Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) shook the market when it announced “Surface”, an eye-catching Windows 8 10.6-inch tablet design, which marked its intriguing decision to directly challenge its third party OEM partners. With many already saying the Microsoft tablet could become a market darling and vie with the iPad for dominance, the big question was whether the move would also backfire by alienating OEMs and diminishing the third-party Windows 8 tablet market.
I. Some Manufacturers Knew About Surface Beforehand
Initial reports conflicted on whether OEMs knew about “Surface” beforehand. ASUSTek Computer Inc. (TPE:2357) spokesman Nick Wu stated to Bloomberg, “Our management did learn about that in a later stage. It’s an investment by Microsoft to grow and build the ecosystem for Windows RT and we have no special opinion on that. We will continue to deliver our products.”
Sources indicate that high-level management and others like Hewlett-Packard Comp. (HPQ) and Lenovo Group Ltd. (HKG:0992) also indicate that high-level management became aware of the device near launch time, although spokespeople for both companies refused to comment.
Microsoft’s “Surface” tablet was a surprise to Acer, but others like ASUSTek were informed beforehand. [Image Source: Microsoft]
HP, the world’s top personal computer maker, told Reuters in a statement, “We remain committed partners to Microsoft. We remain committed to Windows 8, and we will have a Slate product at the time of launch.”
Similarly, Lenovo, the fastest growing PC maker on the market, commented, “Microsoft has been and will continue to be one of Lenovo’s most valued partners.”
Dell, Inc. (DELL) did not give any comment yet on the development.
II. Acer Appears to be Snubbed, Turns to Fantasy
But Microsoft appears not to have told one computer maker about “Surface” at all — Acer, Inc. (TPE:2353). An Acer executive is quoted by Reuters as saying, “No senior executives heard about the news last week. We’re quite surprised.”
The strange apparent snub continued to get stranger when Acer founder Stan Shin spoke to DigiTimes, telling the publication that he thought Microsoft had no real intention to stick around in the tablet market long term.
He claimed that the “Surface” was just a publicity stunt/ruse to attract interest to Windows 8 and that the tablet would just be a one-off release, with no follow-up devices.
Acer founder Stan Shih claims the Surface is only a publicity stunt and Microsoft will give up on future first-party designs. [Image Source: Zijing]
That seems like some rather peculiar wishful thinking. First, Acer has made it relatively clear that it was one of the only — or perhaps the only major manufacturer to be left in the dark about Microsoft’s plans, so it seems kind of silly for the company’s founder to now turn around and claim secret insight into Microsoft’s market strategy.
Second, history simply does not support Microsoft’s claims. Once it saw success in markets like peripherals (mice, keyboards) and gaming consoles (the Xbox family) Microsoft didn’t pull out, it stuck around. It’s hard to believe that Microsoft would drastically change its past strategy with the “Surface” and eventually pull the plug on what even Mr. Shih seemingly admits will be a hot seller.
This odd chain of events is the latest in a string of misfortune for Acer, which saw its PC market share plunge as the netbook market dried up. Acer has expressed woes about its low profits and expressed an interest in being more like Apple, Inc. (AAPL).
Acer has made big promises in the tablet market, but thus far its Iconia line of Android tablets have shown little in the way of sales progress. The best received Iconia — the 10.1-inch A700 model is currently in 39th place in Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN) list of top selling tablets, behind other sales “flops” like Research in Motion, Ltd.’s (TSE:RIM) PlayBook. The rest of the Iconias are even farther behind.
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