For years Microsoft has operated in concert with a wide range of PC vendors, finding the more lucrative avenue in the technology game is to licence software rather than actually make the devices themselves. With that in mind it came as quite a surprise to me to see the Redmond Company unveil its new Surface line of Windows 8 tablets this past week.
While on the face of it the tablets seem to be competent and competitively functional devices, when a company like Microsoft demonstrates such a radical departure from its usual modus operandi, it raises a host of questions like why and why now?
Given the fact that Microsoft has circumvented its wide PC-maker partner base, seemingly undermining the entire hardware industry by producing it own tablets, one has to wonder if the Redmond software giant has simply lost faith in the traditional PC market, choosing instead to handle both the software and hardware production.
But amidst these questions and concerns Acer founder Stan Shih has another theory: Microsoft has entered the tablet market simply to spur on production on Windows 8 tablets. Once that goal is achieved, Microsoft will simply fade into the background.
According to popular tech blog DigiTimes, Shih went on record stating that Microsoft, “has no real intention to sell own-brand tablet PCs.” Instead, Shih explains, Microsoft is using its own brand name to spur on production and popularity of Windows 8 tablets.
While that perhaps may seem a little far-fetched, given that Microsoft has seemingly invested significant resources in its Surface project, we have seen this same marketing strategy before, as Google enacted a similar plan to spur production of Android devices and apps by rolling out its own branded Nexus device, subsequently withdrawing it when the goal was achieved.
Again, while such a strategy may sound unlikely, Shih argues that Microsoft truly has little reason to enter into the hardware game, noting that in addition to its relative inexperience in the field, “Microsoft will face many difficulties marketing tablet PCs on its own, including production management, distribution, and after-sales maintenance service.” All these aspects of the hardware side of the mobile world are simply headaches that Microsoft has worked tirelessly to avoid, so it makes little sense that it would want to embrace them now.
On the surface—no pun intended—it does seem that if Microsoft is indeed going ahead with established a lasting presence in the tablet sector it has put itself in direct competition with its bevy of vendor partners–something Google has now also done with potentially deleterious results. It would indeed make sense, as Shih explains, if Microsoft was merely using its Surface tablets as a way of spurring the market forward, a move that would help Windows 8 break into the market. “Vendors adopting Windows 8 should interpret Microsoft’s intentions positively,” Shih reportedly indicated, “as they will benefit from Microsoft’s marketing”.
In the end, if Shih is right about Microsoft’s strategy it would certainly be a bold move, and seeing the results from Google’s similar game plan, it may actually turn Windows 8 into a true tablet market heavy weight.