Former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates suggested during a television interview that rumors of the company's death in the tablet PC space were, at best, premature. His comments followed a week in which Microsoft announced the death of its long-rumored Courier project, which centered on a dual-touch-screen device in a folding book-like format, and in which further scuttlebutt had it that Hewlett-Packard had decided to eliminate a Windows 7-powered "Slate" tablet PC from its upcoming lineup.
"Microsoft has a lot of different tablet projects that we're pursuing," Gates said, according to a Fox Business Network transcript quoted by TechFlash. "We think that work with the pen that Microsoft pioneered will become a mainstream for students. It can give you a device that you can not only read, but also [use to] create documents at the same time."
That would run contrary to other companies' development road maps for tablet PCs, which seem to emphasize the use of hands or fingers to make changes on the screen, as opposed to a stylus. Several legacy products, including touch-screen PDAs running Windows Mobile, have put emphasis on the stylus as a means of input.
Microsoft's Courier project would likely have allowed users to write notes or draw longhand. However, Courier was executed before it could leave the development lab; Frank Shaw, Microsoft's corporate vice president of communications, acknowledged the product's existence and demise simultaneously, saying, "Its technologies will be evaluated for use in future Microsoft offerings."
HP's tablet PC project, though, seemed much more finger-oriented. Whether or not the rumors of its demise eventually prove to be true, the Windows 7-powered Slate would have allowed users to hold video conferences, snap photos and interact with multimedia. But according to certain analysts, HP's recent Palm acquisition may have negatively impacted the project's development.
"HP's upcoming Slate tablet was originally expected to run Windows 7 OS, although using Windows 7 would translate to a higher cost to the consumer and could mean more strain on the processor," Anna Hunt, an analyst with IMS Research, wrote in a May 3 research note. "The tablet market will likely see devices at sub-$250 price points within a year's time ... therefore suppliers must be very aware of lowering costs while maximizing performance and end-user experience."
With that in mind, baking the Palm WebOS into a tablet has the potential to affect Microsoft's broader attempts to move into the tablet PC market.
"HP's current tablet with Microsoft Windows has not been well received by reviewers, and TBR believes the Windows PC operating system does not lend itself to a touch-screen tablet experience," John Spooner, an analyst for Technology Business Research, wrote in an April 30 research note. "Microsoft itself is finding the tablet PC market more complicated than expected ... We believe a WebOS tablet will be better received than a Windows tablet, which may lead to adoption of WebOS tablet PCs in the enterprise."
Gates' comments are one of the first indications that Microsoft may be continuing to develop products for the tablet space, despite the HP rumors and the Courier termination. That may be strategically necessary for the company, considering how the nascent area of consumer tablets has already seen at least one breakaway success: On May 3, Apple announced that it had sold 1 million iPads in the 28 days since it released the device.
"Apple's done a great job," Gates was quoted as saying on Fox Business News.