Microsoft Says Tablets Part of the 'Ecosystem' Not a Different Beast

Microsoft's entry into the overheated tablet computer market is waiting until Windows 8 arrives sometime next year because the company believes tablets are fundamentally more like PCs than smartphones, a senior Microsoft executive told a gathering of the company's partners this week.

"We want people to be able to do the sorts of things that they expect on a PC on a tablet ... to be able to do things like printing, all of the things using Office, using all of the things you would expect from a PC and provide a hybrid about how you can do that with the tablet, as well," Andrew Lees, president of Microsoft's Windows Phone Division, told his keynote audience at Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Worldwide Partner Conference in Los Angeles Tuesday.

That's why Microsoft's tablets will not be built on Windows Phone, unlike Apple's (NASDAQ: APPL) iOS, which is the underlying operating system for both the iPhone and iPad.

"It will be a single ecosystem. We won't have an ecosystem for PCs, and an ecosystem for phones, one for tablets," Lees added.

Therefore, Microsoft's competitor to other tablet devices will be based on Windows 8 and its embrace of both x86 processors and system-on-a-chip CPUs like ARM. That means no Windows Phone-based tablets in the meantime, although that would likely get Microsoft's reentry into the tablet wars off the starting line much quicker.

Windows Phone is already in the market, although CEO Steve Ballmer admitted during his own keynote on Monday that, in less than a year in the market, Windows Phone's share has gone from "very small to very small."

Still, Windows Phone is due for its first major update, codenamed "Mango," this fall, while Windows 8 is not expected until the second half of 2012.

In fact, Microsoft's stance is not a new one. It has had x86-based tablets running full-blown Windows for a decade, albeit they have mostly been stiffs at the checkout counter.

The current strategy for tablets is just a modification of Microsoft's vision from early on -- one that the company continues to embrace despite the wild popularity of the iPhone, iPad, and other competitors built on a smaller subset of operating system features and capabilities such as Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android, rather than Microsoft's one-size fits all approach.

"Our strategy is that these new form factors are within a single ecosystem and not new ecosystems themselves. Windows has always spanned different PC form factors. And with Windows 8 we're going to take this to a whole new level including tablets," Lees said.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.