Could and should there be a Microsoft-branded Windows 8 tablet?

Could and should there be a Microsoft-branded Windows 8 tablet?

Summary: Could there be a Microsoft-branded Windows 8 tablet coming to market next year? Sure. But should there be? I'd argue no.


Could there be a Microsoft-branded Windows 8 tablet coming to market next year? Sure. But should there be? I'd argue no.

Digitimes is citing chip-supplier sources claiming that Microsoft is contemplating whether to launch its own Microsoft-branded tablet. (And, unsurprisingly, Microsoft is declining to comment.)

I am wondering whether the Microsoft tablet in question might simply be a chassis, similar to what Microsoft did when it developed Windows Phone. Or perhaps a reference design -- something it could show its OEMs to give them ideas as to what's possible and marketable.

If it's something more, and Microsoft were to bring to market a "Microsoft tablet," I'd think the company would be taking a big risk, as far as alienating its OEM partners is concerned. Right now, a number of first-, second- and third-tier OEMs are delivering new Windows 7 tablets to market. Microsoft gets a nice cut (rumored to be something under $50 per copy) on these tablets, as OEMs must pay the company to license every copy of Windows 7 preloaded on these devices. And Microsoft is no doubt counting on partners to continue to do the same with Windows 8.

(By the way -- Microsoft is still allowing OEMs to license Windows Embedded Compact and preload that operating system on slates and tablets, as well. After I wrote a post last week about Microsoft downplaying the Windows Embedded operating system as a choice for slates and tablets, I received word back from a Microsoft spokesperson who told me "Microsoft continues to provide OEMs with a variety of Windows platform options, including Windows Embedded Compact 7" for slates and tablets. So far, we have yet to see any OEMs bring a Windows Embedded Compact 7 slate to market, but Microsoft only released that OS to manufacturing in March 2011.)

Back to Windows 8 tablets. Let's talk about the Kin -- the Microsoft phone that Microsoft officials insisted, to the bitter end, that wasn't a Microsoft phone. After the Kin debacle, Microsoft officials (hopefully) know that just because Microsoft can cut out OEMs and bring its own device to market doesn't insure its success.

Yes, the Xbox is a contrary example. But the gaming console market is not a place where OEM ecosystems come into play. In the PC/tablet space, it seems companies have two choices: Go the Apple route and go it on your own as the sole supplier, or go the OEM route and offer customers different products, with different designs and price points. Google is pursuing a hybrid OEM/build your own model with the Nexus phones. But with Chromebooks, it's counting on OEMs and isn't trying to sell a Google-branded and manufactured device.

Some may argue that the dearth of true iPad competitors from any Windows OEMs is proof that Microsoft needs to take matters into its own hands and bring a better WinPad to market. I, myself, am willing to wait and see if a more tablet-friendly operating system, as Windows 8 seems to be from early previews, will be what pushes Windows OEMs to build the tablet that I really want. And I'm really interested in seeing what Nokia does (I'm betting there's a Nokia Win 8 tablet in the wings, for sure.)

What's your take? Should Microsoft bring its own Win8Pad to market in 2012?

Update: A couple of readers have wondered whether any kind of Microsoft-branded Windows 8 tablet might simply be a give-away for attendees of the upcoming Build conference in September.... It wouldn't be unprecedented. Remember, Microsoft gave paying attendees a Windows 7 touch-screen laptop at the Professional Developers Conference to encourage them to build touch applications.

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


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • RE: Could and should there be a Microsoft-branded Windows 8 tablet?

    Only if they can do it better
    • Better

      Yes... and if they think they can make more money selling their own than they get from all the OEMs combined who make Win PCs now :) MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
      • RE: Could and should there be a Microsoft-branded Windows 8 tablet?

        @Mary Jo Foley

        I think what really hurt MS was the DOJ ruling that they couldn't offer differing Windows license costs to OEM's that provided input on its development. MS producing one or two devices as proof-of-concept would hopefully prod the OEM's in the right direction, as Google do with their Nexus handsets.
      • Maybe MS is looking at the Apple model and finding

        out that the real money is in $1500 laptops and not $15 OEM licenses.
      • That's where the money is

        @Mary Jo Foley ... but to develop great hardware you have to have the ability and a great deal of passion for it. That's not in Microsoft's DNA. They are committed to selling OEM licenses.

        On October 11 2006, Ballmer said: "the value of Zune, if we?re successful, is all in the software. It?s in community [the ability to share music and pictures with other Zune users]. I want to squirt you a picture of my kids. You want to squirt me back a video of your vacation. That?s a software experience. The truth is, though, if it makes money, it will be built into the gross margin on the hardware."

        Leaving aside the refreshing notion of Ballmer squirting you with pictures, he believes the "value" of products is "all" in the software, but the 'gross margin' comes form the hardware.

        I happen to think that's bollocks. The value is in the final product, of which the software is an integrated and inseparable feature.

        Kind of like your car. The 'value' might be in the motor, as it's what powers your journey. But you can't make money licensing motors.

        The idea that you can is a flawed and incomplete one. You make money on the product as a whole, and products are products, not just the part of products you feel able to produce.
      • RE: Could and should there be a Microsoft-branded Windows 8 tablet?


        As MS are currently structured that wouldn't work - the lead time to start producing in the numbers required, i.e. the same as Dell, HP and Acer combined, would give the OEM's time to push alternatives. E.g. you could imagine HP would use webOS and their presence in the data centre to push a Chromebook-style model to their customers.

