Microsoft‘s Surface tablet was rumored before the official unveiling, but no one expected the hybrid version that they strutted out on stage Monday evening. While the Surface tablet has its fair share of critics, overall, it elicited a positive response. However, there are growing concerns over Microsoft’s move to undercut their partners by entering the hardware business.
Microsoft has long relied on their partners to supply the hardware, but they’re taking matters into their own hands and jump-starting the next chapter in the company’s legacy. Some see this as a slight toward their partner OEMs: a vote of no confidence in their ability to develop hardware that could compete in the tablet space or, in reality, draw consumers away from the iPad.
Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, said that the Surface tablet is intended to “prime the pump” for the upcoming Windows 8 OS. The Surface tablet has drummed up a lot of interest, and it seems Ballmer and Co. have hit their mark with all the people buzzing about it. The tablet looks fantastic, and if the new Windows 8 ecosystem lives up to the hype, Microsoft may better position themselves to give Apple a run for their money.
The announcement certainly caught a number of people off guard, but partner OEMs were reportedly told in advance of Monday’s unveiling, according to Ballmer. While no one came out and expressed public outrage with the new offering from Microsoft, there are sure to be a number of companies seething at the notion of competing against another player in the tablet market, which is even worse once you consider that they’ll be going up against the very hand that feeds them. Apple is really the only company that has had consistent and measurable success in the tablet market with most companies struggling to break even, let alone turn a profit worth mentioning. For those companies already struggling to find success in the tablet space, fighting against the massive Microsoft brand will make an already daunting task all the more difficult.
Acer founder Stan Shih seems to think that Microsoft will eventually exit the tablet market. He believes that “Microsoft hopes that marketing its own-brand tablet PCs will encourage vendors to offer Windows 8 tablet PCs and thereby help expand market demand for the product line. Once the purpose is realized, Microsoft will not offer more models.”
It’s not out of the question that Microsoft follows the strategy Shih outlined above so as not to endanger any of their partnerships since they’re a key component in their success. Microsoft’s head honcho even seems to hint at this strategy being viable — not so much the exit part, but at least with regards to pushing OEMs to license Windows RT to expand the market — with his “prime the pump” quote, but it’s a pretty vague statement with a number of connotations.
Shih does come to Microsoft’s aid, saying, “Vendors adopting Windows 8 should interpret Microsoft’s intentions positively, as they will benefit from Microsoft’s marketing.” If all the positive press Microsoft has garnered in the last few days is any indication, Shih is right on the money regarding the marketing.
Perhaps Microsoft is following in Google’s footsteps with their Nexus line, hoping to inspire their partners to develop and innovate. Blame for the subpar offerings from Microsoft’s partners up until now goes both ways, but Microsoft takes the brunt of it for not having a touch friendly ecosystem to build around. However, Microsoft is making amends with their new OS on the horizon, and both the Redmond giant and its’ partners should not squander this opportunity.
Hardware wasn’t a major focus in the past, but it appears that it may pave the way for Microsoft’s future, and Shih shouldn’t count on his prediction of Microsoft exiting the hardware business so soon. While far from a sure thing, the Surface tablet shows a lot of promise and, should it deliver, what’s stopping them from branching out? Microsoft shouldn’t be content to let their partners dictate their future. By taking command, they may step on a few toes along the way, but these might be critical moves toward improving their position and securing their future in the tech world.