Microsoft's closest ally may be first out of the gate with slates that run Redmond's next OS.
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Nokia plans to release a tablet computer based on Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system around the middle of next year, a senior company official said in an interview Tuesday with a French newspaper.
"In June 2012, we will have a tablet running Windows 8," Nokia France head Paul Amsellem told the French daily Les Echos, in an interview. [Amsellem's remarks have been translated from French to English.]
Given Nokia's close relationship with Microsoft, it's been widely assumed that the Finnish phone maker would ultimately produce a Windows 8 tablet, but Amsellem's comments provide the first public confirmation of the company's plans.
What's not clear is whether June 2012 represents an on-sale timeframe for the device, or whether Amsellem was referring to a public unveiling, a preorder window, or some other milestone. Amsellem may also have inadvertently let slip when Windows 8 might be broadly available. Microsoft has yet to confirm a specific launch date.
A spokesperson for Nokia said he was unable to clarify Amsellem's comments. "Despite this report, we haven't announced any plans anywhere in the world at this point regarding a potential tablet strategy," the rep said in an e-mail to InformationWeek.
Microsoft and Nokia announced a broad alliance in February, under which Nokia agreed to port its entire smartphone line to the Windows Phone OS. In exchange, Microsoft has committed billions of dollars to Nokia's mobile development efforts.
Given Nokia's global reach and manufacturing capacity, the company could also help Microsoft get into the tablet race, which is currently dominated by Apple's iPad and devices that run Google's Android OS.
Microsoft has built Windows 8 to be tablet-friendly from the ground up. It features a mode that borrows Windows Phone's Metro interface, which is divided up into blocks, called Live Tiles, that push live updates from social media, e-mail, and instant messaging directly to the homescreen. The implication is that Windows 8 tablets may resemble a big Windows Phone device in look and feel.
Microsoft has also said that it's developing a version of Windows 8 specifically for devices that run on processors built around ARM's system-on-a-chip design, which has become the architecture of choice for tablet makers.
"Windows 8 will power a broad range of devices, from desktops to tablet computers," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told shareholders Tuesday at the company's annual meeting in Redmond, Wash. "It has a fast and fluid touch-first user interface but it will also work great with a mouse and keyboard."
Microsoft first provided a preview of Windows 8 on June 1.