In last December’s look to the year ahead, I posited that 2011 would be the year of the Windows 7 tablet PC and that it would give the Apple iPad a real run for its money. Well, unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Of course, 2011 was a year of tablet PCs — they just weren’t running Windows. Much to my chagrin, instead of getting a Windows 7 tablet PC in 2011, I ended up with a Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet. It’s a great little computer, but it is running Android and not Windows.

However, the unveiling of the new Windows 8 OS at the September Build Windows conference makes a Windows tablet PC in 2012 seem like a realistic possibility. But is it? Even with the momentum Windows 8 has gained so far, there are a lot of hurdles yet to come.

For the last edition of the Windows Desktop Report of 2011, I’ll take closer look at the momentum pushing the possibility of a Windows 8 tablet PC in 2012 as well as the hurdles yet to come.

The momentum

Let’s begin with the Windows 8 momentum that Microsoft has built so far. As I mentioned, Microsoft unveiled an early version of Windows 8 at the Build Windows conference in September and really began the push for its new Metro user interface. To motivate developers to begin working on apps for the new OS, Microsoft gave away 5,000 suped-up Samsung tablets with the Windows 8 Developer Preview installed.

Soon after, Microsoft made the Windows 8 Developer Preview available as a free download to anyone who wanted to take a look at the very early version of the new OS. Within a very short period of time, Steve Ballmer announced that half a million copies of Windows 8 Developer Preview had been downloaded.

With that many copies of a pre-Beta OS out there, Steven Sinofsky and the Windows Engineering Team began pumping out postings on all facets of the new OS on the MSDN: Building Windows 8 site. The postings on the site have been aimed at developers as well as users and have provided very detailed descriptions of how things work, the goals the team had in mind for the improvements, and information on what went on behind the scenes as the team reimagined Windows.

With the developers hard at work, the next layer of the plan was recently unveiled when Microsoft launched the MSDN: Windows Store for developers site. This site is, of course, designed to further entice developers to go all out and create a boatload of Windows 8 apps. Microsoft has even gone so far as to announces that the store will feature a new developer-first economics plan in which developers will get up to an 80% revenue share for apps sold through the Windows store. There’s even a contest — Windows 8 First Apps Contest — in which the winners will have their apps in the Windows Store when it opens.

The hurdles

Even with all the momentum being created by Microsoft, there are plenty of hurdles yet to overcome before we can count on a Windows 8 tablet PC in 2012. The first obstacle is time.

At the Windows Store announcement, Microsoft revealed that the first Windows 8 beta will arrive in late February. As such, we will already be two months into 2012 before the Windows 8 Beta makes its appearance. If we use Windows 7’s time frame as a baseline, we’re going to be running short of time for Windows 8.

The Windows 7 Beta was publicly released at the beginning of January 2009 and the RTM was the middle of July with the retail release being in October 2009. This comes out to seven months from Beta to RTM and three months from RTM to retail release — a total of ten months. If there is a ten-month span to take Windows 8 from Beta to retail release, we are already well into December 2012, and we know from past experience that Microsoft would not consider releasing a new product in the last month of the year. So unless Windows 8 Beta is much more stable than Microsoft is letting on and as such will be ready to go in a shorter time frame, chances are good that we are looking at January 2013 for retail release.

The next major hurdle comes down to the retail price of a Windows 8 tablet PC. (While this hurdle has more to do with the overall success of the OS rather than it just being available in 2012, it is still something to think about.) Based on the results from a recent ZDNet poll, pricing could be a problem for the Windows 8 tablet PC. To summarize the results, the majority of the respondents would be willing to pay between $200 and $599 for a Windows 8 tablet PC. This is the range that has been set by the currently available tablets — going from the Kindle Fire to a 32GB, Wi-Fi iPad. As such, this is what people are willing to pay for a tablet. Since Microsoft doesn’t control the hardware, they are going to have to either take a haircut on the licensing fee for Windows 8 or work really hard with their hardware partners to keep the price down.

What’s your take?

Are you hoping for a Windows 8 tablet PC in 2012? Are you aware of other things that could give Windows 8 more momentum? Do you know of other hurdles that could slow Windows 8 down? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.