting 4.3″ screens becoming pretty standard and 4.7″ on the market, you need a big jump in tablet screen size to really get a different experience. So something in the 7″ family may just not be enough to carry both a phone and a tablet, which may explain why all 7″ tablets to date have met with lukewarm receptions. And a 7″ device is definitely not a notebook alternative. Add on the lack of tablet-specific applications (which so far have only appeared on the iPad) and I understand why the experience here would be poor. I’ve played with several Android tablets and not gotten excited about any of them. But surely the cheap ones are horrible as they are slow as well as relatively heavy and chunky. I think the bottom line is that so far only Apple has managed to make a tablet that most people would be happy carrying. Everyone else is still struggling to get the recipe right.

      As I pointed out the $200 price assumes a subsidy, usually from a mobile carrier but there are other models. Take the Kindle Fire. The best data right now has it with a manufacturing cost of $200-$201, but it sells for $199. With sales, marketing, distribution costs, R&D Amortization, etc. it might actually cost Amazon $300+ for each device they ship (and that is only because nearly all are direct sales via the Internet, so they don’t have to give Best Buy et al much of a cut). Thus Amazon is losing $100 per device sold. But their business model is to sell content, and so they make assumptions that over the life of the device you will buy many hundreds of dollars worth of books, movies, and music and that will more than offset the loss on the device itself. Microsoft uses the same business model with the XBox (as do Sony and Nintendo with their gaming consoles).

      Microsoft’s licensing fees are certainly a part of the pricing equation, but they are not usually the most expensive thing on the Bill of Materials nor has Microsoft allowed them to stand in the way of cheaper devices. Let’s take Netbooks, the category that tablets have demolished. Numerous sub-$300 Netbooks are, and have been, out there. Right now you can purchase a Toshiba N505 for $249 on Amazon. That’s a NON-subsidized price. Many others are in the $300-400 range. And earlier this week I saw stores in Europe offering netbooks for $0 with a mobile contract. Microsoft will have an edition of Windows for tablets that lets OEMs profitably produce competitors to the iPad, and with decent quality Android tablets. And despite Google charging nothing for Android, it is not free. You have to pay the owners of add-on intellectual property (e.g., codecs) licensing fees, and you have to pay royalties to patent holders whose patents Android infringes on (e.g., Microsoft). And you have to pay $millions to lawyers to fight with others whose patents are infringed but who aren’t interested in licensing them (e.g., Apple). So even if Windows costs more, the gap is nowhere as large as one might think. In fact in phones it is appears that Android is more expensive than Windows Phone when you look at all-in costs.

      Is there a natural growth limit to Tablets, as there was with Netbooks? Will they basically grow to be 5-10% of the overall portable computer market and then hit the ceiling because people decide they need a traditional Notebook (which is what happened to Netbooks)? Or will they become part of a continuim of general purpose computing devices where it is hard to distinguish where tablets end and where notebooks begin? Microsoft is certainly counting on the latter happening. Its own history with the Tablet PC demonstrates this. Although at the time of Windows XP Tablet Edition’s unveiling the expectation was that pure tablets would dominate, but quickly the market centered itself on Convertibles. The Convertible offered all the benefits of a notebook and most of the benefits we now associate with tablets. For Microsoft a continuim of pure tablets, tablets with docks (ala the Acer Iconia W500), Convertible Tablets (ala the HP EliteBook 2760p), Notebooks (preferrably with touchscreens), and Desktops (preferrably with touchscreens) is the path to success.

      • Fallon Massey says:

        @halberenson – I think you found the right concept that I’ve been searching for… Consumption.

        That’s the EXACT difference between tablets and everything else. While phones are mostly consumption, the ability to have a real voice conversation, differentiates them from the purely consumtive model of the tablet.

        Fainlly, your elaboration on your thoughts are beginning to make more sense to me, at least, I now see, and agree that your thoughts are a real possibility. None of us really know how things will shake out, but one thing is for sure, Microsoft is making a really big bet on Win8. I’m pulling for them, but to be honest, I can’t stand Sinofosky.

        @Alique Williams – BTW, how do you like the touchpad? Sub $100 is where I believe tablets have to be to be viable, and I also agree that Apple can sell ice to Eskimo’s, at least Jobs could.

        Apple is a front runner company, always have been. they come up with really ground breaking stuff, and fail to open up their platform, and eventually LOSE marketshare(see Apple II, Mac, iPhone). the iPad is next!

  3. Brent says:

    This was very interesting. Personally, I think MS desperately needs to ship it as fast as possible because they’re way late to the party. But I’m concerned by recent reports that they won’t have the beta ready for 1/12. And if that turns out to be correct, making your June date would seem very aggressive even if you make assumptions about being able to shave off some time vs previous releases. Indeed, maybe they wouldn’t even be able to make 2012 at all. Your thoughts on that, if you get a chance?

    • halberenson says:

      For Windows 7 the cycle was January public beta to July RTM, so a January to June cycle wouldn’t be at all impossible. Arguing in favor of a longer beta than Windows 7 are the more extensive changes in Windows 8 including WinRT, Metro, Setup, etc. that require a real breadth of people for final validation. Arguing for a shorter beta are two things, one being that the Developer Preview itself is public and in such widespread use that Microsoft is getting most of the feedback it could actually act upon from that. This contrasts with Windows 7 where the Developer Preview was made available 6 weeks later in the cycle and then to a closed audience. The second part is that beta, and especially public beta, has long been considered a terrible way to test a product. Generally speaking the industry has been trying to figure out how to get rid of Beta for thirty years! THe way beta should work these days is that it is a combination of final validation (e.g., find a really obscure bug that will only occur on that one in a million configuration that would bever turn up in your lab) and it is done for marketing purposes. The marketing guys like a public beta both because it gives large customers with long deployment cycles a head start on their internal testing and app updating, and it can be used to build excitement in the market. But your real testing is done internally, and the main validation is done with partners and key customers via giving them access is a stream of builds starting much earlier in the cycle. The bottom line is that the length of public beta need not be an indicator of a product’s readiness to ship.

      How far has Microsoft gotten in reducing the need for a long beta? I don’t know. The amount of coding time within the overall Windows 8 schedule was tiny, meaning that most of the time went to design and testing. That’s long been the holy grail of how you achieve high quality. We’ll see if they pulled it off.

  4. Pingback: Update: Can Windows 8/Windows Phone 8 Ship in June 2012 | Hal's (Im)Perfect Vision

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