Microsoft's Tablet Move: Not For Retail

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The tablet is quickly becoming the most interesting piece of retail hardware around, with the iPad getting as close as possible to having already cornered the in-store market. But it's not a done deal yet. Microsoft on Monday (June 18) set out to prove that retailers have alternatives to Apple for tablets and that Microsoft still matters. Unfortunately, it ended up proving the opposite—for both.

First off, the product announced is a terrible idea. Publicized in a rush, for some reason, it has a flat keyboard, a borrowed name and a severely limited retail channel. It's heavier than an iPad, less comfortable to hold and explicitly designed to stand on a desk. Microsoft is saying pricing will be comparable to Ultrabooks, which ain't cheap. In fact, Microsoft is calling it a PC, not a tablet. Microsoft also is not showing any software for it, except to say that it'll only run software from the Windows Store.

Everything about this tablet looks like somebody at Microsoft thought they could Frankenstein together two business models and no one would notice. Given that retailers aren't buying a lot of Android tablets for in-store mobile use, they won't buy this offering. (The low Android tablet pricepoint was supposed to be pushing tons of these units in-store. That's happening with smaller chains, but the majors still seem to be sticking with Apple.)

The whole announcement is the most bizarre thing I've ever seen from Redmond—which is saying quite a bit. The press event was kept secret until days before. The venue for the news conference wasn't announced until six hours before it started. There were no review units and almost no hands-on time for reporters. The news release gushes about its advanced industrial design, "conceived, designed and engineered entirely by Microsoft employees, and building on the company's 30-year history manufacturing hardware" (yeah, when I hear "Microsoft," I immediately think of classy hardware design).

And it's only going to be sold in the 25 Microsoft Stores that will be open by then and "select" online Microsoft Stores. Select Microsoft online stores? Forget Target, Costco or Walmart. Microsoft can't let it be purchased from all of its own sites? Somehow, I don't think Apple's sweating this one.