As Microsoft officially launches Windows 8 in New York City this week, CEO Steve Ballmer said the company is working on more hardware beyond the Surface Tablet family. Should hardware manufacturers fear the move or just ignore it?
"Is it fair to say we're going to do more hardware?" Ballmer said to the BBC. "Obviously we are... Where we see important opportunities to set a new standard, yeah we'll dive in."
Back in June, Microsoft starting showing off its Surface tablet family, one device using an ARM processor and running Windows RT with a second incorporating a more "traditional" Intel processor and able to run a full Windows 8 experience – along with all of the existing Windows (Intel-based) software.
The announcement upset Acer, which started making noise about going elsewhere – an interesting comment, since Apple doesn't partner and Google has yet to establish a large presence in the PC space either in consumer or enterprise markets. Google would love to have more people in the Chrome fold, but until it brings its cloud-based alternative up to the functionality that users get from a standalone machine and more applications, it remains a small player.
Ballmer hinted it might build its own Windows phone, making sure it isn't totally dependent upon Nokia and Asian manufacturers to produce a competitive product. A pocket mobile would be a necessary component in the current trifecta of phone-tablet-PC offerings necessary to cover all bets.
Traditional PC hardware manufacturers such Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo and Sony have hedged their bets by blending the touchscreen aspects of Windows 8 in a flurry of hybrid tablet/convertible laptop offerings.
I've speculated Microsoft may also stir the pot by taking a crack at reimagining desktop PC and home server hardware. For the desktop, smaller, more colorful boxes other than basic black plastic towers – take a look at the Apple Mac Mini and it becomes clear how lazy and lame traditional PC designers have been over the past five years – combine with large touchscreens and options for keyboards with integrated touchpads to offer an alternatives to the mouse.
I know everyone is gung-ho on storage "in the cloud" and it plays a significant role in tying together the Windows 8 ecosystem, but I also believe in localized storage for content to enable people to get what they want if the "cloud" is down or just to improve response times when watching video. Microsoft "gets it," I think, when it comes to establishing proper usage between local, LAN and cloud storage.
Apple has left enough bread crumb clues in things like its Time Machine backup for Microsoft to roll together a product or products to seamlessly fit into the larger Windows 8 ecosystem.
Whatever Microsoft does in hardware down the road, it’s likely not to be done in less than full force. The XBox and Surface Tablets are clear representations that when the company sets its mind to developing a hardware product, it won't take half measures.
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