Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) could demo a host of new tablets at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January.

A report by The New York Times states that some sources close to Microsoft's plans said that Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer is due to unveil a slew of tablets built by Dell and Samsung and other manufacturers at CES. The sources revealed that the tablet will be powered by Windows 7 OS. The sources also said that Microsoft could showcase tablets and other devices running on its new OS Windows 8.

The tablet is touted to be "similar in size and shape to the Apple [(Nasdaq: AAPL)] iPad" but thinner, besides sporting a sliding keyboard.

Last year, Ballmer showcased a Hewlett-Packard slate prototype, while the market was waiting for the rumored tablet Courier. Though the product that actually hit the market was HP Slate 500, it had a limited target at business users, unlike the chic Apple iPad.

The report also revealed that tablets running on Windows 8 could also be released at CES 2011, thus raising questions as to whether Microsoft has a consistent strategy for tablets. Microsoft has been in the race for over a decade, and its then-Chairman and Chief Architect of Software Bill Gates had also unveiled a prototype of a tablet PC as early as 2000.

In July, Microsoft had revealed names of vendors who had promised Windows 7 slates this year who included top names like Sony, Dell, ASUS, Panasonic, Onkyo, Toshiba, MSI, Samsung, Lenovo and Fujitsu, said an Engadget report. However, so far a flurry of Windows 7 devices have eluded customers, a delay which Microsoft attributed to its wait for Intel's Oak Trail processors, primarily designed for tablets.

However, as Microsoft muses over a significant tablet strategy, there are three possibilities that Microsoft might be considering:

Windows 7 for tablets
The current strategy to don tablets with its Windows 7 OS has been beset with problems as the OS is high on power consumption, thus reducing the battery life. Also the Windows 7 tablets fail to address other limitations like instant on/off options and availability of apps like iPad. Windows 7 has failed to attract tablet manufacturers as Microsoft has treated tablets as just another imitation of PC. Windows 7 is too feature-rich for tablets. Windows 7 was designed to leverage PC architecture and a mouse is fundamental to navigating on the OS, while tablets offer touch-based interface and thus require a dedicated OS that is built with touch interface at its core. Also applications crafted for tablets have to incorporate touch features to optimize user experience. The primary reason Microsoft could continue with the Windows 7 OS for its tablet is to continue its foray into the long-term licensing business model. But, it is keen to keep its Microsoft Office suite in tact rather than remodel it as touch-compatible.

Windows Phone 7 on tablets
Microsoft could follow Apple's strategy, whereby it used its iPhone OS iOS for iPad rather than its Mac OS X. Microsoft could paste its recently launched Windows Phone 7 OS for smartphones on tablets. Microsoft launched its ground-up built Windows Phone 7 OS for smartphones in October and also announced that the platform is not suitable for tablets. The Register in October reported that that G Greg Sullivan, senior product manager at Microsoft, said at the Windows Phone 7 launch event that "Windows 7 will provide a richer touch and applications experience and will be necessary on tablets," thus reiterating the company stand that Windows Phone 7 was not for tablets. Thus, Microsoft is clearly stifling any innovation on WP7 platform by limiting the OS progress and limiting its use to devices with screen size of less than 4 inches. Microsoft had initiated a similar restriction for Windows XP and lesser Windows 7 editions by limiting them to devices with not more than 10.1 inch screen. But Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) has allowed a free hand to manufacturers to choose either Chrome OS or Android. Google is even focusing on devising other avenues for Chrome like its recent netbook that runs on Chrome juice Cr-48 after Android's success.

A toned down version of Windows 7 or Windows 8 for tablets
Microsoft's strategy to follow this approach would further delay the launch of its tablet. With Apple's next version of iPad due in April 2011 and Google's Android 3.0 codenamed Honeycomb, which is reported to be the OS behind Motorola and LG tablets due next year, Microsoft will have a lot to contend with. Also maintaining two OS for tablets is also a perfect way to create confusion. It also has to contend with the fact that its long time partner HP acquired Palm through which it gained the webOS which it intends to use on tablets as well. Reports suggest that a webOS based tablet is due in the first quarter of 2011. Thus Microsoft is under duress without its old hardware partner.

The recipe to Microsoft's tablet woes could be to see tablet as an independent device requiring a ground-up treatment rather than viewing it as an extension of a PC. Also Microsoft needs to create an Apple App Store like marketplace for its tablet OS instead of having multiple OSs. Microsoft should aim at making its OS developer-friendly first. Or else it should follow the market trend and acquire a new UI maker the way BlackBerry maker Research In Motion did when it acquired Swedish UI maker TAT to spruce its new QNX-based tablet PlayBook UI.3

International Business Times, The Global Business News Leader

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