        If MS were to put a more definite split between their corporate and consumer operations, extending as far as producing different OS's, rather than different versions of the same OS, then it could work though.
      • RE: Could and should there be a Microsoft-branded Windows 8 tablet?

        @Mary Jo Foley I think it's an experiment with a new business model. Microsoft's OS business model does not look sustainable in the long rum - with HP, Google...everybody getting into the game. With alienating OEMs, I dont think that's an issue. All OEMs want money..that's what they care about. They jumped into android...they might jump into HP. Right now MS is too strong to care about OEM alienation. I think it's a good time to prepare for the possible transition of business model.
      • Right now Microsoft is too strong...

        @Mary Jo Foley "Right now MS is too strong to care about OEM alienation"

        Some day many years from now Microsoft won't be strong, and people will say "my goodness, it happened so suddenly."
      • HollywoodDog, MS will always be strong

        @Mary Jo Foley

        And the money is in the OS, as billions in revenue kind of prove that.

        And before you use Apple as an example, What's Dell, HP, Acers revenues?

        Guess the money's not in the hardware?
        Will Pharaoh
      • How much money is in the software going forward?

        @Mary Jo Foley ... Apple is doing another clearly-major OS upgrade priced at $29.99. Snow Leopard was priced at $29.

        With the App Store for OSX, Apple can distribute major upgrades quickly at near-zero-friction. They're nimble and efficient.

        Microsoft seems to wading in vaporware, speculation, a restive precambrian installed base, and the odd big-ass table.
      • RE: Could and should there be a Microsoft-branded Windows 8 tablet?

        @Mary Jo Foley

        that's the wrong way to look at it. They don't have to KILL OEMs or even make more money to justify making it. There are other benefits to doing their own tablet.

        1) They could create the "premium" tablet OEMs can't make to challenge the ipad.

        2) They could set the agenda in terms of hardware/software integration, lead OEMs by example of how to make hardware that is smart about how to interact with windows (instead of OEMs figuring how to copy apple hardware but with windows on it). It would also force teams in MSFT about coming up with unique software/hardware scenarios which OEMS would then benefit from. Apple does this. MS simply makes a clean slate and let OEMS "innovate" which they often don't because they can't mess with the software.

        3) they could generate a lot of positive buzz and excitement around a branded tablet in a similar way that the 360 makes today when new models are released. They could control the conversation and story about why Win8 is THE tablet OS to have instead of letting apple do the talk and some taiwan OEM try to shoehorn apple's ideas in windows speak.

        Everything off course depends on them standing behind the device with all the energy, and then some, that they had with the 360. Can they do it? sure. But I think Ballmer needs to go first before it happens.
      • Sorry HollywoodDog, the only vapor here

        @Mary Jo Foley
        is coming from you. ;)

        Wow, you're a scared, jealous person, aren't you?

        Oh well. :)
        Will Pharaoh
      • The money was in the OS

        @Mary Jo Foley ... back when computers were science projects, and we used to troop down to Hard Drives Northwest and pick up parts to assemble and install Windows on.

        How many computer products fit that description today? Oh, there are the gamers who build high end systems with CRT's and liquid cooling and what not, but they are the exception.

        Most people now buy products from laptops to smartphones to tablets, and use the OS that comes with them.

        Suddenly the hardware matters. The overall product experience out of the box matters.

        Microsoft still has its big-corporation installed base. But for how long? Soon they won't have any competitive advantage. Unless they start actually innovating again like in the 80's and 90's.
      • RE: Could and should there be a Microsoft-branded Windows 8 tablet?

        @Will Pharaoh
        He does sound worried, usually does.
        US Is ! Europe-ThankGod!
      • RE: Could and should there be a Microsoft-branded Windows 8 tablet?

        I really enjoyed the article.
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    • MS should

      MS's 1st generation product is always crappy (zune, xbox, kin), but MS is quite adaptive. I don't think OEM did good job in innovation. Last year I said in zdnet that they should give up all 15" pc, and they just starting to do it. Best-Buy, Staple, Office-Deport are still full of those big, heavy junks. They jumped into andriod pad or webOS or wharever, they cann't blame MS create its own brand.
    • RE: Could and should there be a Microsoft-branded Windows 8 tablet?

      Better and set the expectation.
      The followup question would be; Should they do it for the long term?

      If I use Android as an example (Honeycomb); I looked at the current Android tablets. Settled on Motorola, Acer, ASUS. I test drove each, looked at the customer reviews, quality and bang for the buck. I now own the ASUS Transformer 32gb.

      Having an MS tablet for Win8 would set my expectations on what I am looking for from the OEMs. I would make my decision accordingly.

      So yes; MS making a branded tablet would be a win-win.
      For the OEM business and the consumer.

    • RE: Could and should there be a Microsoft-branded Windows 8 tablet?

      @incendy It's possible... The interesting part is HP, Samsung, and many of the other players are stepping up and taking the tablet option as the first opportunity to sell a complete ecosystem. Obviously Apple's money making ability is leading to many others to jump into the market.

      Personally I think Microsoft should just leverage their new relationship with Nokia to make some really outstanding hardware.
  • RE: Could and should there be a Microsoft-branded Windows 8 tablet?

    I'd prefer to have a microsoft own tablet than from other OEM so we can be sure what Microsoft expect Windows 8 tablet experience should be. Microsoft should partner with Nokia making the tablet/slate.
    • RE: Could and should there be a Microsoft-branded Windows 8 tablet?

      Maybe...... Then again, over the last couple of years I have become disappointed with Nokia engineering....
      They seem to be stuck in a rut.... :(