Windows 7 slate: A PC by any other name?

Microsoft has some fancy footwork to do around its tablet/slate positioning.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft has some fancy footwork to do around its tablet/slate positioning.

Until now, Microsoft officials have claimed that iPads are not PCs. It's not hard to see why. If iPads are counted as PCs, Apple would be the No. 2 PC vendor.

But are slates/tablets running Windows 7 PCs? As is evident by a marketing campaign on the Windows.com site, Microsoft is straddling the fence. The campaign isn't new; Microsoft officials pointed to it from the Windows Blog some time after the Consumer Electronics Show in January. But it does make plain the Softies' dilemma in the tablet/slate space.

"Introducing a PC that's not very PC: The ASUS Eee Slate," reads the banner-ad copy. "The ASUS Slate with Windows 7 delivers all the power, speed and productivity you've come to expect. Once off its stand, it becomes a sexy, touchscreen slate that provides infinite possibilities."

Microsoft's ad shows a young child picking up the $999+ device and intuitively knowing how to use the stylus to draw. (Haven't we seen a similar tactic somewhere before?)

The longer version of the text shows more clearly the tricky marketing waters the Softies need to navigate with the company's slate strategy. Is a Windows 7 tablet/slate a PC? Or isn't it? You can argue both sides, especially with a device like the new ASUS Eee Slate, which has a stand and a keyboard.

Last year, Microsoft execs scrambled to undo confusion over the company's tablet vs. slate vs. PC rhetoric. To differentiate between tablets and slates running Windows 7 vs. tablets and slates running Windows Embedded Compact 7, the Softies ended up saying that Windows Embedded Compact slates were for content consumption, while Windows-based ones were for both consumption and creation.

As Apple drove home last week, the iPad -- especially iPad 2 -- can do both content consumption and creation. But to me, this doesn't mean PCs are toast and we're now in a post-PC era. And as long as a PC/Mac continues to be a necessary part of the iPad mix, as one blogger noted recently, can we really say we're in a post-PC world?

While we're debunking tablet-related rumors, I've seen a few reports claiming Microsoft is "delaying" its tablets until 2012. Um... there are Windows tablets and slates out already, running both Windows 7 and Windows Embedded Compact 6.X. Microsoft officials still haven't said when they plan to deliver Windows 8 to OEMs. (In fact, they still officially have not used "Windows 8" to refer to the next version of Windows, if you want to be precise.) But if they do RTM Windows 8 in 2012, enabling tablet/slate makers to get Win 8 slates out in time for holiday 2012, they will be "on time," in my book.

Once more, with feeling: Windows 7 slates are not touch-centric, though they may be touch-capable. There's no equivalent to the Apple App Store for these devices. They tend to be heavy, pricey and fairly bulky. They don't come with their own colorful array of covers with cleaning cloths built in. All of these reasons contribute to the way Microsoft is marketing Windows slates vs. iPads. Microsoft is focusing on selling Windows 7 slates/tablets primarily as devices for the enterprise. (And that's why the Eee slate campaign is rather confusing, in my opinion, as it is attempting to position a $1,000 PC as a potential iPad equivalent.)

To me, a tablet/slate is something quite different from a PC. It shouldn't be a PC stuffed into an iPad-like shell.  Do you think tablet/slate is more than just another PC form factor category? Why/why not?

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