The Microsoft Surface tablet has the potential to cut into sales of Apple iPads, iPhones and even Apple’s rumored TV—if the tablet is all that Microsoft says it is. Unfortunately, no one will know if that’s the case for some time.
Microsoft gave its longtime hardware partners a poke in the eye when
it introduced two Surface tablets at an invitation-only event in Los Angeles June 18. While a risky move, it was a necessary one, say analysts. Microsoft needs a device that can effectively compete against the Apple iPad—and so critically so that it can’t trust its OEM partners to deliver on one.
“The iPad terrifies Microsoft,” Avi Greengart, an analyst with Current Analysis wrote in a June 19 report.
Greengart’s report explains that while “competing with your licensees never works,” as a product could fail and then the licensor has wasted money and aggravated its partners to no benefit, Microsoft learned a strong lesson from the iPod. As early as 2005, Microsoft recognized the importance of the iPod and iTunes to Apple and went about its normal licensing to partners, but the resulting PlaysForSure was a disaster. Microsoft scrambled and responded with Zune, but too late.
“Microsoft clearly does not trust its partners to compete effectively with Apple, and Microsoft feels that the stakes are too high for it to wait for Apple to cement the iPad as a laptop alternative—or give Google time to fix the problems with Android for tablets,” Greengart writes.
Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, said in a June 20 report that while Microsoft “has a bit of a ‘bull in a china shop’ reputation,” it’s aware enough to realize how entering the hardware market could impact its partners.
Microsoft exercised an impressive amount of discretion leading up to the Surface event. Still, King wrote, “The melodramatic notion that OEMs would somehow be deeply surprised by Surface is, frankly, a bit shallow.”
However, Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies, says while they knew, they may not have known much or very far in advance. Many of th
e OEMs are his clients, and he prodded them after the announcement to gauge just how much they knew. Kay told eWEEK, while no one wanted to discuss it much, none had received very much notice. “Someone said, ‘Oh, [Microsoft CEO Steve] Ballmer called me just before his speech.’”