Microsoft hyping Windows 7 tablets at CES - Deja Vu or desperation?

Microsoft is expected to introduce Windows 7 tablets at CES for the second year in a row. Why? The iPad has changed the tablet world.

Microsoft is planning to highlight Windows 7 tablets at CES – that's a prediction for the tech trade show next month. Feeling a sense of Déjà vu? You’re not alone. The same prediction was made last year – and Steve Ballmer did show off Windows 7 running a tablet. So, what’s up with the repeat? One word: iPad.

[ Related: Microsoft to show off Windows 8 tablet ]

Last January, there were rumors but nothing concrete about Apple getting into the tablet market. Android was still a relative newcomer to the smartphone party and no one was seeing an immediate market for Android tablets. The overall big news was e-readers. And this was before anyone conceived that the Nook’s future iteration would be Android-based with a set of features that would qualify it as an entry-level tablet.

Microsoft seized the chance to show off its tablet plans for Windows 7. With little competition, it was the big (practically only) tablet news at CES. The folks from Redmond were probably high-fiving each other backstage at owning the tablet market. The HP Slate was expected to ship in short order, stealing that market for Microsoft and Windows 7.

And then Apple held its own media event after CES. That event, and Steve Jobs’ charisma (something Ballmer and few other CEOs will never achieve) let Apple dominate the tech news without any competing stories from other companies that had shown at CES. By the time Jobs left the stage, everyone had forgotten about Windows 7 on a tablet. Not only that, HP delayed the Slate. The iPad hadn’t even shipped and it had turned the tablet world, and Microsoft’s plans, on its ear.

Other companies have managed to make a name for themselves in the intervening year: Samsung has a pretty good hit on its hands with the Galaxy Tab. Enterprise power house Cisco has already nabbed a lot of attention with its Android-based Cius tablet (due early next year). RIM announced, though has barely showed off, the PlayBook. Barnes and Noble launched the Nook Color, a tablet in its own right (whether or not it has been rooted). And along the way, a handful of Windows 7 have hit the market (including models from HP’s Slate line).

The PlayBook may not be shipping and its OS isn’t quite finished. Everyone agrees that Android tablets are impressive but that they won’t match the iPad’s polish until Honeycomb ships next year. But all have made big news. And that’s not even talking about the news the iPad has made in its own right (so much that it became the second fastest rising query on Google in 2010). Windows 7 tablets barely rated in comparison to all the new about newcomers to the tablet arena.

So, it isn’t surprising that Microsoft will try to hype Windows on tablets. The company needs its platform in the tablet news. With more Windows 7 tablets entering the market late in the year, the company has a solid lineup of products to pitch (including one that offers dual screens and no physical keyboard and possibly another that offers the ergonomic nightmare of a slide-out keyboard). That said, I can’t help but think that without something new and major to add, this will be a retread of last year’s presentation – something that will look rather sad and almost dated.

What’s your take? Can Microsoft make real news in a Windows 7 tablet presentation? Is Windows 7 likely to be a dominant force in the tablet market during 2011? Let us know in the comments.

Ryan Faas writes about personal technology for ITworld. Learn more about Faas' published works and training and consulting services at Follow him on Twitter @ryanfaas.

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