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Microsoft Not Entering Tablet Sector 'Til Late '12

Bloomberg reports that Microsoft isn't planning to enter the tablet sector until Q3 2012, giving the Android tablet just over a year's lead in the market. That also makes a Microsoft tablet more than two years behind Apple's first entry (or creation) into the "post-PC" market. The news follows reports that Microsoft plans to demo Windows 8 on tablets at the end of Microsoft's fiscal year in June.

According to an unnamed source, Microsoft tablets won't arrive until the 2012 back-to-school season. Public testing of Windows 8 by consumers and Microsoft partners won't start until the end of 2011, keeping in line with Microsoft's current development schedule, as the Redmond-based company just completed Milestone 2 on Monday. The next Milestone is expected to be reached by the end of July, just after Microsoft’s 2012 fiscal year kicks off.

But by the time a Microsoft tablet enters the market, it will already be up against stiff competition from Apple and manufacturers using Google's Android OS. The third generation iPad will likely to have already arrived. Second and third generation Android tablets will have hit the market as well along with second generation helpings from HP and RIM. That said, the initial battle for consumer dollars will have already been fought by the time Windows 8 tablets hit the scene.

"If 2011 is the year of the tablet wars, Microsoft will be awfully late suiting up for that battle," said Michael Gartenberg, a New Jersey-based analyst for research firm Gartner Inc. "It’s not a good position to be in."

At one point, it was speculated that Microsoft would launch a tablet this year using Windows Phone 7 or Windows 7 as the device operating system. Some manufacturers are already cramming the latter OS on slates and even dual-boot tablets, but neither OS is truly suited for tablets like Google's Android 3.0 Honeycomb OS which was developed primarily for tablets.

But after Microsoft's keynote at CES 2011 back in January, it was clear that the company is shooting to use Windows 8 for the upcoming devices, sporting a version running on ARM platforms. "We're very excited about the full set of partners for the next version of Windows," Steve Ballmer said during the presentation. "NVIDIA, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments are working on SoC designs based on the ARM architecture. Intel and AMD will continue to innovate on the X86 platform, including the new low-powered SoC systems that will be fully supported by Windows, and will include support for native X86 applications."

Will a Windows 8 tablet be worth the wait? Consumers will have to play the "wait and see" game until at least Q4 2011.