Is Microsoft afraid of taking on the Apple iSlate?

Last night I queued and sat for hours, in anticipation of a monumental Microsoft announcement. It didn't come.Far from it: we got Steve Ballmer almost

Last night I queued and sat for hours, in anticipation of a monumental Microsoft announcement. It didn't come.

Far from it: we got Steve Ballmer almost apologetically announcing the forthcoming "slate PCs". It was over within seconds, which tells a lot about Microsoft's belief in these little multi-touch tablets and their chances of success against Apple's long-awaited iSlate.

By comparison, about 10 minutes and a jokey demo was given over to a dull new feature of PowerPoint...

The trouble is that Microsoft surely only had this very small window (excuse pun) to make an impact in that market - the Apple iSlate is slated (again, sorry) for a 26 January announcement, possibly to go on sale immediately.

I can only guess that Microsoft took one look at the Apple hype machine and the domination of iTunes, and decided that it would cost them more money to dominate that market than they consider it to be worth.

And they're probably right.

Expect some cheap deals on slate PCs by the end of the year - it seems that Microsoft already knows it's been beaten. Just as well they've got Project Natal coming for Christmas, ready to kick the Wii into the last generation.