First, let me say despite all the water cooler talk, Microsoft’s mysterious Monday event will not be about a branded tablet; but about the Xbox and entertainment. This is a work of speculation.
There are as many reasons why Microsoft would never get into creating hardware beyond the Xbox and peripherals; the revenue stream form the OEM partner model, the amount of time and money creating hardware entails (prototyping, securing materials, QA testing, etc.), upsetting PC partners (to the point you see Windows replaced by Chrome OS or Linux on devices), and the stigma that all they were doing was copying/chasing Apple.
But there are reasons to cross that road.
If Microsoft does a tablet, it will be because someone (most likely an acolyte of J Allard) did a PowerPoint that showed despite all the things that could go wrong, Microsoft needed to do it’s own device. For starters the partner model; a major strength in terms of diverse devices and price points; is a weakness when it comes to introducing new product categories (here there’d be an image of the Ultra Mobile PC and early Tablets).
Microsoft could control the price and presentation of the device to ensure at least a beachhead. As to questions of cost and expertise; Microsoft has built up a sizeable hardware group (Applied Sciences, Xbox, and Microsoft Hardware) that has been focusing on software/hardware integration. It would allow Microsoft to introduce innovations created by these groups and the groups from Microsoft Research. There is also the sales channel Microsoft is creating with the Microsoft Stores; which would ensure better presentation for devices. Last, the base requirements the company has set for Windows 8 and Windows Phone have yielded mixed results. While the goal has been to give users a good out the box experience, the result (especially on Windows Phone) is that OEMs only do enough to meet base specs (sometimes using Android designed devices for Windows Phone).
Now while I’d like to see a Microsoft branded device, I kind of want them to mess with it.
And if they don’t want to upset their Hardware partners too much, they may have to tweak it. For all intents and purposes, this device will be the flagship.
To me the perfect Microsoft tablet would be about bringing together the best of Windows 8 (Metro) and adding programs that make the case for Microsoft , and I think they could do it but it means picking back up with a dead product, The Courier.
The Courier, despite a really narrow focus, had some great ideas that could work and would fit the needs Microsoft has. In particular the Courier had ideas around productivity software tailor made for tablets. For example "Smart Ink" a technology where text, for example, has mathematical properties; so it could fill out an equation (3×15) automatically. Smart Ink also replicates the effect of pen and paper; if users select lined digital paper, words snap to each line as they’re jotted down. My idea is to marry the Courier idea with Windows 8; doing so allows Microsoft to produce a devise that, in theory, doesn’t step on HP and Acer’s toes; but also showcases Microsoft technologies. The tablet would also concentrate on reading as a feature and may come without a desktop.
This concept tablet, I’m calling Codex (which is a specially crafted book and the name of a Microsoft Research project) would be built on Windows RT and have a modified version of Metro running on top. The screen would be either 8in or 10in. It would come with a pen. The screen would be Retina quality (for both reading and use as a digital sketchbook). The device would make use of PixelSense technology for a better touch experience. Despite the modification, the tablet will run WinRT (Metro) applications. I really think Microsoft should aim this tablet at the education market; use the recent Barnes and Noble deal as a way to get into the market before Apple crowds out everybody. I’d also love Microsoft to use the deal as a way to get into creating experiences for e-reading. I’d price it close to the Kindle Fire (say $200-400) and set minimum memory at 32gb, with ability to get on a mobile carrier.
And that’s it other than hardware wise it should have outstanding hardware (and a little less bezel); I hope they go to the folks that helped design the Zune HD (which is a great example of hardware/software harmony). And if (like some theories go) they use the Barnes and Noble store or books, they skin it and add functionality for sharing (I’m serious about revisiting and updating the Courier concept).
And yes the Codex will play games (can’t live without them Angry Birds).
Here are links to the most recent theories around the "Event" Monday: