Microsoft caught everyone napping with the launch of its new Surface tablet earlier in the week, including its own manufacturing partners, it would appear.
A report by Reuters suggests that most partners only heard about the announcement three days before it went public, while some only learned on the day, along with the rest of us.
The message is clear: Microsoft its learning from its main consumer product competitors, Apple, keeping its cards close to its chest and moving into the hardware space. And in the process it’s starting to compete with the very companies it has long partnered with.
This goes against Microsoft’s long standing model of making its money by licensing its software to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), such as Acer, Asus, Dell and HP. Microsoft reportedly takes around 10 percent of the material cost of any product licensing its Windows operating system, which given the dominance of the platform has lead to the company making the vast fortune it enjoys today. Jeopardising this arrangement could lead to all sorts of future headaches.
Most OEMs have declined to comment on the situation, beyond acknowledging that Microsoft remains a key partner for them, but Acer founder Stan Shih has said he thinks it is all a ploy by Microsoft to encourage partners to make Windows 8 tablets. In fact he went so far as to say that Microsoft will exit the market again as soon as possible, producing no successors to this first raft of products.
Over the coming months we’ll find out just what Microsoft’s intentions are, and how its partners plan to respond. In the mean time, we must admit to liking the look of Microsoft Surface and hope it is a sign of many things to come.