A rumor from an only occasionally reliable source suggested this week that Microsoft is in contact with original design manufacturers (ODMs) in Asia, trying to find a partner to help it build a Microsoft-branded tablet that will run Windows 8. But although it's highly unlikely that the software giant would usurp its most successful partner ecosystem in such a way, the question remains: Shouldn't Microsoft at least consider building such a machine?
The rumor started with Digitimes, which has uncovered a lot of information about electronic devices early in their lifecycles before, including many Apple products. According to this site, "Microsoft is reportedly considering to launch an own-brand tablet PC that features Windows 8 by the end of 2012." It would do so with the cooperation of various Taiwan-based device makers and ODMs, according to its sources in "the upstream supply chain."
Reactions to the rumor have been split, with some describing it as a necessary change to more directly challenge Apple's iPad, and some believing it to be a colossal mistake. There are, of course, examples of Microsoft efforts that fall into both categories. After years of struggle and billions spent in R&D, Microsoft's Xbox 360 is now a certified success. But other Microsoft-branded devices—most notably Zune and KIN—have been epic failures in the market.
What makes this rumor a bit more interesting is that Microsoft hasn't denied the claim. Instead, the company has issued a far vaguer response: "We don't have any information to share at this time," a Microsoft spokesperson has said to this question.
Noted Windows blogger Mary Jo Foley suggests that the tablet rumors point to a Microsoft reference design, something it would show to partners and consumers as an example of what a good Windows 8-based device should look like. The company has done this repeatedly in the past, most recently with Windows Phone, in which two different reference designs, built by ASUS and Samsung, were used to show off the fledgling platform before its public release.
My gut feeling is that Microsoft won't release its own tablet. The PC market is Microsoft's best and most successful partner ecosystem and in doing so, Microsoft would never risk alienating its closest partners. Even in markets where its partners have not exactly done well by Microsoft—like Windows Phone—the software giant has stood by these companies, and that's even true in the wake of a massive Nokia partnership that will see that company contributing in a unique way to the platform.
So, yes, I'd like to see a Microsoft-branded tablet take on the iPad. But I just don't see it happening.