Microsoft Tablet to Beat Apple to the Punch?

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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is ready to introduce on Wednesday night a slate form-factor computer to rival the yet-unannounced Apple Tablet, according to reports. It's not the first time Microsoft has delved into tablets, but the Redmond company hopes it will be luckier the second time running.

Microsoft Tablet, Apple tablet
Microsoft's Courier tablet design and the Apple tablet rendering from Gizmodo.

Hewlett-Packard has reportedly been working with Microsoft in preparation of the new slate-type computer, to be announced during the evening keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Surprisingly (or not), Microsoft's tablet announcement will come only weeks before Apple is expected to introduce its own tablet device, in late January.

Microsoft's tablet PCs have been much of a pariah of the computing world since their initial launch. The hardware was clunky, they needed pen/stylus input, and the battery life was short. All in all, Microsoft's original tablet PCs haven't seen wide adoption or success.

But late last year, Gizmodo claimed videos and pictures of a stylish Microsoft tablet prototype called Courier. The tablet broke from the traditional single-screen designs and used two adjacent 7-inch touch screens, connected through a hinge. The software pictured running on the tablet was also new, a combo of the Zune HD and Surface computers interface.

Since the initial Courier tablet leak, not much has been heard about Microsoft's tablet plans. However, speculation flourished around Apple's similar product in the pipeline, which is now said to be announced later this month. Despite widespread speculation, specific details on the Apple tablet are scarce, as the Cupertino company is keeping true to its secretive nature.

The same mystery aura is hovering around the Microsoft tablet. The NYT report is very short on product details, mentioning only various multimedia features with "e-reader and multi-touch functions." Right now, there are no specific details on either the Apple or Microsoft tablet, so we can't offer a proper comparison -- yet.

But what will be interesting to see is how Microsoft will market its tablet PC, especially with an Apple version likely on the way. It's possible the Microsoft and Apple tablets will be two totally different style of products, if looking at the dual-screen Courier from Microsoft and the large iPod touch-style tablet expected from Apple (pictured above).

As for Microsoft "beating Apple to the punch" - meaning announcing its tablet earlier with a few weeks - there's one tricky detail left: all reports on the Microsoft and Apple tablets point that despite the lag in announcement, both tablets will be available to purchase around the same time (March/mid-year), and that's when the true battle will commence.

For more up-to-the-minute blogs, stories, photos, and video from the nation's largest consumer electronics show, check out PC World's complete coverage of CES 2010.

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