by Shane O'Neill

Microsoft to Hardware Partners: Your Tablets Weren’t Good Enough

Jun 20, 20123 mins
Computers and PeripheralsMobileOperating Systems

Whether it's a temporary ploy or new business model, Microsoft's decision to brand its own Windows 8 tablets is a result of tablet hardware mediocrity.

There’s something to be said for that old chestnut: If you want something done right, do it yourself.

That’s what Microsoft decided to do this week, boldly announcing iPad competitor Surface, a Microsoft-branded tablet running one of two flavors of Windows 8.

The Surface is bold because Microsoft has never developed hardware to run the Windows client OS before. But it’s bolder still because Microsoft is basically throwing its OEM partners under the bus. We’re talking about decades-long relationships with giants like Dell and Hewlett-Packard put at risk.

If the Surface tablets succeed, Microsoft’s hardware partners will seem second-rate. If Surface falls flat, Microsoft will come crawling back to OEMs with its proverbial tail between its legs. Will the OEMs take Microsoft back? You betcha.

I touched on these subjects and more in a Google Hangout conversation about Surface tablets with my colleague Keith Shaw (see below).

As for Microsoft’s decision to go lone wolf: Did it really have a choice? OEMs were not doing a good enough job at creating compelling tablets to compete with the iPad. Just looks at recent history: HP’s Touchpad died before it was even born and no tablet OEM running Android (Samsung, Motorola, Dell) has been able to compete in a serious way with the iPad. Though it is worth noting that Google is expected to announce its own Nexus tablet later this month at its I/O conference.

This is not really OEMs’ fault; they don’t have the profit margins to design great tablets. So Microsoft pulled a Peter Gabriel and left the band for shot at a solo career. (c’mon, that’s a good analogy!).

But the game is by no means over for Microsoft OEMs. All will continue to manufacture Windows 8 ultrabooks, tablets and ultrabook/tablet hybrids, but now with the added complexity of competing with Microsoft as well as each other.

Also, the plot thickened with a new report from the DigiTimes where Acer founder Stan Shih was quoted as saying that Microsoft’s branded tablet is a temporary ploy to generate buzz for Windows 8 tablets and encourage OEMs to get innovative with hardware.

The idea is that once critical mass is reached, Microsoft will then hand the manufacturing back to OEMs. This strategy worked for Google on smartphones with its own branded Nexus phone, which generated serious buzz for Android and then faded into the background.

So maybe the band will get back together sooner than we think! Hey, whatever it takes to keep the iPad honest.