If Microsoft takes the plunge, then it believes it can do a tablet better than others. So, what exactly does that mean?
In discussions I had Friday with analysts, there was a common theme: If Microsoft does in fact make its own tablet, it's because of the iPad. That product is so dominant that so far competitors can hope for little more than market-share scraps.
Apple's success is due in no small part to its tight control over hardware-software and the well-integrated, finely tuned product that results. That sort of success is hard, if not impossible, to duplicate in the Android camp -- composed of a loose collection of hardware vendors running fragmented software. (And note that one of the most tightly integrated Android tablets is also one of the most successful: Amazon's Kindle Fire.)
"It means Microsoft can control all of the variables and make a product that really works," said Endpoint Technologies analyst Roger Kay. "It's not a good thing for its hardware partners, but Microsoft may have made the calculation that it doesn't matter," Kay added, noting that Microsoft would have obviously made this decision a while ago.
That said, one way Microsoft can avoid excessively teeing off hardware partners -- like Hewlett-Packard and Dell -- is to opt for the version of Windows 8 for ARM processors, called Windows RT. That tablet-centric OS would segment the product a bit more and not pit it directly against the massive Windows-Intel, aka x86, ecosystem.
Conversely, this means Microsoft has Apple directly in its sights. Like RT, Apple's iOS runs on top of ARM processors and favors battery life over performance.
Which brings us to the questions at hand. What does Microsoft need to do to make its tablet successful? (Remember the Zune?) These are pretty easy questions to ask. It's how Microsoft responds of course that matters.