Windows Slates coming at Christmas, unveiled on October 11

Microsoft is planning to unwrap its slate strategy next Monday at a press event in New York City, Neowin has learned.

According to sources familiar with the company's plans, Microsoft will hint at its future Slate plans at the event on October 11. The event's main focus is Windows Phone 7 but Neowin understands that Microsoft officials will speak briefly about the company's future Slate plans.

Microsoft has been criticized for its slow response to Apple's iPad device, introduced in April earlier this year. Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, previously said Windows 7 based Slates would be available "as soon as they're ready" when questioned earlier this year. Neowin understands that Microsoft officials are very keen on having an answer to Apple's iPad as soon as possible. The iPad sold three million units in its first 80 days of release and is currently selling approximately 4.5 million units per quarter, Bernstein Research estimates.

Microsoft Chairman, Bill Gates, said earlier this year that the company has a lot of different tablet projects it is pursuing. Microsoft canceled their internal Courier project shortly after the release of the iPad earlier this year. The project was an innovative new tablet concept that had promised to combine a dual screen book design with finger and stylus input. The leaked promotional materials demonstrated various concepts that would have brought an unparalleled productivity tool to the market. Most media outlets and analysts felt the move to cancel the device was a mistake.

Microsoft has been working closely with several un-named OEMs to produce a genuine answer to the iPad. The software giant is concerned that iPad sales are slowly cannibalizing Windows sales and eating away at the recent boom in netbook sales. Microsoft shares dropped 2% during US trading on Monday after Goldman Sachs cut its rating of the tech giant. The investment bank cut its rating from "buy" to "neutral" over fears Microsoft's Windows sales were being threatened by tablet computers such as the iPad. On October 11, Microsoft officials will hint at its Slate offering. Speaking at the London School of Economics on Tuesday, Ballmer promised that Microsoft will cover all form factors. "You'll see slates, but if you want most of the benefits of what a PC can offer, creating, a form factor that has been tuned over years, you'll see us expand the footprint of what Windows can target" he said. Ballmer also promised Windows based Slates this Christmas. “We’ve done work on a Windows tablet, and you’ll see slates with Windows on from this Christmas.”

HP has been working on a consumer version of the HP Slate that runs on Windows 7. The device also runs a custom interface on top of Windows 7 that is similar to the TouchSmart interface that ships with HP touch desktops. The HP Slate was originally unveiled at CES earlier this year by Steve Ballmer. The project has suffered its fair share of set backs, including rumours that it had been shelved. In April this year, HP acquired Palm, which threw the future of the Slate into doubt given HP now owns palms former operating system, webOS, which many thought may have instead been chosen to run on the device. HP executives have refused to confirm if the Slate is still on the table.

A recent YouTube video emerged which clearly demonstrated that Windows 7, by itself, was not ready for slate devices. Whether Microsoft is planning to change Windows 7 or offer a Slate version of Windows remains to be seen but we'll certainly know more next Monday. Stay tuned.

Update: Ballmer spoke at the UK Tech Days conference later on Tuesday and revealed that Microsoft will be introducing some touch optimizations for Windows 7 with partners in the coming year. "We're not going to do a major revamp of Windows 7 for slate applications, that will come in the next version (Windows 8)" said Ballmer.

Update 2: Microsoft has reached out to us to clarify our report. The software giant has no plans to introduce a physical device on October 11. Microsoft officials did not comment on whether they will mention their Slate plans however.

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it is easy to oversimplify the slate concept, to the point that an ipad imitation becomes the holy grail. in fact there is a need for different form factors eg:

a tablet which can be used with a pen in order to draw, for artwork. (similar to hp 2740 convertible tablet, or tm2). eg: it is much faster to draw a diagram by hand on a tablet which can be comfortably held, with a program allowing painstaking drawing, with your palm resting on the surface without disturbing the drawing.

a slate which is finger touch friendly. the ipad imitation would make do with WP7 or other (embedded) limited OS. thsi would fill the luxury toy niche.

a finger friendly slate which is a notebook or planning tool, however, it should include great handwriting recognition. llets face it, those on screen keyboards are not great.

a tablet with the windows 7 suite including great handwriting recognition. this would be for note taking for eg: students, anyone talking notes quickly in a mobile office environment. eg: attorney in a meeting. student in a lecture. possibly handwriting recognition has the potential to become much more widespread than now.

the needed breakthrough for the form factors which include the full windows 7 is: efficient processor which combines adequate power as well as battery life. it is as simple as that. that is simply a matter of time.

the courier type note taking tool would need to include handwriting recognition (for natural feeling use).

currently there are already great tablets on the market however they are used for productivity and are not in vogue on tech blogs.

And Microsoft should look (and are probably looking) to satisfy those form factors in one or as few products as possible. Their work on pen and touch is an example of them allowing drawing with a stylus, yet pointing with a finger. The beginnings of their integration of desktop to phone to games console, are an indication of their desire that even when form factors remain separate, they should integrate.

