The Gauntlet Has Been Thrown Down

Just to follow up on my post about Microsoft Surface for a moment, I do think we live in interesting times.

Peter Bright, over at Ars Technica, has a good article on the impact on OEMs of Microsoft entering the tablet hardware market; he likens it to Microsoft giving the OEMs a gentle kick in the teeth. The problem is that, compared with Apple’s iPad, the build quality of tablets running either Android or Windows is pretty dire. Even the so-called quality manufacturers have not exactly covered themselves with glory here. Samsung’s flagship Windows 7 Tablet, the 700T, for example is still plagued with the fact that its screen lifts away from the housing.

As Peter Bright says:

To allow Windows 8 to compete with iOS, Microsoft needs hardware to compete with the iPad. Bad hardware would jeopardize Redmond’s ability to play in the tablet space, but the PC OEMs have established for themselves a track record of producing little else. And while many of the OEMs have produced Android tablets to try to compete with the iPad, they’ve also consistently failed to match its quality.

So Microsoft has drawn upon its 30-year history of producing hardware and made two models of Windows 8 tablets to show the OEMs how its done. Now admittedly, that 30-year history has been mostly spent in the area of producing mice and keyboards. But, on the other hand, Microsoft also makes the Xbox, which although it is a game console, has a similar level of complexity as a PC. Still, the engineering that is required for a high-quality tablet is definitely up a notch from the Xbox, so I am intrigued to see whether Microsoft can pull it off, and kick the OEMs in the teeth.

What I also find intriguing is Peter Bright’s thoughts on how this might all play out. Scenario one is that the OEMs rise to the challenge and produce high-quality Windows 8 tablets. In which case, Microsoft can keep the Surface going as a small-scale, US-only operation.

However, as Peter Bright points out, at least one OEM, Acer, has dismissed Microsoft’s challenge. In fact Acer, in the form of Oliver Ahrens, Acer’s senior VP and president for Europe, Middle East and Africa, believes that Microsoft is making a failed attempt to mimic Apple. He’s quoted as saying “I don’t think it will be successful because you cannot be a hardware player with two products”. Ahrens appears to overlook the fact that Apple dominates the tablet market with just two iPad products.

Frankly, with friends like Oliver Ahrens, I don’t think Microsoft needs enemies.

So then it might be opportune for Peter Bright’s second scenario to be realised. If the OEMs fail to rise to the challenge, the Microsoft must ramp up the Surface operation to a global scale, much as they have done with the Xbox.

As I say, we live in interesting times.

Addendum, 27 July 2012

Charlie Kindel has an interesting post up on this subject of whether Microsoft is a hardware company. His view?

Microsoft is not, and never will be, a hardware company.

Kindel worked in Microsoft for over twenty years, and knows the company well. What I found particularly telling in today’s post was the observation that there are still organisational silos there:

I know some of the people who drove the Xbox360 hardware design and supply chain management. They are now war scarred and seasoned experts. They are the type of people you want working on the next big thing. None of them even knew about Surface until it was announced. Typical Microsoft organizational silos.

Oh dear.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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