Windows 8 won't be the first table entry for Microsoft, but the market may finally be ready for the software giant's idea of what a tablet should be. The Tablet PC, based on Windows XP, and aimed at the tablet form factor, arrived in 2005. Today you can find Windows 7 running on a variety of Slate PCs. Neither idea really took off. Windows 8, however, is designed from the ground up with a UI designed for touch. The hardware specs give us a sense of what the tablets will offer.
With desktop and laptop computers, Microsoft has little or no control over what manufactures include in the hardware. With the tablet though, Microsoft is keeping a tight grip on what is allowed. This will give the platform a minimum performance level and uniform user experience, helping to ensure that reviews of the OS won't be dragged down by anemic hardware, or features that are difficult to access because an OEM is trying to safe a few pennies.
Gone is the need for three keys that have been on PCs since time immemorial--CTRL-ALT-DEL. Computers with keyboards will still use the three-fingered salute, but tablets will use the Windows key with the power button, to the same effect. Tablets will also be required to have a rotation lock button and volume buttons in addition to power and the Windows key.
As for the more interesting parts of the machine, a 720P camera is mandated. WLAN support, Bluetooth 4.0, a gyroscope, at least one USB 2.0 port, speakers, an accelerometer, and a magnetometer are also required. The minimum screen resolution is 1366x768. It is a shame that there is no SD card slot requirement. No one should have to grab a USB card reader to get images from a camera.
No specs were given on RAM, storage, and power consumption, but I suspect those will be released in the coming months.
This isn't the first time Microsoft has laid out hardware requirements. The original Pocket PC in 2000 required up/down navigation buttons, an OK button, a record button, and a power button. Those requirements were relaxed in subsequent years though, leading to fragmentation that frustrated users. Some manufactures dispensed with the OK button, requiring the user to grab the stylus and touch the screen. Small issues like that can really drive up the frustration level over time.
With the release of Windows Phone, Microsoft reset its requirements for buttons and other features with the chassis 1 spec. From a usability standpoint, this has been successful. If Windows Phone has received one thing, it is good reviews on its speed and silky smooth interface, much of which depends on solid hardware.