Microsoft is holding an event in Los Angeles on Monday, where it is expected to unveil its own tablet device. The Wrap first reported exclusively that Microsoft will manufacture the device hoping to combat Apple’s dominance in the tablet market. Long-time Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley suggests instead that such a device would be akin to a Kindle Fire tablet and not a Windows productivity tablet. No matter what is announced, it could have a wide range of implications regarding Windows partnerships and the public’s desire, or lack thereof, to buy hardware from Microsoft.
I don’t have any inside information on what Microsoft may or may not show off on Monday, but I think Foley is closer to the mark. First, the event is scheduled in L.A. — a city known far more for entertainment than hardware devices. That suggests either new or expanded media services from Microsoft or a consumption-focused device.
The latter doesn’t need a full-blown Windows 8 experience and, as Foley notes, Microsoft has dropped hints of a Metro-based e-reader slate in the past. That would be more akin to a Nook Tablet or Kindle Fire in my mind, and I’d expect Microsoft’s Metro UI to completely hide any legacy Windows interface, settings or functionality.
Instead, like the e-readers from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, this would be a true consumer electronics device with a skin — Metro, in this case — that offers limited, but effective, functionality. Perhaps it’s based on Windows Phone to run apps from that platform, in fact, although screen resolution could be a limiting factor.
If that’s the case, Microsoft’s hardware partners shouldn’t be too upset. They can still build true, full-featured Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets without competing directly against the company they pay software licensing fees too. On the other hand, if whatever Microsoft shows on Monday is something that its partners could make too, we could hear some snipes from those who plan to make Windows tablets.
In any case, there’s a question to be asked here, even if at first it sounds premature: If Microsoft does indeed design, build and sell its own device, will consumers buy it? Obviously without knowing what the device is, what it can or can’t do and how much it will be are all questions that need answering before anyone pulls out their wallet.
But even before we have the details, the question is valid in this respect: Microsoft is essentially a software and services company. Outside of computer peripherals — think of keyboards, mice and such — Microsoft hasn’t made many forays into hardware. And when it has, it hasn’t batted a thousand.
On the one hand, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 is a huge hardware hit for the company. But on the other hand? The Zune and MSNTV come to mind as stinkers. Some consumers aren’t apt to buy a hardware product from a company that’s better known for its software and a few failed devices, even if the Xbox 360 is a winner.
How about you?