Microsoft-branded Windows RT tablet likely to be Barnes & Noble special

It makes sense that Microsoft will unveil a tablet on Monday made with Barnes & Noble, as various anonymous sources have reported, including one informed source who talked to me.

After all, Microsoft invested $300 million in Barnes & Noble subsidiary called Newco in April. At the time,  the bookseller said it would include its Nook digital bookstore with Windows 8.

This coming tablet will run on Windows RT, the ARM-based version of Windows 8, according to several unnamed sources.

The real question is what price Microsoft will charge for the Wintab or M-blet or whatever it might be called.    If at the low end, near the $200 price of the Barnes & Noble Nook or the Amazon Kindle Fire, then Microsoft will be eating a lot of the costs.  Maybe Microsoft can make it up with ads, apps and games it sells, but that’s a big maybe.  That’s why the idea it would be a kind of Xbox tablet makes sense.

Most analysts expect the Windows RT tablet made by other manufacturers to cost more than $500, putting them on par with the new iPad, which starts at $499.

Going after the  lower-end price and the tablets in that category seems easier pickings than taking on the iPad at the higher end.  On the other hand, the great institution that is Microsoft, the maker of successful PC’s and Office software, seems almost out of place at the low end.

The way this new tablet performs is what will make the difference, whatever the cost.  Asus announced its Windows RT machine at Computex, but its price and performance are still relative unknowns.

After Monday, the focus will be on how well Microsoft can do with what it has hatched.  Coming from so far behind in the tablet arena could be a considerable challenge. The iPad has more than 60% of the market and even low-cost Android machines have a considerable head start.

One Microsoft worker told me recently, “We always do best when we come from behind.” That comment frankly left me a little mystified because Microsoft is seriously behind already with tablets (and even smartphones) . There almost seems to be a sense of denial about what’s at stake. But Bill Gates always used to talk about taking the “Big Risk,” and maybe this is one of them.

Microsoft’s Monday event will be followed by a Wednesday event in San Francisco where Microsoft is expected to launch Windows Phone 8, or Apollo.  Both of the Microsoft events this week come one week before Google I/O where Google is expected to announce a tablet and a next-generation OS, Android Jelly Bean.   

At least Microsoft understands timing in making announcements.

Even if the Windows tablet from Microsoft looks great and is priced right, it is still going to take mega bucks to market it properly against all the competitors who have big head starts.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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