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.