Windows tablet: What does Microsoft have in store?

Microsoft is widely expected to unveil a Windows 8-powered tablet at a press event in Los Angeles today. 

A Microsoft Windows 8 display at a tech fair in Taiwan. A new Windows 8-powered tablet is reportedly on the way.

Later on today, Microsoft reps will gather at Milk Studios, in Los Angeles, to introduce a new device – most likely (if the popular consensus is to be believed) a Windows 8-powered tablet computer. Initially, TechCrunch had reported that the tablet would be "built in conjunction with Barnes & Noble," but reps for the bookseller have denied the claim, saying only that the company is "not participating" in this afternoon's event. 

So what does Microsoft have on tap? Well, here's one option: A sub-$500 tablet, which would undercut the Apple iPad on price (Apple's tablets start at $499) while providing more functionality than the feature-lean Amazon Kindle Fire. In other words, analyst Salman Chaudhry told TabTimes, the Microsoft tablet must be cheap, and also "offer native Office tools, Xbox Live functionality and a stable of high-quality apps." 

As for the size, Brian Barrett of Gizmodo is praying that Microsoft goes with a 9-plus-inch screen (in the mode of the iPad) as opposed to a 7-inch screen (in the mode of the Kindle Fire). 

"[T]he iPad is Jaws, and everyone else is getting the hell out of the water," Barrett writes. "But Microsoft shouldn't play in the kiddie pool. It's the only company with the resources to go toe-to-toe with the iPad, and the only one with the patience. You want people watching movies, playing games, editing Word docs on this thing? Give them enough real estate to do it." 

Meanwhile, over at Wired, Ryan Tate writes that there's probably a reason that Microsoft has chosen Los Angeles as the location for the press event today. 

"The living room is the last big emerging market not yet dominated by Apple," Tate writes, adding: "Microsoft is ahead in the living room thanks to Xbox, but it needs to broaden its appeal beyond hardcore videogamers if it’s going to keep that lead. Given Apple’s focus on living room video with the Apple TV, that means strengthening Xbox’s entertainment offerings, which at the moment include Netflix, Hulu, and the underwhelming Zune Store."

One way Microsoft could expand its entertainment offerings, of course, is with SmartGlass, a recently-announced Xbox feature that will allow users to control the on-TV action via a smartphone or tablet app. SmartGlass, Microsoft has said, will work with both games and TV shows – it would open an additional "window" onto either experience. So the tablet unveiling today could go heavy on the SmartGlass compatibility. 

Bottom line, Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at ZK Research, told Computerworld today: Microsoft is going to have to really hustle to catch the iPad, which dominates the tablet market. (Over 90 percent of all tablet Web traffic comes from iPad devices, according to one recent report.) "The new tablet will have to offer something uniquely different to take a chunk of share," Kerravala said. 

For more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.

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