Microsoft isn't going to sit idly by and let slates from Apple and various Android backers run away with this market.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told the 14,000 partners during his July 12 keynote at the Worldwide Partner Conference to expect new Windows 7 slates before the end of this year.
Microsoft and its existing PC partners, including Asus, Dell, Samsung, Toshiba and Sony, will all be fielding Windows 7 slates in the coming months, Ballmer said. These slates will be available at a variety of price points and in a variety of form factors -- with keyboards, touch only, dockable, able to handle digital ink, etc.
Since Ballmer showed off a prototype of a Windows 7 slate from Hewlett-Packard at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, the company has said next-to-nothing about how it planned to address the slate form-factor space. (It's interesting Ballmer didn't mention HP in his list of slate partners this morning. (Update: As a few folks have pointed out, HP was still shown on Microsoft's slate slide, however.) HP still hasn't officially confirmed that it isn't going to deliver a Windows 7 slate this year, but HP officials have said to expect the company to field a WebOS-based one this fall.)
"We know you really want to know what's coming" in the new form factor space, Ballmer told partners.
Ballmer never mentioned the iPad or the coming Chrome OS-based slates by name during his remarks. Microsoft's pitch will be that these slates will be sanctioned by corporate IT departments, enabling customers to use them at work and at home.
I think it's way overdue for Microsoft to tell customers what's coming on the slate front. We've heard that there will be Windows Embedded Compact tablets and slates coming, but it's doubtful (I'd think) that those will be able to run Windows apps.
Microsoft execs can't -- with any credibility -- keep pooh-poohing slates, claiming they're nothing more than PCs, given how quickly the iPad has been gaining traction. Microsoft is known to be focusing on the slate form factor with Windows 8, but that operating system is still likely close to two years away from release.
All that said, there's more to a slate than just the physical form factor. If there isn't longer battery life, instant on/off and some kind of app store with not just the usual business apps, but also consumer-focused apps and games, I'm not so sure users are going to bite...
Microsoft officials are expected to show off some of the prototype Windows 7 slates later today during the partner conference keynote. Stay tuned for more....