This week in tablets: Six predictions for Microsoft’s Windows 8 announcement

June 16, 2012

By all accounts—written and anecdotal—the crowd was fairly disappointed as they shuffled out the doors on Monday in downtown San Francisco after Tim Cook’s WWDC keynote. I can’t help but think that Microsoft’s big announcement on Monday is an opportunistic grab for attention.

Everyone expected Apple TV, tablet, and/or iPhone news. What we got was a little of the latter two topics, and not a peep on the first. Siri on iPad is nice. The new Smart Case is also, and represents one more way Apple is heading off third-party accessory manufacturers at the pass.

For the development community, the function that allows developers to turn off certain buttons and features in iOS from an app is quite handy. As TabTimes columnist Ben Bajarin points out, companies in training rooms or testing facilities can now prevent iPad users from switching out of a specific app or environment. This makes the iPad even more school-, work-, and business friendly.

One of my biggest takeaways from WWDC, however, is how pervasive iOS has become, to the point where some of its features are now being baked into Apple’s desktop- and laptop-based OS X. This is a fairly big deal, and will likely be under-rated by critics until we see it in action.

Most of us still carry three devices on a normal working day—phone, laptop, tablet—and until now, there’s been surprisingly little interoperability in Windows and OS X between the phone/tablet and the laptop.

Because of this, I was intrigued by the first wave of reviews of ASUS’ PadFone, which merges a hybrid tablet and smartphone into a single unit. Engadget’s fairly positive review of the device makes the point that smartphones remain the center of our lives.

This product acknowledges this fact; I expect that in the future we’ll see more integration of text messaging, notifications, and more amongst all our personal computers.

So overall, our expectations for WWDC were too high, which is turning into a consistent pattern for Apple’s big announcements. Truthfully, Apple could sell the third-generation iPad for 12 to 18 more months and still dominate the category.

What does Microsoft have up its sleeve?

The end-of-week news that Microsoft is making a big announcement in Los Angeles on Monday June 18 at 3:00 p.m. makes me wonder if the Redmond giant isn’t attempting to capitalize on the news vacuum left behind by Apple’s tame WWDC showing.

Same routine as last week’s pre-WWDC handicapping, let’s break down the odds of the announcement being:

1. A Microsoft own-brand Windows 8 tablet. If true, this seems like a suicide mission. Given the extended courtship Microsoft put on its OEM partners, announcing a competitive device would be tomfoolery. More likely than a first-party tablet announcement? A complete rollout of the Win8 tablet launch lineup.

2. A Windows-related Nokia tablet and/or phone. All Things D reported that, in light of Nokia’s Facebook page update, which prominently displays a satellite image with the date “06.18.12” on it, the announcement could be Nokia’s 41 megapixel PureView. This is not a Windows Phone, however, so the PureView isn’t likely.

3. Office for iPad. This isn’t a bad bet, particularly given the rumors that Microsoft has been sitting on Office for iPad, waiting for the release of Windows 8 in the fall. But why Los Angeles?

4. A Windows/music /Zune announcement. I’ve been trying to figure out the Los Angeles angle, and the only reasonable answer I have is Hollywood. At E3 in Los Angeles a few weeks ago, Microsoft rolled out its Xbox 360 Music service; perhaps this is the follow-up?

5. The official release date of Windows 8. Not likely by itself, if only because this would be viewed as majorly anti-climactic by journalists and analysts.

6. A new Xbox. Not likely at all, but you never know.

My pick? I’m going to apply Occam’s razor here and go with the simplest theory based on existing data. There’s absolutely no way Microsoft announces its own tablet. Partners like Dell and Toshiba and HP would go into open revolt if this were to happen. Even if it could function as a proverbial canary in a coal mine.

Instead, the announcement will be Windows 8-related, and may incorporate both the official Win8 tablet lineup, launch date, and a music/movie/TV partnership on the company’s tablet and smartphone platforms.

This week’s winner: ASUS

First netbooks, then hybrid tablets, and now the hybrid tablet/phone. Once again, the Taiwanese device manufacturer is ahead of the game with the Android 4.0-based PadFone, which is like a technological nesting doll. It embeds a smartphone into a tablet, which can then fit into a keyboard and function like a laptop.

The initial implementation appears to be a little clunky, but the merging of three different devices into one merits praise.

This week’s loser: Windows 8 tablet OEMs

First, reports out of Asia indicate that Microsoft will charge Windows 8 tablet manufacturers an $85 licensing fee per installation of thee OS. Then right at the end of the week, rumors start swirling around a Microsoft own-brand tablet. At this point, at least some of Microsoft’s partners must be thinking, “Why did we sign up for this?” Then again, what are the alternatives?

On the horizon

Monday’s a big day—we’re all eagerly awaiting Microsoft’s big announcement. Of my six scenarios, did I miss anything? If so, let fly in the comments section below. 


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