Microsoft was about to introduce one of its prime operating system releases, and it needed its hardware partners to create products that could fully compete with the Android tablets and iPads.
The company took control of partners working with the new Windows RT software that ran on low-power chips. It held many meetings with the small group of companies about its development program and largely dictated what the devices should look like.
But at the same time, Microsoft was creating its own tablet - Surface. It didn't inform PC makers about the new device until shortly before announcing the work on Surface in June in Los Angeles. Their partners were very surprised and had no idea that anything like that may happen.
No doubt, the expectations are high for Microsoft. The company's main PC market is evolving as customers move to mobile devices. To compete with Android and iOS and maintain high quality, Microsoft wants to have their own devices and services. They consider Windows phone app development for propelling the company. It's trying to imitate Apple, while still working with the good old manufacturers it has partnered with for so many years. And that's not an easy task.
The new relationship with Microsoft may be hard for PC makers, but they don't have much choice. The creation of Surface was a nasty lesson that they had to learn. Don't forget that Microsoft already has very successful gaming consoles. Executives had diverse opinions on their new relationship with the software giant, but they all settled on one thing: Microsoft has become more of a control freak than ever before.
Developing Windows mobile
Microsoft's Windows software is the most popular OS in the world. About a quarter of PCs, cell phones, and tablets use some version of Windows, while 10 percent use Android, and 6 percent use Apple's software.
Their goal is to make sure that Windows software continues to deliver a seamless experience from the chipset through firmware, through hardware, through the OS, through Microsoft mobile app development, and finally to the person interacting with the PC. This is a new level of connection that brings with it a new level of engineering work across all its spheres. This new approach is about delivering a unique combination of experiences, choice and a trustworthy end-to-end experience over the life of the PC.
Beneath the Surface
Work was already well underway on the first part of Windows RT products when Microsoft sent out invites for a press event in June. That was the Surface tablet announcement, the company's first move forward in making computer hardware.
The news shocked Microsoft's PC and chip partners, who weren't informed about Surface until days before the event. Without the clarity of when they are competing and when they are collaborating and working together against the Androids and the Apples of the world, it creates a level of hesitation in almost everything.
Microsoft, for its part, has stated that they created Surface as a model for what Windows tablets should be like, not because it wanted to compete with its PC partners. Of course, Microsoft isn't alone in wanting to set the standard for devices using its OS by releasing its own products. Apple controls both its software and hardware and Google has done basically the same thing by buying Motorola and releasing its Nexus products. However, in Google's case, it also collaborates with different hardware makers to develop its Google-branded devices rather than building them on its own. For instance, Google worked with LG on its Nexus 4 phone, and it also partnered with Asus for the Nexus 7 tablet.
Microsoft as a services and devices company
Microsoft seems resolved to maintain its tablet strategy, with plans to launch the Intel-powered Pro version of the device this month. Ballmer, speaking during Microsoft's annual shareholder meeting in late November, made it very apparent that the company is taking a new services and devices company. They are not just a software maker anymore. Sometimes, getting things right with software and hardware is hard to do, except if you're doing both of them.
Microsoft is counting on its new strategy to help it to become a leader in the industry. Except no one knows how well it will go. This partnership model with Microsoft can work for the company’s good or against it. But with such a long history of the flourishing company, many believers and followers will bet on their success.