Microsoft's Windows Phone 7: No Tablets For You

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Microsoft Windows Phone 7

This week, the tech world's all a-twitter over Microsoft's mobile reinvention -- you know, that little thing called Windows Phone 7. Compared to Microsoft's past smartphone efforts, ranging from the lackluster Windows Mobile to the dead-on-arrival Microsoft Kin, the first Windows Phone 7 devices are already showing plenty of promise.

Not to say that everyone's in love with 'em, of course: Having seen the new handsets, some analysts are predicting a grim future for Microsoft's mobile wing. Other pundits are expressing their doubts in Dr. Seuss-style rhymes (I kid you not).

Microsoft has said its work on Windows Phone 7 is only beginning. One thing's for sure, though: The new mobile software won't be making its way to tablets anytime soon.

Windows Phone 7 and the Tablet Question

Windows Phone 7

Microsoft currently has no plans to bring the Windows Phone 7 operating system into the tablet realm, the company has confirmed. The reason? The software wasn't built to be used on large-screen devices, MS execs say, and they're not about to try to make it do something it wasn't designed to do.

Now, that doesn't mean Microsoft is waving a white flag when it comes to the tablet market -- rather, the Redmond rangers will work with the regular Windows 7 OS for their upcoming slate devices. Both HP and Dell are already working on such gadgets.

It's a very different approach from what we've seen with tablets so far. Apple's iPad shares its iOS foundation with the iPhone, and Samsung's upcoming Galaxy Tab is the first of many high-end tablets that'll run a version of Google's Android mobile OS. (With that said, Google has indicated that Froyo -- the current incarnation of Android -- isn't truly optimized for a tablet interface. Reports suggest a future release called "Honeycomb" will be designed specifically with tablets in mind.)

Windows Phone 7 and Microsoft's Tablet Strategy

Microsoft's strategy seems to treat the tablet more as a computer than a smartphone-like device. Picture using a tablet with your desktop OS rather than your mobile OS; we're talking two very different experiences. Granted, the version of Windows 7 Microsoft will use for tablets will be scaled down from the full-desktop monty, but it's still a far cry from the tile-sliding simplicity that's central to the Windows Phone 7 experience.

As to whether this is a wise move or a virtual suicide, it's anyone's guess; the truth is that the tablet has yet to find its place in the market. Will it end up being a phone-like computer, or a computer-like pad? What kind of people will buy it, and what will they want it to do? The form is just too new to have any proven answers.

Amidst all the uncertainty, Microsoft isn't the only tech giant experimenting with approaches. Google, too, is believed to be working on a line of tablets that'll go beyond the mobile OS. The company is rumored to have an HTC-made Chrome OS tablet on the way later this year. So there'll likely be multiple desktop-esque tablets on store shelves before long.

At the moment, I'd say there's precisely one firm certainty: The computer shopping experience will never be as simple as "PC vs. Mac" again.

JR Raphael is a PCWorld contributing editor and the author of the Android Power blog. You can find him on both Facebook and Twitter.

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