Get ready for Windows tablets. According to a new report, next week Microsoft will show a tablet-oriented version of its Windows operating system.
Citing three unnamed sources with knowledge of the plans, Bloomberg News said the device will contain Nvidia's ARM-based Tegra chip and have a touchscreen interface. Although the location for the demonstration isn't known, Windows President Steven Sinofsky will be presenting at the All Things D conference in California next week, and Vice President Steve Guggenheimer is giving a speech to the Computex show in Taipei.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Microsoft announced it was developing a version of Windows for ARM-based devices. ARM chips are hugely popular in the world of mobile devices, used in Apple's iPad and Android tablets, among other products.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer may have jumped the gun earlier this week when he said machines running Windows 8 would come out next year. The company, eager to avoid having buyers wait till next year, then issued a retraction.
"It appears there was a misstatement," the software giant wrote to the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday. It said "we are eagerly awaiting the next generation of Windows 7 hardware that will be available in the coming fiscal year," and added that "we have yet to formally announce any timing or naming of the next version of Windows."
But Windows 7 doesn't run on ARM chips, so an OS for ARM devices would need to be a new version.
In a note to its clients, Citigroup has predicted that Microsoft could release a tablet version of its new OS before it comes out with the same OS for PCs. Citigroup analysts expect a beta version by September, with shipping to start in 2012 or early 2013.
'Room for Microsoft'
Whether the new tablet-oriented OS can put a dent in the tablet category currently dominated by Apple remains to be seen. Citigroup noted Microsoft still has to deliver a "competitive operating system," competitive pricing, and, most important, a compelling user interface.
Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst with industry researcher Forrester, noted that Microsoft's challenges also include convincing OEM partners to invest in Windows tablets when many of them are already releasing Android tablets.
In the tablet category, she pointed out, Apple "owns that world," although Research In Motion, Google's Android, Hewlett-Packard, and others are trying to get a significant piece. But, Epps said, there is "absolutely room for Microsoft at this party."
A Forrester survey found that 46 percent of consumers would consider buying a tablet that runs Windows, compared to 16 percent for Apple's iOS platform and nine percent for Android. Epps pointed out that "consumers are familiar with Windows, and compatibility is very important to them."
The survey indicated that a big concern for buyers is that they want their tablet "to work with the stuff they already have," she said, like printing to existing printers.
"So far," Epps added, "we haven't seen any tablet that really does that."