Microsoft is addressing that shift by banking its future on touch controls - but it also unveiled new functions for giving computers voice commands and using a device's camera to recognise simple gestures such as swipes in mid-air. Its strategy calls for having just one operating system work on both tablets and traditional computers. That allows popular Windows programs such as Office to work well on tablets, too. But in emphasising these new interfaces, mouse and keyboard commands are more complex to use and figure out.
Apple and Google, on the other hand, believe people use those machines differently and have opted to keep their operating systems separate. Apple, for instance, believes that it can be tiresome to have to constantly move your arm to touch a desktop or laptop screen. That's not a problem with tablets because you're already holding it.
As for the growing interest in smaller, cheaper tablets, Microsoft has said the company is working with other manufacturers to make some. At the conference, it didn't confirm reports that it is making its own. Forrester's Gillett expects an updated Surface tablet later this year.
Microsoft also said very little about Windows RT, the Windows 8 variant that's designed to run on the same phone-style processors that let the iPad and Android tablets be lighter and have longer battery lives than Windows 8 tablets with PC-style Intel processors. Windows RT has been hamstrung by a lack of applications, since it won't run older Windows programs. But Ballmer said there will be 100,000 apps that run on all newer versions of Windows by the end of the month. And a new line of Intel processors code-named "Haswell" are expected to greatly improve battery life without sacrificing processing power on mobile devices.
Microsoft just cut the effective price of its Surface tablet with Windows RT by including a keyboard cover for free. The cover sells for $US120 or $US130 on its own.
Microsoft also said this month that it would give buyers of the RT version of Surface the Outlook email and calendar program at no extra charge - joining other Office freebies Excel, Word and Power Point - and sweetening the offer for the device that is priced starting at $559. The new programs will come as part of the Windows 8.1 update.
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