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Microsoft set to unveil an Xbox or Windows RT tablet?

Analysts speculate on Microsoft's plans for Monday event in Los Angeles

Some analysts are speculating that Microsoft will unveil a Windows RT-based tablet at a major media event the company has scheduled for Monday afternoon in Los Angeles.

One unnamed source told TheWrap.com that the tablet will be built my Microsoft itself.

Others are suggesting that Microsoft will be introducing an Xbox tablet variant?

Overall, there are many opinions on Microsoft's plans as it readies itself to enter the touchscreen tablet space now dominated by Apple with the iPad.

Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group suggested on Friday that Monday's announcement could be an Xbox-like tablet subsidized with games that users would buy. "Xbox does do announcements in L.A., and they did just announce Xbox SmartGlass at the E3," he said.

Or, Enderle added, the news could be merely a speculative product "designed to get the industry excited" with a focus on the tablet as a content-consumption device. "Content is where I think Microsoft is focused," he said.

The location of the event might be the biggest clue, several analysts said. As an entertainment capital, L.A. could offer the backdrop for media content on any new tablet, including games, movies, or more.

Some bloggers have suggested that a content-consumption tablet could be targeted at the $200 Kindle Fire from Amazon rather than the new $499 Apple iPad.

"If it is a game, or is entertainment consumption-oriented, then Tinseltown makes sense," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates.

He said the source for TheWrap.com story could be mistaken, and Microsoft could instead be unveiling an Xbox portable device rather than a full Windows RT machine.

Gold said that if Microsoft does announce a Windows RT machine, it will probably cost $600 to $800, the price tag most observers expect other RT tablets to carry, "unless Microsoft plans to take a loss on each device sold because they have to buy the same components as everyone else."

Gold said Microsoft would not ultimately be able to compete with Amazon on price since costs would be higher for an RT machine and there is no clear pathway for Microsoft to recoup subsidies it might pay to attract consumers.

"If Microsoft wants to offer their own branded device, something competitive to Fire makes much more sense to me than a general purpose tablet," he added.

The idea that Microsoft has actually manufactured a tablet was dismissed by analysts who suggested that such a device would be built by a contract manufacturer. "Buying manufacturing capability would be exceedingly foolish," Enderle said.

Gold said there's also a possibility that Microsoft will be showing off a reference platform to show what the Windows RT machine could do. That would be the design that other manufacturers would implement, and those companies include Asus, Lenovo, Acer and others.

He said Microsoft would not want to compete with its own vendor ecosystem. "That makes about as much sense as Microsoft building PCs to compete with HP, Dell, and others," he said.

"I can't imagine Microsoft would tick off Asus and others an more than by directly competingwith them on hardware while also charging them a license fee for software every time they sell a device," Gold added.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Read more about mobile and wireless in Computerworld's Mobile and Wireless Topic Center.


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