Microsoft could use this week's Consumer Electronics Show to introduce a connected-television offering that would compete with Google TV and Apple TV.
"Microsoft's going to make a splash in this market with a stripped-down version of Windows tailored for set-top boxes and connected TVs," Brier Dudley, a columnist with The Seattle Times, predicted in a Jan. 2 article widely circulated across the Web. "The software is a version of its embedded device software, overlaid with the Windows Media Center interface, with media streaming and remote-control capabilities."
Given Microsoft's traditional position of a "fast follower"-or a company that moves to exploit trends once they emerge in the marketplace-it would be unsurprising if the company uses CES to issue a TV challenge to Google and Apple. In December, Apple reported it had sold 1 million Apple TV units in the device's first two-and-a-half months of release, demonstrating the viability of a box that allows users to watch content ported from the cloud. And Google's decision to postpone the rollout of Google TV sets and companion boxes, originally set for CES, could create a suitable vacuum in which Microsoft could push "Windows TV."
Dudley referred to Microsoft's $200 device as "a stripped-down version of Windows tailored for set-top boxes and connected TVs," running Windows Media Center.
If this report proves true, the question will be how Microsoft chooses to walk the line between computer and traditional television. Conceivably, the company could choose to hew closely to the Apple TV model, which offers streaming rentals, including 99-cent TV shows and $4.99 HD movies the same day the latter appear on DVD.
"They don't want a computer on their TV," Apple CEO Steve Jobs told the audience during Apple TV's September unveiling, referring to consumers. "This is a hard one for people to understand." Features such as syncing between a television and secondary devices-smartphone or laptop-he continued, were "too complicated" for most users.
Jobs' comments seemed aimed at Google TV, which offers the ability to both surf the Web and tune into traditional TV broadcasts. Sony televisions with Google TV retail for between $600 and $1,400, and an offering from Logitech hit stores with a $300 price. Nevertheless, early critics complained that the system's user interface had significant kinks, and a Dec. 20 article in The New York Times suggested that Google had asked partners Toshiba, Sharp and LG to delay their new Google TV units for further refinement.
Google might also use the time to negotiate with the major television networks, which blocked Google TV from accessing their Websites. Apple is also wrestling with some of those networks over the right to content.
Reports suggest that Microsoft will also use CES to unveil a new line of Windows-based tablets, along with a version of Windows leveraging ARM Holdings technology. But given how the market for connected television is expected to only increase in coming years, a Windows TV could have just as sizable an impact on the marketplace as any other Microsoft product making its debut.