They should work towards an operating system that determines how you are using it and adjusts accordingly, with appropriate APIs and suggested UI practices to allow developers to decide if and how they will support each usage, be it slate, laptop or desktop.

If i'm walking around with a device, it should be finger friendly. If I put it down and take out the stylus, it should have the precision of a tablet with handwriting recognition. If I connect a mouse and keyboard (wirelessly or USB) it should act as a desktop/laptop. We don't want to carry around a mobile, a slate, a tablet and a laptop, or decide between them.

I don't see the mobile form factor disappearing, but the slate/tablet/laptop form factor will blur as hardware and battery life improve. Its just up to the software companies to get it to happen.

Ballmer spoke at the UK Tech Days conference later on Tuesday and revealed that Microsoft will be introducing some touch optimizations for Windows 7 with partners in the coming year.

I hope these optimizations come to existing Windows 7 tablet users, and that they are integrated touch optimizations and not another UI layer on top of Windows 7.

That would be my preference as well. While it is interesting that they will be talking about this on the same day as Windows Phone 7, I doubt they will be suggesting the metro interface will find its way to Windows 7. Windows 8 is probably a good bet for that. The mentioned optimizations are most likely performance related along with a few ui tweaks. I'm curious what Sinofsky has to say about this.

mm4rley said,
Just imagine trying to make changes to the folder options on a Windows 7 slate.... you would really need skinny fingers

Not really, I can do it with ease on mine, and I have rather huge hands.

I'm actually trying to make a video detailing my experiences with a Windows 7 tablet PC.

Frylock86 said,

I'm actually trying to make a video detailing my experiences with a Windows 7 tablet PC.

I've considered doing the same. It's always thrown around that "Windows 7 on a tablet sucks!", but I've found it to be the total opposite. It did take a little tweaking to get everything to work nicely with touch, but I'm quite happy with my Windows 7 convertible tablet.

JonathanMarston said,

I've considered doing the same. It's always thrown around that "Windows 7 on a tablet sucks!", but I've found it to be the total opposite. It did take a little tweaking to get everything to work nicely with touch, but I'm quite happy with my Windows 7 convertible tablet.

It's good to know that I am not alone! I look forward to seeing how you work with your tablet.

If they create something "finger friendly" on top of a full blown OS, that has removable storage and a G** D$mn Camera, and can run any of the Windows 7 apps, THAT would be great! But if I have to watch one more MS executive tap, tap, tap on the screen of some device in an effort to get it to respond I'm going to lose my mind. Why are FINGER FRIENDLY and QUICK RESPONSE, dirty words at MS? PLEASE don't let HP in on any of this. They are pathetic when it comes to consumer solutions. I spend 10 minutes on every new HP computer getting rid of the crap that they think the consumer wants, they are totally clueless. Don't blow this one MS, a LOT is at stake here man. Although I do get the feeling that if we haven't heard about this thing yet, that it is probably a sub-par attempt to get in too fast to something they are not quite ready for. Surprise me, PLEASE!

Osiris said,
Maybe MS has reversed their decision and we will see a WP7 slate.

God only knows I would buy one in a heartbeat, no matter the price.

Metro on a tablet..... That is the thing of dreams right there!

Bill was talking these things up as the next big thing, about the time XP was introduced. What took people so long?

boho said,
Bill was talking these things up as the next big thing, about the time XP was introduced. What took people so long?

the iPad.They just waited until somebody got it right and made a market for such devices, so now they go and take their part in it.

Why is it Microsoft doesn't wake up until a competitor is already well into the game? Music/media players, browsers, smartphone market and now slates.

.Neo said,
Why is it Microsoft doesn't wake up until a competitor is already well into the game? Music/media players, browsers, smartphone market and now slates.

I'm not really sure I agree that they have waited for competitors. Don't forget that they first came up with the idea of a tablet PC back in 2002. They then tried to create consumer tablets back in 2005 with UMPCs. They also released improved tablet features in Vista and Win 7 and made them 1st class citizens that appeared in most editions (rather than requiring a special tablet edition).

I think they have been plugging away but their solution hasn't caught the public's imagination.

jakem1 said,

....
I think they have been plugging away but their solution hasn't caught the public's imagination.

It was not about capturing the publics imagination it was about producing something that was usable and that the public wanted to use. It was about how you use the device and battery life. It turns out that generally the public does not want to use a stylus and wants long battery life and quick start up times. it also looks like the public does not need a desktop OS on their portable device.

.Neo said,
Why is it Microsoft doesn't wake up until a competitor is already well into the game? Music/media players, browsers, smartphone market and now slates.

Completely agree... They just don't seem to be as innovating as other companies, they seem to wait and then steal other peoples ideas... Thats just my perspective of it.

Nikos_GR said,
Awesome! I wish it is going to be more liberal than ipad and flash.

I have flash on my iPad, I don't see the point in having it though, its useless junk.

I hope Microsoft uses a custom shell designed to be operated by touch from the start, and limit program installations to certified designed-for-touch (not just touch-friendly) programs only. User will have to do complicated steps to get the original Windows shell and install programs not designed for use on touch screens.

