Since Microsoft unveiled its first Microsoft-branded PCs, the Microsoft Surfaces in late June, I've been wondering how ambitious the company's scale-up plans were.
On July 9 at the Worldwide Partner Conference opening keynote, I got an answer. CEO Steve Ballmer told attendees Microsoft's goal is to sell "a few million Surface PCs" in the coming year. (I actually thought I heard Ballmer say "a few millions," with an "s.") Ballmer also said that according to estimates, there will be 375 million Windows PCs sold in the next 12 months. His implication was there would still be lots of OEMs making Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows RT (Windows on ARM) machines, too.
The "few million" figure is interesting on several fronts. First, if it's true, Microsoft isn't coming out of the gate with full guns blazing. Some Microsoft watchers have been claiming Microsoft's goal is to catapult itself to the top of the Windows PC supplier heap as soon as possible. These folks have claimed Microsoft has lost all faith in its OEMs and now believes the Apple model -- one hardware supplier doing end-to-end software/hardware systems -- is the only way to advance in this market, going forward.
But given how long it takes to get a new line of hardware cranked up -- getting adequate supplies of components, finessing the manufacturing and quality-assurance processes, staffing up for a whole new customer support experience -- I was doubtful Microsoft would be hawking a huge number of Surfaces its first year, even if officials wanted to do so. With all these variables, a few million is pretty ambitious, I'd say.
I also didn't believe, like folks such as Acer's CEO Stan Shih seemingly professes to, that Microsoft made its Surface announcement as more of a scare tactic or an incentive to get partners to do better, not because it wants to be a hardware vendor.Ballmer's comments today, to me, made it clear Microsoft is in the hardware business, and here to stay.
Speaking of Microsoft and the hardware business, Microsoft also announced today plans to buy large-screen multi-touch display vendor Perceptive Pixel. I wondered whether this meant yet another foray in hardware for the Softies. Will Perceptive Pixel be making Microsoft-branded displays for Office users, I wondered? (If so, this wouldn't be the first time the Office team at Microsoft dabbled with hardware. Anyone remember the Microsoft RoundTable RingCam videoconferencing system?)
Giovanni Mezgec, General Manager of Office Product Management, told me today that Microsoft is still in the process of mulling how best to produce new Perceptive Pixel displays. Microsoft hasn't ruled out involving OEMs in the process in order to bring down costs, he said. But nothing final has been determined, other than the fact that Perceptive Pixel Founder and Chief Scientist Jeff Han and his team are going to become part of Microsoft's Office business unit if and when the purchase receives regulatory approval.