The Long and Winding Road or Divorcing Your OEMs

If Microsoft and its hardware partners were polygamous couple, their relationship status would be marked Complicated. When the Microsoft Surface was announced, numerous headlines pronounce this as a shift in Microsoft’s business model; that it was a game changer. Microsoft was now competing with its Manufacturing partners.

How times had changed.

Microsoft had just thrown their partners under the bus (Bad Microsoft, Bad).

But if you think about it this has been coming for a while.

I mean if Microsoft had made the Courier (the book like tablet) would we be having this conversation? Probably, but that device was only meant to be a companion device.

Okay that was detour (Sorry), but I wonder if OEMs went to Redmond and told CEO Steve Ballmer to think twice, like Acer’s CEO J.T. Wang.

Its overlooked that most OEM’s, except for HP and Dell, currently produce Android tablets. Or that until recently, they have given the short end to Windows in terms of tablet PCs. HP bought Palm for its WebOS mobile software and produced the TouchPad. Dell shortly flirted with Android with the Dell Steak 5 and 7 inch tablets.  Also a few, Dell, Acer, and Samsung, produce Chrome OS Chromebooks or  Linux PCs.

Microsoft has had a few years (more even) to observe their partners compete with Apple, and its not been pretty.  Whether or not you like Android, the birth of Android tablets were rough. No name third party device makers making tablets running early Android versions, not designed for tablets. Then Samsung with the first Galaxy Tab (giant phone). When the tablet version of Android was finally rushed out, the review weren’t good until the second Samsung Tab. Then HP came out with the TouchPad which only became the second highest selling tablet after it was put on fire sale for $99.

Does anyone remember the reviews, the complaints? The articles that derided OEM designs? Or better yet, does anyone recall two-three years ago at Computex;  OEM’s showed off tablets and devices running Windows Embedded Compact? None came out that year because OEMs replaced it with Android .

And see that is just the recent past, because we can go back to the UMPC days.

The above is just one part of the reason behind why Microsoft is doing the Surface. The other is Windows Phone. With the phone, Microsoft sought to create a minimum specification for a uniform user experience and the hope that OEMs would differentiate on hardware. That didn’t happen. What they got were leftover Android phone designs and weak designs. So they learned you can take the horse to the river, but you can’t make them drink.

So when Microsoft started Windows 8 and RT they reversed gears. They went to the Chip makers before the OEMs. They limited the number of Windows RT devices for the Launch. And they decided to create the Surface.

At this point Microsoft can’t force OEMs to make ideal hardware or convince them to leave Android. They can’t make them compete with Apple on getting materials or interesting hardware.

I think Microsoft knows that the future will see the OEMs move toward a place where Linux/Android is offered alongside Windows. The Hardware makers already have their foot halfway out the door. So in response to this and other factors, Microsoft is redesigning Windows and other services to be more consumer facing. Because I can guarantee you that Dell and Acer and Samsung will make non Windows devices and hope consumers buy them thinking they are Windows. Its a future where Windows will not have PCs designed for its operating system.

Its in this climate we get the Surface. Microsoft will not be abandoning the partner model, but it will no longer be beholden to it.     


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