Microsoft Pokes Its Partners With A Stick Named Surface -- And That's A Good Thing

Why does Microsoft feel the need to compete with its most important partners? Here are three reasons that CIOs should tune into.

Microsoft Surface tablet

I can totally understand why the Windows team wants its own tablet. After all, Apple has been running away with the most important device category since, well, the touchscreen smartphone, for years while Microsoft and its OEM partners have been watching glumly from the sidelines. Actually, Microsoft has been developing Windows 8 and Windows RT to compete, so not just watching glumly, building product, actually. But OEM partners like Samsung and ASUS have been developing tablets on Android, not Windows.

Along comes Microsoft Surface, a tablet aimed at "work and play." So why does Microsoft feel the need to compete with its most important partners? Three reasons that CIOs should tune into:

  1. Surface (presumably) sets the bar for other tablet OEMs. PC makers have been racing to the bottom to meet your stringent price requirements while still trying to compete. That of course created the market gap that Apple swooped into with the MacBook Air that your employees love. Microsoft can't let that happen with tablets. So job one for Surface -- and it better be frickin' great -- is to prod partners to make great tablets. So even if partners like Dell and HP are angry about the move, it could pay off in better Windows tablets. And that could pay off for CIOs as you look for a tablet you can manage and more importantly, run Office on.
  2. Surface gives CIOs a vision for tablets they can really get behind. Most CIOs I speak with support the iPad, but often because they feel they have no choice. If there were a frickin great Windows tablet thar ran Office and could be provisioned and managed centrally, then CIOs would enthusiastically support it. For the record, I think we will never go back to the bad old days (for employees) of a single platform for IT to manage. But Surface offers business features that employees could perhaps even love, then CIOs will gladly pay for Surface or the Dell or HP or Samsung or other WinRT alternative.
  3. Surface gives Microsoft an important weapon in the mobile engagement ecosystem wars. The ecosystem with the most deployed devices, apps, and credit cards wins.  So Microsoft needs a great tablet. And a great phone. And credit cards. That's the only way Microsoft can compete with Apple and Amazon for apps, content, devices, and services. So Surface gives Microsoft one more reason to collect credit cards, and it also provides an entry point for the Windows 8 application store to collect the credit cards of other WinRT tablets. And that means Microsoft will enter the consumerization fray. And of course that matters to CIOs because once Microsoft is in on consumerization, you really will be forced to think rationally to harness it.

What are your thoughts? Surface good? Surface bad? What have I missed for CIOs?

See these excellent analyses by colleagues Sarah Rotman Epps and Dave Johnson on the Surface.

By Ted Schadler

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