Android, Not Microsoft Slate, Big Winner at CES: Analysts

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer may have stolen a little thunder from Apple's rumored announcement of a slate PC during his keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, but three leading analysts say that the real thunder theft at this year's show is coming from Microsoft's mobile competitors.

"The show has drifted away from Microsoft and the really interesting products are Android-based," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told InternetNews.com, referring to Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) mobile operating system.

Besides the slate computer's brief appearance, however, Ballmer also promised that Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) will have announcements regarding its Windows Phone software at next month's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Ballmer did not say what Microsoft will announce next month in Spain, but many observers expect it will be the long-awaited, much-talked-about Windows Mobile 7 -- now referred to as Windows Phone 7.

Whatever the company does, it had better make a splash, observers said.

"They need to get Windows Mobile 7 out as soon as possible," Matt Rosoff, research vice president for consumer and corporate affairs at Directions on Microsoft, told InternetNews.com.

In December, a Microsoft exec in the U.K. let slip that Windows Mobile 7 is due out by December 2010.

"By the time they get it out, the Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone will be out for three and a half years," Rosoff added.

Despite a decade of trying to make serious inroads into the smartphone market, Microsoft is still perceived as late to the party with weak product offerings vis-à-vis the competition -- even though Ballmer briefly highlighted Windows Mobile 6.5 phones during his speech.

"The real buzz seems to be building around Google Android, and that's not great for Microsoft," Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told InternetNews.com.

"Apple and Google are coming in, in a classic pincer move," he said, adding that Windows Mobile, in general, is "problematic."

Ballmer's very brief demo of a slate form-factor PC that will be delivered by HP (NYSE: HPQ) later this year, was almost an anticlimax. There was much interest in the unit after news of it leaked the day before Ballmer's speech. However, Ballmer spent only a couple of minutes demoing the unit.

"This is sort of a prototype of a coming HP slate PC that will be here this year," Ballmer told the audience. Enderle characterized it as "not really a prototype and not really a product" yet.

Unlike existing PC tablet computers, the device will have no physical keyboard -- instead using a multi-touch screen -- and the screen size appeared to be 12 inches or less.

Little is known about Apple's rumored and so-called "iSlate" except that it's supposed to be announced in late January. However, Ballmer's decision to show off HP's slate -- as well as two similar units by other vendors -- demonstrated that he's not above trying to steal some of the attention away from Apple's pending announcement.

Unlike its position in the smartphone space, which Enderle referred to as "critical," Microsoft is not so far back in the crowd with slate-type devices and the market is not so developed that it will hurt for Microsoft's partners to come out with such units a little late.

"It's still early days," Enderle said. "The HP slate is a nice little number, especially if it's priced right, say, $750 or so."

Finally, another Microsoft senior executive, Robbie Bach, president of the company's Entertainment and Devices Division, officially announced that the company's Xbox 360 add-on, codenamed "Project Natal," will be available by next Christmas. Natal uses 3D cameras to turn the player into the game controller.


Microsoft, HP, CES, slate, Natal