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Microsoft expected to produce tablet PCs at CES 2011

Last January, as Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer was to go on stage to give his annual keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show, the power went out.

The audience at the showcase for gadgets and gizmos buzzed for 15 minutes in front of a dark stage, anticipating Microsoft would show a slate to compete with Apple’s forthcoming iPad.

When the power returned and Ballmer finally went on stage, he took a few short moments to show a slate device Hewlett-Packard was working on.

By the time the HP slate debuted in October, Apple had launched and sold 7 million iPads.

Google also has jumped into the market, recruiting tablet makers to put Android on new devices.

At Microsoft, it seems like the power on tablets has been flickering all year.

As the electronics show approaches this week in Las Vegas, Microsoft appears poised to announce tablets again.

News reports are popping up with tech specs; online videos show Windows 7 running on tablet devices.

Some tech observers believe the devices will cannibalize laptop sales and take bites out of Microsoft’s Windows empire.

“They need to be in the market,” said Michael Cherry, analyst at Directions on Microsoft, an independent research firm in Kirkland. “I don’t think that people should think of the tablets as necessarily replacing the PCs. But it’s replacing the second PC.”

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