Microsoft to show off slates at CES... again

Microsoft logoOne of the highlights of CES 2010, at least for Microsoft and Microsoft watchers, was the HP Slate. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer demonstrated the device on-stage, and it looked like it might be an exciting new Windows tablet. What actually happened was that Apple released its iPad, and when the HP Slate eventually shipped, it was a business-oriented machine aimed at vertical markets.

But it looks like Redmond might be trying again at next year's CES. The New York Times is reporting that Microsoft will be showing a range of Windows-powered tablets from companies like Samsung and Dell. The Samsung device is described as around the same size as an iPad, although thicker, with a keyboard that slides out from below.

The target is, of course, the iPad, but while the iPad benefits from a user interface tailored to being controlled with fingertips, these slates will, more or less, stick with the conventional Windows interface—something that has been a problem for past tablets. The Samsung tablet will use the Windows interface when in landscape mode, but will offer a more finger-friendly "layered" interface in portrait mode. Whether this will be enough to make Windows suitable for this class of hardware remains to be seen.

Microsoft's hope is that these Windows tablets will attract a broader range of consumers than the iPad, by allowing users to move beyond "play"—appealing to, for example, business people who want to use their tablet for reading a newspaper in the morning, but then want to use the same device for working on Word or Excel documents later in the day.

This compatibility with existing business software has long been Microsoft's big selling point for Windows tablets, but it hasn't inspired mass-market uptake of Windows tablets so far. When we talked to Steve Ballmer in October, he gave the impression that hardware was the key, and that over the next year there would indeed be Windows tablets that we fell in love with. CES should be our first look at that hardware, but it may well leave the software questions unanswered.

On the software side, the sources speaking to the New York Times made a couple of claims. First, that Microsoft is promoting HTML5 application development. There are no plans for an iOS or ChromeOS-like App Store, but there will be some facility to find these Web applications from the slate.

Second, one source said that the slates would be demonstrated running Windows 8. The next version of Windows is expected by many to include a user interface that's better-suited to finger interfaces, but no specific information is known at present. Such a move would, therefore, be a little surprising—with Windows 8 unlikely to arrive before 2012, Microsoft can't be counting on Windows 8 appeal to shift slates in 2011.

Source: ars technica

Tags: Microsoft, tablets, Windows 8

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