So yesterday I got invited to Microsoft's super secret mystery event. It starts this Monday afternoon and will be somewhere (they've yet to provide any actual venue information) in LA. Also, the invite provided very little clue as to what exactly will be shown, stating only that I would "not want to miss it".
Honestly, given the very short notice and lack of information, at this point I'm more annoyed than excited. Hopefully, whatever is announced will be worth it. I doubt it will be, but I've been wrong before.
What to expect?
Since I am the official tablet reviewer at CNET, the fact that I received an invite gives credence to rumors that Microsoft will be unveiling a tablet on Monday.
Assuming that it does, what should we expect? Now, this is just me speculating, but a tablet running Microsoft's (mostly) mostly Metro version of Windows 8 -- called Windows RT -- that's first and foremost a media consumption device isn't outside the realm of possibility. It's been done before (hello, Kindle Fire), but there may be another reason Microsoft would be interested in releasing such a device.
Last week at its E3 press conference, Microsoft pushed its new SmartGlass app, hard. SmartGlass will work as a companion to the Xbox 360, allowing you to view location maps of Westeros while watching "Game of Thrones" or possibly to select plays in Madden. And other, hopefully cooler stuff.
A new, Microsoft-branded tablet would almost certainly include SmartGlass support and could actually be one of the chief reasons for its existence. Microsoft kind of rained on the Nintendo Wii U's parade with the SmartGlass announcement, but Nintendo still has one advantage: every Wii U comes with the tablet screen controller.
In my view, Microsoft can't really afford to rely on iOS and Android users to make SmartGlass a success. It needs to be proactive and creating its own (hopefully cheap) tablet and saying, "Here's a media-consuming device, which supports SmartGlass, all in an affordable package," may be just the way to get SmartGlass into the hands of as many users as possible.
Are we sure it's Windows RT?
No. We're sure of absolutely nothing. Windows RT's ARM CPU-supported stripped-down structure would just make the most sense for a SmartGlass Trojan horse. There is the outside possibility of it running a "Kindle Fire'd" version of Windows Phone 7, though.
And speaking of CPU
So, if this magical, mystical tablet unicorn is running RT, which ARM processor will it use? My best guess would be Tegra 3. There are very persistent rumors that later this month Google will launch a 7-inch tablet, running Tegra 3 for only $200. If the quad-core Tegra 3 can be fit into a tablet for that price, then this choice makes the most sense. The Tegra 3 is great at leveraging power, battery life, and price.
Like a larger Kindle Fire
SmartGlass isn't the only feature a Microsoft tablet could take advantage of. Already, Xbox Live has support for Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, ESPN, and its own music- and movie-streaming service. Adding Xbox-level access to these media services in a Microsoft tablet would indeed be a no-brainer.
What else would I want to see?
My hope is that Microsoft avoids just throwing some hardware pieces together and instead makes a well-built and aesthetically pleasing tablet. However, if this so far imaginary tablet does exist and is as myopically focused on media consumption as I'm speculating, the likelihood that we get iPad or Transformer Prime levels of design is low. However, it would be appreciated.
Check back Monday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. PT and discover, as we will, if all this hoopla was worth it. It'll also be interesting to see if I hit the nail square on its head or fall flat on my speculating face.