Move over, Apple—MicroSoft is trying to change the game by getting into the same business model that Cupertino-based Mac, iPad, and iPhone maker has been largely successful with. According to CEO Steve Ballmer, the company is currently in the midst of a “fundamental shift” in the way it does business. This involves occasionally building “specific devices for specific purposes,” obviously a reference to the upcoming Surface tablet.
Among the focus areas Ballmer indicated in his shareholder letter, this one appeared at the top of the list: “Developing new form factors that have increasingly natural ways to use them including touch, gestures and speech.” That’s a very clear indicator of what Microsoft envisions for its future.
It should be noted that, unlike Apple, Microsoft will still be partnering with a bunch of device manufacturers, citing customers’ preference toward more choices, especially as far as Windows is concerned. Besides, Microsoft doesn’t have the kind of fanatical following that Apple dictates, and this means the Redmond-based software giant cannot afford to just churn out self-produced devices at will, expecting them to sell like pancakes.
Some third-party OEMs, like Acer, have expressed frustration at this shift in strategy for Microsoft—and they have a point. No matter how many units the Surface series eventually sells, it is going to eat at the potential market share of other manufacturers. While the aim is to cut the iPad’s market share, there’s also a big chance that even manufacturers using Windows 8 will lose out because of this looming competition within the ecosystem.
And let’s face it: it can’t inspire much confidence if a company you’re relying on to supply a vital part of your business (like the OS, in this case) is looking to come up with its own products that will rival your own. It’s alienating and opens up Microsoft to a lot of criticism from its hardware partners.
Business as Usual
Others, though, aren’t so worried. Take Lenovo, for example. As product president for LenovoPeter Hortensius said, “From my perspective, if we keep making good products that solve real problems, the market share part will take care of itself.” He added that consumers ultimately will be the ones who decide which device they go for, and these are likely the devices that really make sense for them in terms of usage, functionality, design, and price point.
Lenovo is set to launch a bunch of convertible Windows 8 tablets in late October. It remains to be seen how these new models will compare to Surface when placed side-by-side, but at least consumers get alternatives. If anything, the direct competition from Microsoft should encourage other manufacturers to up the ante and make even better Windows 8 products to entice the consumers.
One more thing that can happen is the Surface (and possibly subsequent computers or devices based off it) becomes the Google Nexus of Windows PCs and tablets. Other manufacturers aren’t likely to skin Windows 8 like they do the Android OS on smartphones and tablets, but custom software (or bloatware) should be minimized in an effort to keep prospective buyers happy.
It’s not really a very radical shift for Microsoft to decide to make its own goodies, and it doesn’t seem like the company will be coming up with new models very often, so it’s not really going to be that big of a threat to other manufacturers who are going with Windows 8.
In a world where adaptability is becoming more and more important, Microsoft took a step in a very necessary direction. Gone are the days of massive PCs or laptops, full-sized business phone systems, and chunky cellphones, replaced by ultra-portable computers that cover a broad spectrum of categories and applications. It’s clear that Microsoft is embracing the future with arms wide open, and this “fundamental shift” in terms of business strategy is just the tip of the iceberg.