Microsoft Must Respond to Rumoured Apple Netbook


Microsoft and its manufacturing partners may find themselves needing to respond if Apple rolls out its much-rumored tablet computer later in 2009 or sometime in 2010

Online rumors have been swirling anew that Apple plans on releasing a tablet computer either later in 2009 or sometime in 2010, which could pressure Microsoft into working with its manufacturing partners to release a device of its own.

According to Gizmodo, which reportedly received the information from a high-level source, the Apple tablet will feature a 10-inch screen, cost between $700 and $900, and have the capability to act as a secondary screen for an iMac or MacBook. This report follows an 7 Aug research note by Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster that made the same general points.

Further online speculation has revolved about whether Apple’s much-rumored 15 Sept keynote will include mention – or even a showing – of the tablet. If Apple executes a massive push behind the device, of course, the question then becomes what Microsoft and manufacturers such as Dell will do in response.

In the wake of initial rumors that Apple intended to release a tablet computer, Wired reported on 3 August that Dell and Intel were collaborating on a touch-screen tablet due for release sometime in 2010. That article made no mention of what operating system would be utilized for the rumored tablet, but given that Dell and Intel are both substantial Microsoft customers, it would be easy to surmise that the device would run some version of Windows 7.

Indeed, Windows 7 will feature touch capabilities that could conceivably allow for its use in a tablet PC. In a 30 Jul posting on The Windows Blog, Mark Rogers of Microsoft’s Software Ecosystem Team wrote that “Windows Touch and multi-touch features provide a natural, intuitive way for users to interact with PCs. Companies such as Roxio, Corel and Cegid are all enabling Windows Touch in their applications.”

However, when contacted by eWeek, a Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment on the possibility to Windows 7 being ported onto a tablet PC.

A tablet PC installed with a Windows OS could dovetail with Microsoft’s larger plan to saturate the PC market with ultra-portable devices that provide higher margins than the mini-notebooks, known popularly as “netbooks,” that have dominated PC sales throughout 2009.

During Microsoft’s Financial Analyst Meeting on 30 July, CEO Steve Ballmer said that his company would work with PC manufacturers to roll out devices, starting near the end of 2009, which would provide netbook portability at price-point of a few hundred dollars more.

“When a customer says, ‘We want a netbook with a bigger screen,’ we’ll say, ‘Here’s an ultrathin,'” Ballmer said. “We want people to be able to get the advantages of lightweight performance and to spend more money with us.”

Whether or not tablet PCs eventually play a role in that strategy, the overall touch-screen market is one that could definite appeal for Microsoft and its manufacturing partners: a May 2009 report by research firm DisplaySearch predicted that market as tripling from $3.6 billion (£2.17) to $9 billion over the next six years.