Microsoft jumping even deeper into the hardware pool with Surface tablet [the competition]
Alternate Title: How do you feel about webOS now, HP?
So today out in Los Angeles brought forth an interesting piece of hardware: a tablet running Windows 8 (nothing exciting there, we've seen plenty of those) to be built and sold by Microsoft (wait, what?). Yep, Microsoft is diving headfirst into the hardware pool with their new 10.6-inch Surface tablet. It's a strange entrance, not that the tablet itself is strange, just the way that Microsoft is going about things.
First and foremost is the idea that Microsoft is going from wading into hardware with the successful XBox series and a series of otherwise complete and utter duds (Zune, Kin, et al) to performing a cannonball at the swim meet where it's supposed to be the coach. The introduction of the separete-but-sort-of-the-same-but-still-different Nvidia- and Intel-powered Surface tablets strikes us as not only unusual, but possibly threatening to Microsoft's third party manufacturers.
It's a problem Palm had to deal with when they tried to license Palm OS to Sony and other companies while also making Palm-branded hardware themselves. It led to the company being split into two halves over the concerns of Sony and the like with competing with their supplier.
We can't help but imagine that Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and everybody else who has plans to build or has been considering a Windows 8-based tablet is feeling a little anxious right now. Palm, even when one company, wasn’t a particularly powerful firm. Influential and well-known in the mobile space, yes, but not a force to be reckoned with.
Microsoft, on the other hand, is a force with which the companies and many more are going to have to reckon. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says the point of the Surface tablets is to "prime the pump," so to speak, but we can't stop thinking of it as the swim team coach yelling, "Let me show you how it's done!" and jumping into the pool at regionals in front of stunned students and their family.
Will the entry of Microsoft into the tablet hardware space send chills down the spine of their hardware partners? No doubt the idea has been for some time. But will it be enough to send these companies in search of alternatives, and what are they going to find?
If Microsoft's Surface foray proves to be successful, it could both assuage and stoke the fears of hardware partners - simultaneously demonstrating demand for Windows 8 tablet products while delivering that product, brand loyalty, and profit exclusively into Microsoft's lap. If it goes poorly it will assuage and stoke the fears of hardware partners - simultaneously demonstrating that Microsoft can't single-handedly upend the established order of the Windows ecosystem and that customer demand for Windows 8-powered tablets isn't what they had hoped (or is exactly what they feared).
Either way, we have little doubt that Microsoft's Surface is going to send more than a few hardware manufacturers on at least a side quest to see if there's another operating system worth considering. They'll find two: Android, which people know but have been reluctant to buy in expensive tablet form, and webOS, which is in the process of an open source transition with questionable support from the company that's pushing it into open source. It's hard to gauge customer demand for webOS in tablet form, given the incredibly odd and short shelf life of the TouchPad tablet. And with webOS being open source, tablet manufacturers would be able to customize it as do with Android, and much unlike what Microsoft is allowing them to do with Windows 8.
So here's the big question: Does Microsoft Surface provide an opening for webOS? Yes, it does. It's a narrow one and it'll require that HP and the Open webOS team play their cards just right if they have any hope of convincing somebody to make webOS tablets where HP didn't have the will to succeed. Then again, maybe HP could just try again themselves.