At least one Microsoft executive seems unconvinced that tablets are much more than a passing fad.
"Mobile is something that you want to use while you're moving, and portable is something that you move and then use," Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer, reportedly told the audience at a lunch in Sydney. "These are going to bump into one another a little bit, and so today you can see tablets and pads and other things that are starting to live in the space in between."
According to a March 30 report in the International Business Times, he also added: "Personally, I don't know whether I believe that space will be a persistent one or not."
That marks the second criticism against tablets to come out of Australia in the past few days. On March 28, a Dell executive told CIO Australia that Apple's iPad had little chance in succeeding with businesses, due in part to its high cost with accessories.
Microsoft remains a low-key presence in the tablet market, despite its rivals' aggressive moves in that space. Apple's iPad 2 is currently attracting around-the-block lines at its retail locations, and manufacturers, ranging from Samsung to LG Electronics and Toshiba, are all preparing new tablets for release over the next few quarters. While tablets have existed for years as a device for narrow industry segments, the original iPad is widely seen as responsible for making the form factor a viable consumer item.
Windows 7 has appeared on a small handful of tablets in the past year, courtesy of Hewlett-Packard and other manufacturing partners. However, many of these devices are aimed at the Asian market, and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer neglected to mention the company's tablet plans during his keynote at this January's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The popular perception is that Microsoft's next operating system, dubbed "Windows 8" by the media and possibly due for release sometime in 2012, will be designed for interoperability with the tablet form factor. In theory, a more substantial Microsoft drive into the tablet space would begin at that time.
Also during CES, Microsoft announced that the next version of Windows would support SoC (system-on-a-chip) architecture, in particular ARM-based systems from partners such as Texas Instruments, Nvidia and Qualcomm. In theory, that would allow Windows to make a play for smaller mobile devices.
"Under the hood there's a ton of differences that need to be worked through," Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live Division, told media and analysts assembled for Microsoft's Jan. 5 press conference to unveil the SoC decision. "Windows has proven remarkably flexible at this under-the-hood sort of stuff. We work on storage from flash all the way up to terabytes of storage" and "Windows kernel on alternate architectures."
Should Microsoft begin a hard push into tablets, it will encounter entrenched resistance from the same companies and operating systems currently giving it such trouble in the smartphone arena: Apple's iOS, as loaded onto the iPad, and Google's new and tablet-optimized Android 3.0, also known as "Honeycomb."