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Barnes & Noble deal hints at possible new Microsoft tablet today

May agreement offers clues to e-reader or tablet co-produced by partners

June 18, 2012 07:02 AM ET

Computerworld - Rumors that Microsoft may unveil its own e-reader or tablet later today would be confirmation of speculation that dates back more than a month, not just to last week.

Monday afternoon, Microsoft will hold a hastily-called press conference in Los Angeles, that may, depending on the buzz of the hour, center on an iPad-style tablet or a smaller device designed primarily for e-reading, akin to Amazon's Kindle Fire.

The former was the initial -- and in some quarters -- still the most likely focus of the mysterious announcement. Under that scenario, Microsoft will reveal a tablet powered by Windows RT.

In the second, more recently-argued scenario, the device will be a tablet or e-reader co-produced by Microsoft and bookseller Barnes & Noble.

According to TechCrunch, which did not cite its sources, the device will likely serve as a rival to the Kindle Fire rather the iPad, and will emphasize entertainment, possibly offering Xbox Live media content streaming.

If accurate, the device, whether tablet or e-reader, may have been revealed seven weeks ago when Microsoft and Barnes & Noble announced their partnership. As part of that agreement, Microsoft invested $300 million in the bookseller's new digital content subsidiary, dubbed only as "NewCo," and promised at least another $305 million in payments over the next five years.

In an April 30 filing with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission, Barnes & Noble noted that Microsoft might create something called "Microsoft Reader," and if it did, pledged that the device or software -- it wasn't clear which Reader would be -- could access the new digital content market NewCo would build.

"If Microsoft creates a reader, Microsoft may include an interface to the NewCo Store in that reader and may surface in that reader all Content purchased by customers from the NewCo Store," the filing stated.

At the time, analysts said that the partnership could result in a Windows tablet or e-reader, but predicted that digital college textbooks, not entertainment, seemed like the best opportunity.

The same commercial agreement also requires NewCo to develop a Windows Phone e-reader app as well as one for a "Windows device," which was defined as a "Windows-Based PC or a Windows Phone."

The latter is to be a Metro app, the new type of Windows software that runs on both Windows RT, the offshoot that works only on hardware powered by ARM processors, and on the more traditional Windows 8.

Friday's scuttlebutt claimed that today Microsoft would reveal a company-branded Windows RT tablet, while others voting for the less powerful e-reader option have said it could be powered by the upcoming Windows Phone 8.

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