I once did a post about the reasons why Microsoft made the Surface. I think I broke it into two parts. I had a conversation tonight that has brought me back to thinking about the Surface, Microsoft and its hardware partners and the future in light of Windows 10.
I’m not going to recount how we got to the point where Microsoft came to do a branded device; or how its OEM partners adopted new systems (mainly Google’s) before and after the Surface launch. That would be too long and it is also moot, both things happened. Now all is left is to understand what it means.
At this point I don’t see Microsoft ending the Surface line. For Microsoft it has entered into hardware in many ways out of necessity; this is especially true in mobile. The Surface line and brand brings a level Apple-like awareness to Windows PCs; it’s a computing brand in the broad market sense where many of its partners aren’t. I don’t think the Surface or even Lumia means Microsoft doesn’t still depend on its partner model. It does mean, I think, a recognition of the model’s limit in the face of a changing consumer market.
For Microsoft’s partners the last few years has seen them twist and turn themselves trying to understand and compete in a market that has switched away from desktop computing. In the wake of the iPad, almost every hardware vendor experienced some form of the tablet bends; experimenting with various OSes, rushing out tablets of varying qualities, or just getting out altogether. Their traditional partner, Microsoft, didn’t have an answer off the bat, then created hardware, which made their eyes wander over to Google. So now in addition to Windows the Dells, HPs, and Lenovos of the world offer tablets and pcs running various software. This gives them options but it also means split attentions.
Now both Microsoft and its partners are preparing for the launch of Windows 10. Windows 10 will be a lot of things but one thing it won’t be is a return to glory days of desktop (those days are gone). It also won’t turn back the moves made with Windows 8 (WinRT is here to stay). 10 will make it easier for people who were scared off by the Start screen and mobile touches of 8. Recent pricing changes for Windows also mean a possible increase in low cost Windows devices. Unless something changes I don’t think OEMs will ramp down production of Chromebooks for Windows; they seem to have been successful in markets like education. For Microsoft new software now likely means new hardware; the Surface line has, at least, now appears to make money after the one time write off. I do think both parties will take this time to build compelling hardware as I believe both Microsoft and the OEMs see value in the partner model.
In some ways the push into mobile has made the PC market stretch and grow. The relationship between software makers and hardware vendors is probably realistic. The tablet apocalypse has come, fizzled, and been slowly integrated into the PC side of the Force. The PC market (which I forgot to say was in decline ) has seen small growth. So in the end everything has changed, yet remained the same.