Personal Computers

Ballmer: The Slates Are Coming

Microsoft will roll out multiple Windows 7 slate devices “over the course of the next several months,” company CEO Steve Ballmer confirmed in a keynote speech on Monday.

“This year one of the most important things that we will do in the smart device category is really push forward with Windows 7-based slates, and with Windows 7 phones,” Ballmer said in his speech at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington, D.C.

“This is a terribly important area for us,” he added.

‘We Are Hard-Core About This’

Cloud computing was a primary focus of Ballmer’s speech.

“The cloud wants smarter devices,” he said.

Toward that end, a range of Windows 7-based slates will debut in the coming months, Ballmer noted — with and without keyboards; dockable; and representing many different form factors, price points and sizes. They will be designed with both home and enterprise users in mind.

Coming from “the people you would expect” — including Asus, Dell, Samsung, Toshiba and Sony — the devices will run Windows 7, as well as Windows 7 applications and Microsoft Office, he added.

“We are hard-core about this,” Ballmer asserted.

‘We Missed a Generation’

As for phones, “we missed a generation with Windows Mobile,” Ballmer admitted. “We really did miss almost a release cycle.”

Now, however, the company aims to create “a set of Windows-based devices that people will be proud to carry,” he said.

Given Apple’s success with both the iPhone and the iPad — three million of which sold in the device’s first 80 days on the market — there’s no doubt Microsoft will need to move quickly to stake its own claim in mobile markets.

‘Sexy Enough’?

“It makes sense for Microsoft to combine the familiar Windows 7 operating system with a mobile experience,” Stephanie Ethier, a senior analyst with In-Stat, told TechNewsWorld.

The company’s challenge, Ethier added, will be “ensuring that the hardware technology is sleek and sexy enough to compete with the iPad.”

Historically, however, “the problem with Win 7 or any Windows-based slate product is performance and weight,” pointed out Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst with the Enderle Group.

‘Tough to Hit Those Price Points’

“The reason why the iPad and most of the Google competitors are using ARM is to get to the point where the device’s weight is acceptable for something you can hold like a book, and also to get the price points down to where it’s affordable,” Enderle told TechNewsWorld.

“It’s tough to hit those price points, because Windows 7 is a full PC operating system and requires a base level of performance,” he explained.

With the iPad setting the bar — and even being accused of being too heavy itself — Microsoft will need “something that comes in underneath it in weight and offers equivalent performance,” Enderle concluded. Currently, however, “the initial products don’t appear to be competitive.”

Rapidly Changing Assumptions

The proverbial “proof will be in the Windows pudding,” Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, told TechNewsWorld.

Roughly half a year into the market for this new generation of devices, “the technological assumptions seem to be changing pretty rapidly,” King asserted.

When the iPad and similar devices were conceived, for example, the assumption was that a small footprint would be necessary for an acceptable battery life, King noted, “especially on a lower-powered processor like ARM.”

Now, however, it seems tablets coming later this year will offer a different experience.

‘More of a PC Experience’

How traditional PC vendors will adapt to the transition remains to be seen.

Whereas some tablets — including the Dell Streak — are being promoted more as “companion devices,” King observed, Apple and others are positioning theirs as replacements for traditional PCs.

“If Microsoft is pitching Win 7 as a tablet operating system, it seems to me that the company by extension will be promoting more of a PC experience in a tablet form factor,” he predicted.

‘PC Vendors May Be Concerned’

“That’s an intriguing idea,” King said, but “I think some more traditional PC vendors may be concerned that delivering an aggressively priced tablet device with PC functionality would cut into traditional notebook and desktop sales.”

There’s already been evidence, in fact, that the iPad has cannibalized some of Apple’s low-end notebook sales, he added.

“Most all of the PC vendors have been feeling some pain from the popularity of the netbook craze,” concluded King. “I don’t think that’s something they’d care to repeat.”

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