Another week, another Windows 7 slate is cut from the list of those slated (pun intended) to ship in time for this holiday season.
This time, as Engadget's PC reviewer extraordinaire Joanna Stern noted on August 23, the vendor didn't decide to dump Windows 7 for Android. Instead, MSI has decided to delay its Windows 7-based WindPad so it can incorporate Intel's Oak Trail processors that are expected to offer better power management and battery life. (MSI is also developing an Android WindPad slate, which is still on tap to ship before the end of this year, by the way.)
It was just a month ago that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer showed off a list of 21 vendors all said to be working on "Windows 7 slates" due out in time for this holiday season. (Seemingly, Ballmer's list included slates running Windows Embedded Compact-based operating systems, as well. The Embedded Compact 7 release to manufacturing date is still sometime in the fourth quarter of 2010, last I heard.)
Since Ballmer flashed his slate slide, there's been further disarray in the Windows slate market.
ASUS is readying both Windows 7 and Windows Embedded Compact 7 slates/tablets, but they aren't likely to hit until very late 2010 or early 2011 (and at a $1,000 price point for the Windows 7 model and a $400 to $500 one for the Compact 7 one).
Hanvon was supposed to launch its Windows 7 slate in April but best I can tell it became available in limited markets and quantities (in China and Australia) in August and was priced at more than $1,000. No word if/when the B10 will hit other markets.
Pegatron, the hardware OEM behind the ExoPC, is continuing its work on Windows 7 slates which will be private-labeled (best I can tell) by various partners around the world. The Canadian partner is Ciara-Tech, which will market the slate under the name Ciara Vibe (be careful searching that name, as there is another "Ciara Vibe," images of whom are probably not safe for work). No other OEMs have been announced. ExoPC had created its own touch user interface that is layered on top of Windows 7, as well as its own app store for developers who create apps that make use of that interface. It sounds like the Canadian launch still might happen in mid-late September (?)
Hewlett Packard is still promising a Windows 7 slate for the fourth quarter of 2010, but it sounds like that product will be marketed as a business-focused product (more of a tablet without a lid) and not a consumer-focused iPad competitor.
Ballmer said at Microsoft's Financial Analyst Meeting (FAM) in late July that Microsoft and its partners were counting on Intel's Oak Trail to give them a better answer to the iPad. Ballmer insisted that Windows 7 -- not Microsoft's Windows Phone OS or Windows Compact Embedded (which also runs on ARM processors, unlike Windows 7) -- would be the best operating system for a new line of iPad competitors.
What Ballmer and others at Microsoft haven't addressed is whether Microsoft will offer its partners some kind of a standardized touch shell for their slates. Currently, OEMs making Windows-based slates are doing their own things by adding different user interface layers on top of Windows 7 to make it a touch-first operating system. (Microsoft is offering OEMs some guidelines for optimizing Win7, IE8 and Windows Live for touch, but is not providing an actual shell they can use.)
I'd think Microsoft would have learned its lesson with Windows Mobile as to what happens when its hardware partners are allowed to customize extensively on top of a Microsoft-provided operating system. As Android developers are discovering, as well, the result is often a bunch of incompatible platforms that don't support applications in a common way, creating market fragmentation and programmer fear and loathing....
Microsoft execs dropped hints at FAM that they are aware of these problems and are thinking about the optimal ways to make Windows a touch-centric user interface. That's what the Microsoft "Surfboard" prototype touch application seems to be all about. Microsoft's Corporate Vice President of Windows Consumer Marketing Brad Brooks mentioned Surfboard in passing during FAM. During a demo, Brooks said:
"So, here I've got another slate form factor and again running Windows 7 and I'm going to pop open an application here that we've been, this is a prototype application we've been working with at Microsoft and using to help train our ecosystem about how to create touch-first application on Windows 7. And so this particular application is what we call internally Surfboard."
It's looking more and more as though there won't be many Windows 7 slates available this holiday season. As I blogged before, sometimes it is better to be late than lame. If Microsoft uses the next few months to create a better touch-centric slate reference platform -- and maybe even a shell -- maybe the delay will be worth it.
Do you think Microsoft should/could develop a touch shell for its PC maker partners to bring more standardization and unity to the Windows-based slate space?