Today at 6:30pm EST, Microsoft is holding an event in Los Angeles for a "major announcement" and there are rumors floating around the web that this could be anything from a new e-reader device in cooperation with Barnes & Noble to a custom-built Windows phone.
After sifting through some rumors and going off of some information I got during Computex this month, I think the answer is pretty obvious as to what we are going to see tonight: a Windows RT tablet device that will be branded and sold by Microsoft. Rather than depend on partners like ASUS, Dell and Toshiba, Microsoft will pull out all the stops to compete against the Apple iPad directly by making the "reference" device to spark the Windows tablet market.
Who will actually BUILD this Microsoft branded Windows RT tablet?
While this is unusual for Microsoft, this isn’t the first time we have seen this. The Microsoft Zune was a great device for the music player market that just happened to come along too late as the convergence of phones and music took hold. However, the Zune software and music infrastructure live on with the Windows Phone devices and I think you’ll find it a part of today’s announcement for the Microsoft Windows RT tablet.
Ah, the first Zune HD. Yes I still use mine!
One of the most interesting parts of this announcement is going to be the hardware itself. Will Microsoft go the "safe" route and base the tablet on a timid design like we saw from the Amazon Kindle Fire or will they go more aggressively after the iPad with a higher resolution screen and mobile carrier plans?
Amazon’s Kindle Fire
When talking with the major ARM SoC vendors about Windows RT in May and June, one thing became very clear to me – only one hardware vendor claimed to be ready for the pending release of Windows RT – NVIDIA. While Qualcomm and TI were struggling to bring performance levels to where they needed to be to run the operating system effectively, NVIDIA was the vendor best prepared for the new ecosystem. We saw that play out with the first public demonstration of a Windows RT tablet device coming from ASUS and NVIDIA earlier this month.
I fully expect the NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor to be at the heart of the new Microsoft Windows RT tablet announced tonight – and that would be a HUGE victory for one of the smallest (in terms of volume), yet loudest, SoC vendors competing in this market. And NVIDIA and Microsoft already have a history of working together with Tegra products – remember that the Zune HD player was the first major product win for NVIDIA’s SoC.
I believe this tablet will have the NVIDIA Tegra 3 SoC inside
A Microsoft-built Windows RT tablet will no doubt miff some of the company’s partners, the same companies we mentioned above like Dell and ASUS, but MS may finally be realizing, much like Google has with the coming Nexus Tablet, that competing with Apple requires a different kind of mindset than previous hardware battles. On the other hand, a Windows RT tablet that combines Zune music service, Barnes & Noble e-reader integration and maybe even some Xbox and TV options would be a VERY compelling product.