Okay, let me get this straight. Did Microsoft just kill the Windows tablet OEM market?

Okay, let me get this straight. Did Microsoft just kill the Windows tablet OEM market?

Summary: Quite honestly, this is as baffling as New Coke was to Coca Cola consumers worldwide.

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Sometimes I get the impression Microsoft practices market research by launching products and waiting to see just where we in the press blow holes in the strategy. We've certainly been hard on Big Redmond for the weird Metro/Windows 8/Windows RT thing they're getting ready to launch. What's weird about that is the core Windows 8 looks to be a rockin' OS, but layered with awkward Metro weirdness.

So now we get to the new Microsoft tablet, the Surface. Yeah, "Surface."

Jason Perlow led the thinking out of the gate with Surface: Microsoft, What the Hell is Wrong With You?. That's some good market research right there for ya.

The thing is, we're all doing a bit of a head scratch. As Jason pointed out, Microsoft didn't announce a delivery date, didn't announce a price, and didn't even really announce specs.

What they did do, though, is tell all their potential tablet OS OEMs that there's a new competitor in town -- a competitor who doesn't have to pay Windows licensing fees and design fees.

At first glance, this looks like a big middle finger pointed straight at the likes of Acer, Asus, Dell, Lenovo, HP, and all the other nice little companies who've -- you know -- paid Microsoft's freight all these long years.

I recently postulated (granted, I pulled the idea out of thin air), but I had postulated that perhaps Microsoft would announce an Xbox tablet. At least this was a known and highly popular brand, and it wouldn't necessarily set off the "oh no, you did'n" alarms at the OEMs.

But, they did. And weirdly enough, Microsoft isn't just making their own single tablet based on Windows RT (the strangely-named tablet edition of Windows 8). Oh, no. Redmond has announced that there will be a consumer version (which will be Metro/RT only) and a pro version (which will compete right up the hoo-hahs of what's left of the ultrabook market with a full Windows 8).

I don't think I'd ever buy a Metro tablet, but I'm interested in a Windows 8 tablet. I do development and I like having my development system on any portable device I can. So there's an appeal there. But I would have thought Microsoft would have wanted me to buy that Windows 8 tablet from, say, Dell or HP.

So what's going on inside their heads? Was it that the OEMs weren't jumping on the whole tablet bandwagon and Microsoft wanted to have a stake in the ground? Or is it that Microsoft is so nervous about Apple that they wanted to have their own product to sell? 'Cause if that's the case, this dog won't hunt. It's the opposite of everything that drives the nutball Apple fanbois wild with their overwhelming brand loyalty.

The Surface (or Surfi, since there's more than one of them) isn't a clearly defined product. Even the same software won't work on all models. There's no unity even in the one product. That's about as un-Apple as you can get, and that's why the idea that this will take back some of the notebook and desktop market the iPad has stolen is just an addled fantasy.

Or is Microsoft just a little bit out of control? This was announced by Mr. Developers-Developers-Developers Steve Ballmer himself, so it's got from-the-top approval. But what happened to the OEM licensing operation? Where was their voice in this announcement?

Or, as Dan Farber muses, is it because Microsoft wants to (or believes it must) have more control of the entire, vertically-integrated package?

Quite honestly, this is as baffling as New Coke was to Coca Cola consumers worldwide. The company somehow thought it was the best idea ever, but, to all the rest of us, it looks for all the world like Microsoft just inexplicably killed off the Windows tablet OEM market.

I am worried. I (like 90% or so of the world) rely on Microsoft products. They're important to me and while I have no doubt about the company's OS-building prowess, I do wonder whether they can sustain shooting themselves in the foot too many times before we do wind up in a self-inflicted post-PC world.

See also:

    Topics: Hardware, Laptops, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Tablets, Windows

    About

    David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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    Talkback

    88 comments
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    • Huh?

      What market? That market didn't exist and no they didn't ... I said it before, if this tablet takes off, OEMs will be begging to use the OS and they will pay $100 bucks per machine to do it!
      slickjim
      • @peter perry

        "That market didn't exist..."

