Intel Steps Up Urgency On Tablet Battle While Microsoft Waits

Dell Inspiron Duo TabletThe Dell Duo tablet, which runs Windows 7.

Photo: Dell Vlog

Chipmaker Intel has formed a special group devoted to tablets and netbooks, reports the New York Times. That makes a lot of sense: Intel CEO Paul Otellini acknowledged during the company’s last earnings call that tablets are going to affect Intel’s business, and he understands that Intel needs to power more of them.So where’s the other half of the old Wintel duopoly in this battle?

Despite growing evidence that tablets like Apple’s iPad are cutting into PC sales, Microsoft still doesn’t view tablets (or cheap netbooks) as a special category. They’re just two more types of PCs. And PCs run Windows.

Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore headed up the team that designed Windows Phone 7, which could become the basis of a great tablet from Microsoft, just as Apple’s iOS powers the iPad. But speaking yesterday at the D: Mobile conference, he said that Microsoft would continue down the same old path of customising desktop Windows for tablets. Not taking a fresh, interesting, new mobile OS and moving it up into tablets.

This matches what other executives from Steve Ballmer down have been saying for the last year.

Right now, there’s no separate tablet product group at Microsoft like there is at Intel. Meeting the tablet challenge is the responsibility of the Windows group.

The first reports I’m hearing about Windows 8–the codename for next version of Windows–suggest it will be more responsive on touch screens, and it might include “elements” of the Metro interface used in Windows Phone 7. (That makes sense–Metro was based on the interface for Zune, which was based on Portable Media centre, which was based on the Media centre interface in Windows XP. Everything old becomes new again.)

That’s fine, but Windows 8 won’t be out until 2012 according to most estimates. By that time the iPad, various Android tablets, and RIM’s PlayBook will have been on the market for more than a year.

Making the core version of Windows work better on tablets is not the same as creating a specialised tablet group, porting Windows to ARM processors, redesigning other prominent Microsoft applications like Office so they work better on touch screens, or any of the other steps that would suggest Microsoft is taking the tablet market seriously.

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