Later this year, we're going to see hardware makers compete to see who can offer the best Windows 8 tablet. If the New York Times is correct, there's going to be a slight twist: those hardware makers will end up competing not just with each other, but also with Microsoft itself.
Quoting unnamed sources wise to Microsoft's plans, the Times says that, next Monday, Microsoft will "introduce a tablet computer of its own design that runs a new version of its Windows operating system." In other words, we're going to see a Microsoft Windows 8 tablet. That's all the paper says, but if true, it's pretty big news.
The Times frames the rumor as a validation of Apple's strategy. If anything, though, I'd say the move would more closely resemble Google's tactic—offering a branded device alongside partners' products. Google does this with its Galaxy Nexus phones, and the firm is expected to do the same with a 7" tablet later this year. Apple, meanwhile, keeps hardware and software tightly intertwined and refuses to license its operating systems to third parties.
Considering Microsoft's past forays into hardware-software integration, I'm optimistic about the Microsoft tablet. The Xbox 360 is a fine product, and so were second-generation Zune media players, even if they never touched the level of success of Apple's iPods. In any case, I think it'll help to have Microsoft setting a standard for what an optimal Windows 8 tablet experience should be.