Microsoft has a big announcement planned for June 18 in Los Angeles. In a bid to draw a little Apple-style buzz—which appears to have worked, given the number of tech publications filling homepages with speculation—Microsoft’s invite offered precious few clues about the nature of the announcement. But over at The Wrap, an unnamed “individual with knowledge of the company” leaked that Microsoft will indeed offer up a self-manufactured tablet. Although The Wrap isn’t exactly a traditional source of tech news, the lack of real-world data nonetheless compelled others to take up the report and run with it. If Microsoft actually debuts a tablet running Windows RT (a version of Windows 8 meant to run on the same ARM architecture that powers a significant portion of the world’s tablets and smartphones), it will plunge into a every active market segment dominated by Apple’s iPad. Over at All About Microsoft, Mary Jo Foley speculated in a June 14 blog post that any Microsoft-branded tablet might not be targeting the iPad at all, but Amazon’s Kindle Fire. She pointed to Microsoft’s recent dealings with Barnes & Noble, as well as its interest in developing some sort of e-reader, as possible drivers behind such a product. The Google Android-based Kindle Fire is more of a media player than a full-fledged, iPad-style tablet; its user interface provides users with a streamlined way to access streaming content (in addition to downloading e-books and apps) from Amazon. If IDC is correct, however, the Kindle Fire might not be the best model for another company to emulate: the research firm estimated Kindle Fire shipments as dipping in the January-March period of this year, following a highly-publicized holiday launch. If Microsoft indeed launches a tablet, it might be hoping that the combination of Windows RT, an app hub, and (possibly) a media store with content from Barnes & Noble and other companies will allow it to sidestep one of the criticisms of the Fire, namely that it was less a tablet and more a portal to an online storefront. That Microsoft and its hardware partners are designing tablets for the next version of Windows isn’t exactly a tightly kept secret. Indeed, Windows 8 and Windows RT are optimized for touch, with "Metro"-design Start screens composed of large, colorful tiles linked to applications. An “in house” tablet, so to speak, would give Microsoft the opportunity to create a flagship device perhaps capable of competing directly with the iPad. It could also provide a showcase for Windows as a cloud-centric platform. Of course, that’s entirely dependent on Microsoft actually rolling out a branded tablet on Monday.   Image: Microsoft