A Microsoft tablet would be a big deal, at least for Microsoft

Windows execs Mike Angiulo and Steven Sinofsky show a prototype Windows 8 tablet for developers in September.

The big question for the past day on the Microsoft beat: What in the heck is the major, can’t-miss news that the company is promising to deliver on Monday?

Microsoft isn’t saying a word, despite endless attempts at arm-twisting from people like me. But overnight, a plausible answer emerged. The Wrap quotes an unnamed source saying that Microsoft will be unveiling its own tablet, based on the upcoming Windows 8 operating system, to take on the iPad. AllThingsD reports that it’s hearing the same thing.

Mary Jo Foley connects those reports to Microsoft’s Barnes & Noble partnership, and wonders if the real target might be Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

Whatever the case, it would be a huge break with tradition for the company.

Dating back to the very early days of the PC industry, Bill Gates and Paul Allen chose to stay out of the hardware business and instead supply the operating system and key applications for computers. It was the key strategic decision that led to Windows dominating the market for PC operating systems, in part because hardware companies knew that their OS vendor was a partner, not a competitor.

However, it wouldn’t be completely unprecedented for the company. Microsoft made an exception in the video-game business — deciding that coming out with its own console, the Xbox, was the only way to effectively compete with the likes of Sony and Nintendo. And the strategy has largely worked.

With the rise of the iPad taking the steam out of sales of low-end Windows-based computers, it’s quite possible that Microsoft has decided to make a similar exception in the tablet market, assuming these latest reports are true.

Whether a Microsoft-branded tablet would be an effective competitor to the iPad or Kindle Fire is another question entirely, depending on a whole range of factors, from the quality of the experience to the price.

Stay tuned for more on Monday.

  • Guest

    This would kill the tablet relationship they’re trying to build with OEMs. You’re basically stabbing them in the gut.

  • Guest

    The Xbox analogy you make is not relevant. In that market MS had no OEM relationships, so they could go it along and not harm these sorts of relationships, b/c there weren’t any taking collateral damage.

    • guest

      Actually MS initially approached several OEMs to build what became Xbox. They all refused. And many were upset when MS subsequently went direct. Then they saw the losses MS incurred and decided refusing to get involved was the smartest thing they ever did.

  • Guest

    A tablet would be good. A television would be better. In fact, based on the phrase “stay tuned” in the article, I’m going to assume that “Xbox TV” will come out on Monday. This would make Microsoft the first operating system vendor to integrate screens small, medium, and super-large.

    • guest

      Vizio is in Irvine, not far away.

      • Guest

        That makes them an excellent OEM for Xbox TV. Good! I think we’re figuring this out.

        Xbox TV. Monday. Stay tuned!

    • Guest

      Given Gaikai’s recent moves, I find this plausible.

  • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

    I’d note one other hardware exception, besides the Xbox: Microsoft has been in the accessories market (mice, keyboards, even broadband routers) and — if I dare mention it — toy hardware (ActiMates Barney). The accessories market dates back to the original Mach 20 accelerator card for IBM compatible personal computers.

    So they’ve been in personal computing hardware before. But I’d add it’s not hardware that also happens to run Microsoft’s separately sold software.

    • guest

      “it’s not hardware that also happens to run…”

      Exactly. This was a very clearly delineated no-go zone for HPG for years. And wasn’t broken until xbox. Since then competing with the PC ecosystem OEMs (Zune doesn’t count) was a no-go zone. And no it looks like they may break that as well. But unlikes the previous ones, this change of position will strike at he heart of their partners business. It’s a declaration of war.

      • guest

        “Declaration of war”. LOL. It’s nothing except a rumor currently.

        • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

          A rumor of war, perhaps? :)

          • guest

            The rumbling of thunder in the distance. My money is on the rumor of them acquiring Hulu. Now that would be something that could have a material impact on all aspects of their ecosystem in a positive way.

          • guest

            More like a rumor of suicide, and therefore asinine.

  • Smash

    They should call it Zune.

    • remyngtin

      very funny

  • Kevin Mansel

    If this is true, they would kill their channel partners like Dell, HP, Acer, Samsung, anyone else who is eagerly awaiting windows 8 and building tablets already. I’d be surprised if this is the big announcement. But hey, what do I know, i’ve been fooled before.

    • Dan Ariano

      fooled again Mr. Mansel

      • Kevin Mansel

        haha…DJA…nice to see you perusing the geekwire forums…

  • Bob

    That seems rather implausible. As other have noted it would alienate OEMs who MS is depending on to try and get back into the tablet market with W8, not to mention continued revenue from flogging PCs with Windows. And while MS’s senior management tend to wear blinders most of the time, I suspect they at least have enough self-awareness to understand how badly they suck at marketing, particularly consumer devices specifically (Xbox being a rare and still lifetime unprofitable exception). If this is tablet at all, I’d think MJF’s speculation that it has something to do with the B&N deal makes more sense, possibly something more specifically focused as an ereader.

    • mjw149

      Hey, a color ereader is just a tablet by another name. Look at the fire and nook.

      • Bob

        Not really. But I agree the distinctions are rapidly blurring as tablet price points come down and battery life goes up (thereby negating some of the traditional advantages of dedicated ereaders). That’s actually more reason for OEMs to be upset by a direct MS entry and for MS to avoid doing so, not less.
        Anyway, as I said in my update, LA for the announcement has me thinking this is something media related.

    • Bob

      Strike that last line. In thinking about it more, LA as the venue suggests something media related.

    • Odog4ever

      Did Google anointing the Nexus line alienate Android OEMs?

      • Bob

        Yes, I suspect it did. Just as Google buying MMI did. When OEMs get alienated they don’t react in some visible way right away. They bide their time and start looking around for alternatives. It wasn’t an accident that so many former Windows-only OEMs ended up embracing Linux a few years after the LH/Vista debacle. Something that would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier. Similarly, they’re not going to jump ship while Android has tons of momentum. They will however be looking at alternatives. Nobody likes to compete against their supplier.
        Ballmer is ineffective and should be fired, but even he isn’t incompetent or desperate enough to risk the bulk of MS’s business model on some half-baked direct tablet effort which, like most of MS’s consumer forays before it, is likely to end in failure.

  • mjw149

    I would hope (for their sake and mine as an xbox owner) that this is an xbox focused tablet that can make their UI more usable and add tablet functionality to their game. If the $150 kinect worked so well, why not a tablet controller? At least now we know why they charge so much for winRT licenses – it will decrease competition with their own winRT tablet!

    • guest

      What they will charge for the WinRT license is unknown at this time. Additionally, it reportedly will include a copy of Office, which may explain why it is priced higher than Windows, if indeed the proves true.

      • Guest

        Rumor puts it at $80-85. The inclusion of office is really not got to matter, all the consumer is going to see is a comperably priced (to iOS) tablet with no app ecosystem. And for intel tablets, more weight and worse battery life. This will help google, is G can get heir act together.

        • guest

          Operative word: rumor.

  • guest

    Relax, people. This is still Ballmer’s MS. Whatever gets announced will be:
    underwhelming
    uncompetitive
    incomplete
    US only
    badly priced
    poorly marketed
    and updated only once every three years

    • remyngtin

      well said

  • Mike

    To “break with tradition” wouldn’t Microsoft have to be AHEAD of the curve as opposed to playing catch up?

    • remyngtin

      they need to find the CURVE first