Microsoft to Unveil Touchscreen Windows Tablets This Week

| Analysis

Microsoft will be unveiling a version of Windows for touchscreen tablets (a.k.a. media tablets) to compete with Apple’s iPad this week, according to a report from Bloomberg. The company will be making the announcement at the AllThingD’s D Conference, which is taking place this week in Ranchos Palos Verdes, California.

This giant tidbit comes in an otherwise scattered story about Acer CEO J.T. Wang complaining about the level of control that Microsoft is imposing on the OEMs licensing the new OS. According to Mr. Wang, Big Redmond has placed “troublesome” restrictions on which processors can be used in tablet devices utilizing the new device.

“They’re really controlling the whole thing, the whole process,” Mr. Wang told Bloomberg at the Computex trade show taking place in Taipei. He didn’t specify what those restrictions are, but he said that chip suppliers and PC makers alike, “all feel it’s very troublesome.”

Steve Ballmer introducing the HP Slate in 2010

Steve Ballmer introducing the HP Slate in 2010

Microsoft was an early pioneer with tablets, introducing Windows for tablet PCs more than a decade ago. The devices didn’t sell well, however, and the company isn’t even a player in the media tablet market created overnight by Apple when it introduced the iPad in January of 2010 (it shipped on April 23rd).

Windows is designed for a mouse and keyboard, and the few Windows tablet devices that have shipped (and not sold) since the iPad’s introduction have all been stylus-based devices that are full PCs, not slimmed down media tablets designed to be operated with a few touches like Apple’s iPad and competing Android tablet devices.

During that time, Microsoft has also been mum on its plans for competing in this new market, an uncharacteristic move on the company’s part, which is better known for pre-announcements and FUD vaporware than it is for running a tight, leak-proof ship when it comes to its plans. Bloomberg’s sources are unnamed, but the media company said that Windows President Steven Sinofsky will be unveiling the OS (and devices that use it) at D, while Microsoft vice president Steve Guggenheimer does the same thing at Computex.

There’s no indication yet if the OS will be based on interface concepts introduced with Windows Phone 7. The company could go that route, of course, or it could introduce something that is more akin to Windows 7, but optimized for a touch interface. Whatever the company’s course, Bloomberg’s sources said that Microsoft is rushing the new OS market.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has twin demons giving him cause to rush. The first is the above-mentioned reality that the king of operating systems isn’t even a player in the media tablet space. Microsoft simply has zero entries in a market that will see as many as 70 million devices sold, according to estimates from one company, Jefferies Group, though that company seems oblivious to the reality that only the iPad is actually being bought by customers.

Whether or not Android devices are selling, however, Apple will sell at least 20 million iPads in Calendar 2011, while Microsoft will sell precisely zero devices without an entry in the market. Until such a time as the company rectifies this shortcoming, Microsoft is ceding ground to Apple, giving free momentum to the iPad and Mac maker as the innovator and controller of the media tablet space.

This is something that Mr. Ballmer must work hard at changing lest the howls from his other demon, a growing minority of shareholders calling for his ouster as the company’s chief executive, in part because he has let smartphones and media tablets pass his company by.

If Microsoft can come to market with a media tablet that is competitive (this reporter has already voiced the opinion that Microsoft is one of only two companies that can mount a realistic fight against Apple in the media tablet market), if the company can launch with solid hardware from its partners and a lack of major bugs in its software, if the company can launch with the kinds of content deals and app development consumers clearly want, and if those consumers then buy those devices, it will do much to repair his shrinking reputation.

Unfortunately for Mr. Ballmer, those are a lot of “ifs” to overcome.

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Comments

Intruder

A Ballmer Teletubby?

Stan Winstone

Compete is a strong word. More like harmless bounce off the iHull.

Lee Dronick

“?They?re really controlling the whole thing, the whole process,? Mr. Wang told Bloomberg at the Computex trade show taking place in Taipei. He didn?t specify what those restrictions are, but he said that chip suppliers and PC makers alike, ?all feel it?s very troublesome.?

Sounds like they are trying to control most of the widget.

MOSiX Man

Tablets running OSs designed for desktop/laptop computers have always been a bad idea, and will continue to be so. That’s true whether the OS is OS X, Windows, Linux, etc.

Of course, over the next few years, the lines between ‘PCs’ and tablets will really start to blur, and the same will be true for the OSs. Until then, MS really has to stop pushing this bad idea onto their customers.

Bryan Chaffin

Sounds like they are trying to control most of the widget.

Agreed.

Lee Dronick

Sir Harry Flashman said:Sounds like they are trying to control most of the widget.
Agreed.

Maybe it wouldn’t be their usual train wreck if they did.

prl53

Control—Microsoft’s middle name. They did this with PCs, forcing computer vendors to only use Microsoft OS and it sounds like they’re trying to do it again, this time with tablets. The big difference is there’s an alternative (other than Apple products) and the vendors don’t have to run Microsoft products to succeed, at least not in their minds. Baldmer isn’t going to get away with it this time and if he tries, the computer vendors will flip the destroy switch on Windows and they’ll be gone for good.

Lee Dronick

Control?Microsoft?s middle name. They did this with PCs, forcing computer vendors to only use Microsoft OS and it sounds like they?re trying to do it again, this time with tablets. T

What I took from the statement by Mr. Wang is that MicroSoft is telling them what components that tablet makers can use. MicroSoft would only have to make their OS work with a few CPU chips.

Bryan Chaffin

Aye, prl53, there is a huge difference from trying to keep other OSes out of an OEM’s PCs and trying to control what hardware is used in the making of PCs/devices running their OS.

If done correctly, this could result in a far, far better experience using Microsoft-powered devices.  That kind of competition would benefit us as Mac users by making Apple work that much harder.

If Big Redmond can do it properly. Another big “if.”

xmattingly

It never ceases to amaze me how much Apple is able to force other tech companies to dance to their tune. That photo of Ballmer says it all… MS spent the last decade trying to sell everyone on their version of a tablet, and here we are, barely a year after the iPad came to market and MS is yet again aping Apple’s UI and design.

xmattingly

If done correctly, this could result in a far, far better experience using Microsoft-powered devices.

From what I saw, it seems like Microsoft did a pretty decent job with later versions of the Zune. What traction they could have gained was thrown away early on with failed partnerships.

Bryan Chaffin

It never ceases to amaze me how much Apple is able to force other tech companies to dance to their tune.

Agreed.

graxspoo

“This is my tum tum. I can wub it up and down and make it happy with yum yums! Wood you wike to wub my tum tum too?”

Dorje Sylas

I’ll admit I didn’t really read the headline and just saw the picutre and thought: “Hey, that guy got Windows XP to run on an iPad. Like others have gotten older Windows OSs to.”

Then I read the caption and go, “oh, that explains it.”

Aside from the Xbox, Microsoft has not had a very good track record of controlling the whole widget. It sounds like the grumbling coming from the OEMs is due to them not being used to that level of direction… rather limits coming down from MS HQ.

archimedes

Bring on the ZunePad! wink

That being said, I always thought OneNote was one of Microsoft’s better software products.

And as much as I like my iPad, it’s not as good as a pen-based tablet for taking handwritten notes, and available capacitive styli are generally clunky. I also miss the ability to rapidly write ink and have it transparently recognized for text search and cut/copy.

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