A Microsoft tablet: what will it look like?

News of a press event planned by Microsoft on Monday has fired the kind of buzz storm usually reserved for Apple events. What Redmond may be up to is pure speculation at this point, but reports are that the company may be announcing a new product that will put it on the tablet map. If it does, what might that device look like?

A number of prognosticators are betting that the device will be based on Microsoft’s operating system for ARM processors, Windows RT. If that’s the case, it could use an NVidia processor. One such tablet, with a Tegra 3 chip, has already been announced by Asus.

Basing the system on RT has a certain advantage from a business point of view, especially if, as some guessers predict, the tablet is a Microsoft-branded product. Many of the tablets being produced by Microsoft’s OEM partners are deploying Windows 8, so using RT is less likely to step on too many toes.

Some toes that will be stepped on, though, will belong to competitors of Microsoft’s web browser, Internet Explorer. That’s because RT shuts out competing browser makers from some powerful technologies, called APIs, available only to IE in RT. Apple also gives its browser, Safari, a leg up over alternative browsers on its iPad tablet.

If Microsoft goes with RT, users of the tablet will likely have instant access to its apps thanks to “connected standby.” That function makes a tablet operate like a smartphone. The device is designed to work in a powered-on state all the time. When not in use, it just goes into a very deep sleep.

The size of the tablet’s display will say a lot about how Microsoft intends to position the slate. If it has a 10.3-inch display, it will be seen as a competitor to the iPad. If it has a seven-inch display, then it will be characterized as a Kindle Fire challenger.

There are some benefits to introducing a seven-inch tablet. One is it wouldn’t be compared to Apple’s market leading slate. It would be compared to the Kindle Fire. That comparison could be very favorable to the new tablet, especially if it’s running a robust operating system like RT.

In addition, a seven-inch tablet could be giving the public something it has been yearning from Apple, but that the company has refused to give it–although there’s no end to the rumors that such a device is in the wings. Introduction of a seven-inch tablet could be a pre-emptive strike against that vaporous Apple product.

Yet another theory about Microsoft’s intentions Monday is that it won’t introduce a true tablet at all, but an electronic reader. It would be a seven-inch device, too, but might use Microsoft’s mobile operating system, Windows Phone 7.

That’s a very intriguing possibility because it has the potential to build on Microsoft’s existing partnerships with Barnes & Noble and Nokia, and it’s a path that’s least likely to annoy the company’s OEM partners who have already announced Windows tablets.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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