Phil_123 said,
I hope Microsoft uses a custom shell designed to be operated by touch from the start, and limit program installations to certified designed-for-touch (not just touch-friendly) programs only. User will have to do complicated steps to get the original Windows shell and install programs not designed for use on touch screens.

Well said. This is the main problem with Windows 7. It looks good on paper, but not in practice. I hope MS has finally realized this.

jbrooksuk said,
I hope they have a good OSK and not use that crappy one Windows 7 comes with on desktop versions!

Apparently you've never used Win 7.

Nikos_GR said,

Apparently you've never used Win 7.


On a tablet? Oh, yes, I have. And it's not nearly as user-friendly as a touch OS as Android or iOS. If this is going to run a heavily tweaked Windows shell, it could be interesting though. I think even running the WP7 OS would be better than a plain Windows 7 install.

Northgrove said,

On a tablet? Oh, yes, I have. And it's not nearly as user-friendly as a touch OS as Android or iOS. If this is going to run a heavily tweaked Windows shell, it could be interesting though. I think even running the WP7 OS would be better than a plain Windows 7 install.

Win7CE is about out, from what I've read. It may or may not have much in common with WP7. Nobody has much in the way of details yet except that ASUS is making a tablet with it.

scraping "courier" has made me loose confidence in MS top brass for this form factor...
though the courier was a very "niche" device it had the best potential (even better than any apple device, current or future) to grow in to something everyone would use... to begin with it might have been "designer" oriented but possibilities for other "walks" of life was immense...

if they continue this "Full OS on slate" mentality they are not going to succeed... or even a new "skin" for 7 will not work... they have to promote WinEmbeded with a completely new frontend or adapt (modify) the WinPh platform... but it has to be better than a "slap bang" thing... expectation have risen very high for normal consumers due to iPad and for power users due to courier...
i just hope they will surprise (for better) me like they did with WinPh

I understand exactly what you're saying... but I have a feeling that MS won't release "it's just Windows 7 - on a slate!" at a time where tablet computing is finally taking off (and making money for someone else).

Agreed, But I think one of the reason MS scraped Courier was because it was going to be another platform to maintain, that not going to be compatible with Windows or WP7.

Courier being scraped does not mean some of its tech wont make it in to a future version of a Microsoft based slate.

I also agree that Microsoft needs to drop this Windows 7 on tablet idea really quick or they are doomed big time. They really need to push WinCE 7, and build a standard Metro based UI for it, this OEM building there own skin on WinCE 7 just wont work. And they need to hurry!

PacificAk said,
scraping "courier" has made me loose confidence in MS top brass for this form factor...
though the courier was a very "niche" device it had the best potential (even better than any apple device, current or future) to grow in to something everyone would use... to begin with it might have been "designer" oriented but possibilities for other "walks" of life was immense...

if they continue this "Full OS on slate" mentality they are not going to succeed... or even a new "skin" for 7 will not work... they have to promote WinEmbeded with a completely new frontend or adapt (modify) the WinPh platform... but it has to be better than a "slap bang" thing... expectation have risen very high for normal consumers due to iPad and for power users due to courier...
i just hope they will surprise (for better) me like they did with WinPh

That's all well and good, and I agree that they should push Embedded more, but there are still those who want the full win7 OS on a tablet/hybrid laptop. What doesn't work well for one person works fine for others. Choice is the difference here between what MS goes for and what Apple does.

I don't see a problem with having both OS types on devices and letting the market pick what they like.

GP007 said,
That's all well and good, and I agree that they should push Embedded more, but there are still those who want the full win7 OS on a tablet/hybrid laptop. What doesn't work well for one person works fine for others. Choice is the difference here between what MS goes for and what Apple does.

I don't see a problem with having both OS types on devices and letting the market pick what they like.

theres whole slew of tablets/hybrids based devices out there... and i'm not saying they should scrap those... but if they are announcing something new, then it better be new... if the "whole os on slate" had any value then i think its already reached with the current crop of Win Tablets out there... and nothing new(based on old paradigm) will make the market shift back towards MS... courier was a near paradigm shift, even apple hasnt been able to completely match it...

PacificAk said,
theres whole slew of tablets/hybrids based devices out there... and i'm not saying they should scrap those... but if they are announcing something new, then it better be new... if the "whole os on slate" had any value then i think its already reached with the current crop of Win Tablets out there... and nothing new(based on old paradigm) will make the market shift back towards MS... courier was a near paradigm shift, even apple hasnt been able to completely match it...

Courier isn't dead per se, there's MS patents out there for tech developed from that project, costs and battery life are what probably did it in, how long can a dual screen device actually last right now.

That said, I agree that we need something really new, and they hinted at new stuff when Embedded compact 7 went RTM 2 or so months ago. So they have the OS there, now that the majority of the work on WP7 is done they could push slates more. Who better to work on this type of project if not the WP7 team?

the updated part of the news just made my worst fears come true (if the updated part is true)...
they are burying into a deep hole here... digging themselves out gonna take a long time...

like Chris Howard says below its never too late, but its gonna take a long time....