Microsoft to reveal tablet software at Las Vegas fair

Tue, Dec 28, 2010, 00:00

MICROSOFT’S CHIEF executive Steve Ballmer, who is planning to unveil new software for tablets at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas next week, will face sceptics who say his company won’t be able to narrow Apple’s iPad lead anytime soon.

“By the time Microsoft gets it figured out, everybody will already own an iPad,” said Keith Goddard, chief executive of Capital Advisors, an investing firm in Oklahoma that holds Apple shares. “That train has left the station.”

Microsoft will announce a full version of the Windows computer operating system that runs on ARM Holdings technology at the show, which begins on January 6th, two people familiar with Microsoft’s plans said last week.

Allying with ARM is Microsoft’s way of stepping up rivalry with Apple, which has garnered the largest share of the tablet market with its iPad, a touchscreen device introduced in April that handles video, music and computing tasks. The effort may falter unless Mr Ballmer can match the features consumers have come to expect from the iPad, Mr Goddard said.

Mr Ballmer admitted in July that Apple has “sold certainly more than I’d like them to sell”.

Computer makers have unsuccessfully been trying to sell tablet-style computers based on Microsoft’s Windows for about a decade.

Before the iPad, tablets made up only about 2 per cent of the PC market. Apple has sold 7.46 million iPads up to September. According to analysts at Goldman Sachs, it may sell as many at 37.2 million iPads next year.

That indicates that the tablet’s share of the PC market may rise to 9.2 per cent next year, based on a prediction by research firm IDC for 402.7 million PC shipments in 2011.

Apple has also redefined consumer expectations for what a tablet computer should do, says Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner. Instead of requiring the use of a stylus pen to serve as a computer mouse, the iPad allows people to navigate using their fingers.

“Apple did this year what no one had done in the previous 10 – crack that space between the PC and the phone,” said Gartenberg. “Microsoft has been working very hard at putting a square peg in a round hole.”

Still, an introduction at CES gives Microsoft a chance to win over some of the more than 100,000 people expected to attend the premier technology trade show, he added. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for Microsoft and Ballmer to put a stake in the ground,” said Mr Gartenberg. “Now that Apple cracked the market, no one wants to get left behind.”

By adapting its computer operating system for a tablet, Microsoft is taking a different approach from Apple, which used a mobile-phone operating system as the basis for the iPad. Apple’s software enables instant start-up, longer battery life and access to more than 300,000 applications.

Microsoft is said to be taking software designed for use with a mouse and keyboard and adapting it to a touchscreen. That will require developers to rework PC programs to make them useful on a tablet.

Existing tablets based on Windows are difficult to use, according to Michael Cherry, an analyst at research firm Directions on Microsoft. “Current Windows tablets are what I call Frankentablets – part-laptop” and part-tablet, he said. “They do neither role well.”– (Bloomberg)