Friday, June 15, 2012

Microsoft announces 'major' press event for Monday in Los Angeles; past embarrassments will require that the company needs to deliver this time around

Monday may prove to be a huge day for Microsoft, the company that once held a near monopoly on the computing industry but today finds itself lagging behind Apple and Google. The company has announced that will hold a major event on Monday in Los Angeles where, if reports are true, the company will unveil a company built tablet.

It is sometimes difficult to remember what the tablet market looked like before Steve Jobs walked on stage to unveil the first iPad. But it's worth remember that weeks prior to that event the tech media websites (and TNM) was filled with reports of other tablet launches.

While everyone knew that tablets were coming, the atmosphere was filled more with concepts than actual products. The Skiff, for instance, promised a flexibel eInk solution for newspapers.

Microsoft itself had been touting its Courier tablet, a concept tablet that proved to be more vaporware than hardware. But at the time many still believed that Apple's tablet was the same, so why not continue to promote future concepts? But an actual launch date, when announced by Apple, changed everything. Not only could Apple promise, but it could deliver.

That is why Monday's event is fraught with danger for Microsoft. The Redmond company will have to thread the needle to get it right – while it has much to gain, a wrong move could be deadly.

Microsoft has generally depended on its manufacturing partners when it comes to PC hardware. The relationships it has with the major PC makers has been what has made the company. In fact, at CES in January of 2010, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer stood on stage and previewed an HP tablet that, in retrospect, showed how far behind the PC makers were to Apple.

But those relationships are strained now, due in part to the growth of the tablet market (that is, iPad) and the fact that Android was often the first option for the PC makers, not Windows.

But Microsoft has ventured into hardware, too – a loser with the Zune, it has been a huge winner with the Xbox. It still outsources production (as does Apple), but these products are original, custom.

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The Skiff  was previewed before Apple
held its original iPad event.
But to succeed in the tablet market, and to seriously threaten Apple, Microsoft would have to be willing to get into custom components - something most PC makers have shied away from. Apple, because it can promise its suppliers millions of units in sales, and long production runs, can demand custom components that is allowing it to create innovative products.

But if Microsoft puts its money on this new tablet it could do the same. It also has to be committed as an organization to the product, as well. After all, it has been two and a half years since Steve Ballmer tried to show that Microsoft would be a player in the tablet market.

Based on leaks to the WSJ and others, it is apparent that Microsoft thinks it can compete now. But will Microsoft dare to piss off their hardware partners? will they offer only vaporware? or is this just another crazy, off-track rumor that has the event figured all wrong? We'll see what it has to offer on Monday.

(Note: Some tech sites are taking a middle ground on Microsoft tablet rumors, guessing that any tablet announcement would be geared more towards the Kindle Fire end of the market rather than aimed at the iPad. This would be a conservative approach for sure.)