Could and should there be a Microsoft-branded Windows 8 tablet?

Could there be a Microsoft-branded Windows 8 tablet coming to market next year? Sure. But should there be? I'd argue no.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Could there be a Microsoft-branded Windows 8 tablet coming to market next year? Sure. But should there be? I'd argue no.

Digitimes is citing chip-supplier sources claiming that Microsoft is contemplating whether to launch its own Microsoft-branded tablet. (And, unsurprisingly, Microsoft is declining to comment.)

I am wondering whether the Microsoft tablet in question might simply be a chassis, similar to what Microsoft did when it developed Windows Phone. Or perhaps a reference design -- something it could show its OEMs to give them ideas as to what's possible and marketable.

If it's something more, and Microsoft were to bring to market a "Microsoft tablet," I'd think the company would be taking a big risk, as far as alienating its OEM partners is concerned. Right now, a number of first-, second- and third-tier OEMs are delivering new Windows 7 tablets to market. Microsoft gets a nice cut (rumored to be something under $50 per copy) on these tablets, as OEMs must pay the company to license every copy of Windows 7 preloaded on these devices. And Microsoft is no doubt counting on partners to continue to do the same with Windows 8.

(By the way -- Microsoft is still allowing OEMs to license Windows Embedded Compact and preload that operating system on slates and tablets, as well. After I wrote a post last week about Microsoft downplaying the Windows Embedded operating system as a choice for slates and tablets, I received word back from a Microsoft spokesperson who told me "Microsoft continues to provide OEMs with a variety of Windows platform options, including Windows Embedded Compact 7" for slates and tablets. So far, we have yet to see any OEMs bring a Windows Embedded Compact 7 slate to market, but Microsoft only released that OS to manufacturing in March 2011.)

Back to Windows 8 tablets. Let's talk about the Kin -- the Microsoft phone that Microsoft officials insisted, to the bitter end, that wasn't a Microsoft phone. After the Kin debacle, Microsoft officials (hopefully) know that just because Microsoft can cut out OEMs and bring its own device to market doesn't insure its success.

Yes, the Xbox is a contrary example. But the gaming console market is not a place where OEM ecosystems come into play. In the PC/tablet space, it seems companies have two choices: Go the Apple route and go it on your own as the sole supplier, or go the OEM route and offer customers different products, with different designs and price points. Google is pursuing a hybrid OEM/build your own model with the Nexus phones. But with Chromebooks, it's counting on OEMs and isn't trying to sell a Google-branded and manufactured device.

Some may argue that the dearth of true iPad competitors from any Windows OEMs is proof that Microsoft needs to take matters into its own hands and bring a better WinPad to market. I, myself, am willing to wait and see if a more tablet-friendly operating system, as Windows 8 seems to be from early previews, will be what pushes Windows OEMs to build the tablet that I really want. And I'm really interested in seeing what Nokia does (I'm betting there's a Nokia Win 8 tablet in the wings, for sure.)

What's your take? Should Microsoft bring its own Win8Pad to market in 2012?

Update: A couple of readers have wondered whether any kind of Microsoft-branded Windows 8 tablet might simply be a give-away for attendees of the upcoming Build conference in September.... It wouldn't be unprecedented. Remember, Microsoft gave paying attendees a Windows 7 touch-screen laptop at the Professional Developers Conference to encourage them to build touch applications.

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