Tablet talk

THERE’S been a lot of speculation about the “major announcement” that Microsoft is supposed to be making today (about 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, Manila time).

Early talk focused on the possibility that the software giant would announce a Microsoft-branded tablet computer running its new Windows 8 operating system to give Apple’s iPad a run for its money.

The Web site The Wrap, quoting an unnamed “insider,” reported that the company would manufacture its own tablet computer, marking a departure from its longstanding policy of selling software to hardware partners such as Dell, HP, Acer and Lenovo.

All Things D added that it had heard the same rumors, and observed that if these were true, Microsoft would be able for the first time to match the tight integration between hardware and software that Apple has enjoyed on its devices, particularly its popular iPad tablet.

But introducing its own tablet would also put the company in direct conflict with its own hardware partners, which sell a lot of Windows-based personal computers, the Web site added.

As announcement day approached, the rumors morphed.

In jumping the gun, the Wrap and All Things D were “somewhat right but mostly wrong,” TechCrunch said.

TechCrunch and CNET said the new tablet would not be a general-purpose iPad competitor after all, but an e-reader and streaming video device developed in conjunction with Barnes & Noble.

The two companies announced a “strategic partnership” in late April with Microsoft investing $300 million into the joint business dubbed “Newco” for a 17.6 percent stake and Barnes and Noble owning 82.4 percent.

Another source said Xbox Live streaming would be available on the new device, emphasizing its focus on entertainment.

Mashable observed that Microsoft recently showed off a new technology called SmartGlass that allows users to push content from their televisions to their phones or tablets, and visa versa. SmartGlass could play a role in today’s announcement, bringing Xbox live-streaming capabilities to the device, the Web site added.

CNET, for its part, said the updated rumors suggest Microsoft’s new tablet would be aimed at Amazon’s Kindle Fire rather than Apple’s iPad.

Amid the hype and speculation, VentureBeat, a Web site about “technology, money and innovation,” offered a refreshing dose of reality in a piece entitled “Microsoft’s big announcement: Loser + Loser = Winner?”

“Let’s be honest: Windows on a tablet is, at the moment, a loser. Currently, Windows is a tiny, insignificant slice of the tablet market. There’s hope in Redmond, and maybe even belief, that this will change soon, but no-one else is holding their breath,” writes John Koetsier on VB.

“A second moment of honesty: Barnes & Noble is a loser. We all know its chief competitor — the one named after warrior women tough enough to saw off a boob so they could kill their enemies with greater efficiency. And yeah, Amazon is exactly that tough… Amazon is worth almost a hundred billion dollars; Barnes & Noble under a billion. Amazon had over $50 billion in revenue in the last twelve months; Barnes & Nobel just over seven. Amazon’s revenue per employee is triple Barnes & Nobles … the list goes on.”

Koetsier’s premise is simple yet obvious and compelling. “Pairing an unpopular and as-yet-unproven operating system with a failing and marginal content partner is not exactly a recipe for success,” he says.

He does make allowances for the attraction of streaming content as “a wild card” and the prospect that the new device will replace, not just the iPad but your TV as “something interesting.”

Still, the skeptic in me agrees with one reader who expressed exasperation at the inordinate attention being paid to speculation about what will most likely be another tangential, me-too product in a technology segment I care little about, from a company that makes nothing that I need to use.

Tablets may be the fastest-growing segment of the industry, but nobody – not even Apple – has come up yet with a touch-screen device that will replace my trusty notebook computer. And if that ever happens, chances are it won’t involve a device that features a dumbed-down interface of colorful rectangles that make me feel like I’ve slipped back into kindergarten.

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