Microsoft may be on the verge of unveiling plans to develop its own Windows tablet computer, a move that would mark a significant shift in the company's tablet strategy.
Microsoft has scheduled a press conference for Monday afternoon in Los Angeles and has been hinting at a major announcement. Microsoft is being so secretive that it hasn't even disclosed where the event is being held -- it plans to disclose the venue at the last minute.
Late Thursday a number of sites, including The Wrap and AllThingsD, said Microsoft has concluded that it has fallen so far behind rival Apple in the tablet arena that it has to develop its own branded tablet product.
Microsoft's strategy up until now has been to rely on its device manufacturer partners to develop tablet computers that run Microsoft software. The upcoming Windows 8 operating system and the Windows RT edition for ARM-based devices both sport the Metro user interface that's specifically designed for tablet devices.
At its Build conference in September Microsoft provided attendees with a Samsung tablet computer running the developer preview release of Windows 8.
While Microsoft remains one of the most powerful companies in the IT industry, its influence has been waning as an increasing number of people use smartphones and tablet computers -- rather than traditional desktop and laptop computers -- to access the Internet and perform their day-to-day computing tasks.
Mike Ritsema, president of i3 Business Solutions, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based solution provider and Microsoft channel partner, said he hadn't heard the tablet rumors. But he said it fits the trend of IT vendors expanding beyond their traditional product turfs.
"I wouldn't be surprised given the Facebook phone rumors, Google Android direction, Oracle Sun acquisition, Cisco server offering and Intel server direction," he said.
Smartphones based on Microsoft software lag far behind Apple's iPhone and devices running Google Android. And the smattering of tablet computers running Windows 7 that are on the market today have a very small share of the overall tablet market.
The Wrap story said "rumors have surfaced" that the Microsoft-branded computer will run Windows RT -- meaning that the device will be based on ARM microprocessor technology. Throughout the Windows 8 development process Microsoft has been working with ARM chip manufacturers Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments. But the AllThingsD story said the Monday announcement "may include" tablets running both ARM chips and "traditional PC processors."
Microsoft has a mixed track record when it comes to developing and marketing its own hardware products. Its Xbox game console is a major success for the company while other products, such as the Zune portable media player, have been failures.