        Well if it didn't exist then the OEM market may have a hard time taking off. Why would an OEM want to make their own tablet now? Surely, MS' own products will get the absolute best TLC vs OEM partners. As an OEM I'm going to focus on making the best ultrabooks I possibly can instead.
        smulji
        • Nah

          Most OEMs aren't taking MS seriously... this thing has the potential to change that and honestly, I really like the Tablets.
          slickjim
      • think a second

        PRE-EMPTIVELY killed is still just as dead.
        Texrat
        • nah

          It was a gamble with pretty good odds. 25% of people poled are waiting for a Windows 8 Tablet... That is enough success that MS will dictate the terms by which others play.
          slickjim
        • @Petter Perry

          Actually, we waited to see if Microsoft is stupid enough to confront Apple head-to-head. Now they have and everyone will see how weak the Microsoft offering is.
          danbi
      • Adaptation

        I spent more than 25 years playing this game for real, and let me tell you: you couldn't be more wrong. Gewirtz is right: this is going to spin out of control in ways that no one in Microsoft sees coming. In fact no one sees it coming period. The victims of this stab-in-the-back will try different things, and one or more of them will work.
        Robert Hahn
        • Yeah right

          We'll see. Unless Google gets Chrome for Android out of Beta fast, then the alternatives are very limited. Apple isn't going to license their OS and that means that Android is the only option and for some, it isn't a good one.
          slickjim
        • Sure, RH, Sure

          What, will the OEM's quit selling Windows based machines and tablets, give the [b]entire[/b] Windows ecosystem over to MS?
          William Farrel
        • "But Google"

          Because you were told that Android is great does not make it the only game in town.

          Nobody cares what the OS of an tablet is, as long as it has stable infrastructure to support it (the OS, not the tablet). For example, Ubunty could just as easily kill Windows RT as Android could --- not to discuss iOS which is way ahead already and practically untouchable (until Apple goofs).
          danbi
      • They will beg..

        No, the won't.

        The market has already demonstrated that tablets can do just fine without Windows. Nobody needs Windows in order to have successful tablet.

        Nobody needs Windows to have successful desktop or server: this is yet to come as an shocking revelation to many people.
        danbi
        • Actually, quite the opposite...

          considering Apple is the only player in town making any real sales... it would seem Windows is needed to create some real competition with Apple. But I can tell from your other posts that I'm wasting my energy as you don't like Microsoft regardless of any facts.
          kstap
    • Exactly.

      "Did Microsoft just kill the Windows tablet OEM market?"

      That's the million dollar question isn't it?
      smulji
      • *billion

        Fixed for you.
        Texrat
    • Okay, let me get this straight. Did Microsoft just kill the Windows tablet

      Let me straighten you out. Microsoft added to their Windows tablet line. That's not killing anything, that's offering the consumer more choice.
      Loverock Davidson-
      • Yeah . . .

        . . . I'd try building and selling Windows tablets now, even though I don't know what their marketing strategy will be, I don't know how much more they might charge me per unit next year to protect their market share, what undocumented features my tablets won't be able to access but theirs will, etc.

        Yeah, that makes me want to spend a billion competing with Apple, already a tough competitor with a big lead. Not.
        sporkfighter
    • Android/Chrome OS/WebOS

      If the OEM's are free to sell other operating systems, why can't Microsoft create its own hardware? Looks to me like it was the OEM's that opened this can of worms.
      rwalrond
    • If you want something done right

      You do it yourself ;-)
      tonymcs@...
    • The bigger the smile, the sharper the knife

      Don't stop the channel conflict questions at tablets. Handset OEMs were already uneasy about the mysterious Double Secret Deal that Microsoft has with Nokia. Now they have to also be wondering if there's a Microsoft-branded phone in the works. In fact Elop may be wondering if there's a Microsoft-branded phone in the works.

      When you see your buddy stab your common friend in the back, you learn not to let him get behind you.
      Robert Hahn
      • Oh dont worry

        That MS branded phone will happen when Nokia loses enough money that they are cheap enough for MS to buy.
        slickjim