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Microsoft to unveil a touch-screen tablet

Microsoft has been laying the groundwork for its own tablet computer to compete head-on with Apple’s iPad in a move that would mark a historic break with its PC software past, according to people familiar with its plans.

The results of its initiative could be put on display on Monday at an event in Los Angeles, where the company has called a media event that prompted feverish speculation about its plans for the tablet market.

The event will be used to unveil a touch-screen tablet running a version of Microsoft’s next Windows operating system, one person familiar with its preparations said, although it was unclear whether this would be a machine carrying Microsoft’s own brand or that of one of the hardware companies that have traditionally built PCs. Some reports on Friday suggested that the company would use the Los Angeles event to take the wraps off its own, Microsoft-branded tablet.

The software company has traditionally relied on other manufacturers to produce computers running its software, an approach that helped it dominate the PC era as competition between rival manufacturers brought down prices and led to a wide range of products.

However, that approach has not worked in smartphones or tablets, where Apple’s combination of hardware and software has enabled it to come up with devices that have taken the consumer electronics world by storm.

In a sign of how Apple’s huge success with touch-screen devices has changed the dynamics the industry, Google recently acquired hardware maker Motorola Mobility and has also been reported to be working on producing its own tablet computer.

Microsoft has recently sounded out Asian electronics manufacturers about making a tablet that cold be sold under Microsoft’s own brand, according to one person familiar with the discussions. Given the speed with which the electronics supply chain in Asian can react to new markets, Microsoft would be able to bring a tablet to market within weeks, this person said.

If Microsoft does decide to intervene directly in the tablet market, it could be part of an effort to encourage other hardware makers to move faster with their own plans to produce tablets running Windows software, some analysts suggested.

“Microsoft is telling the big manufacturers they’re ready to do this as a guarantee to make sure others put marketing dollars behind their own tablets,” said Richard Doherty, an analyst at Envisioneering. Other manufacturers have been slow to announce plans to create tablets using the forthcoming Windows RT operating system, a version intended for machines using chips based on architecture from UK company ARM Holdings that could have extended batter life to match the iPad.

Microsoft has sold hardware under its own brand in the past, most notably the failed Zune music player and the Xbox games console. However, selling its own personal computing device running Windows would mark a significant break with the past.

“It’s a major change in the Windows ecosystem,” said Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, an independent research firm.

Microsoft has been keeping its plans under-wraps and has not yet contacted the biggest apps makers that would be expected to produce games and entertainment apps for its new tablet, said another person familiar with the situation. Monday’s event is shrouded in secrecy: although the company will hold its press conference in Los Angeles the venue has not been disclosed by the company.

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