Microsoft's debut of the Surface family of tablets wowed on several levels yesterday, not the least of which is the fact that Redmond will be moving into direct competition with some of the hardware partners it relied upon to build the dominance of Windows. Acer and Lenovo have both shown off Windows 8 tablets in recent weeks, with Dell, HP, and others expected to follow. Microsoft's first-party option now has the potential to upset what has been a stable relationship between hardware maker and software provider. We reached out to Microsoft's partners for their response, and found them quite reluctant to comment on the situation.
HP and Acer declined to offer statements on Microsoft's product plans or its implications for the Windows 8 tablet market. Dell, however, noted that Microsoft was "an important partner" for the company — and that it would be delivering Windows 8 tablets of its own later in the year. Lenovo toed the same line, though a company representative did state that its selection of Android and Windows-based tablets put it in a "very strong position" to win "against all comers."
Meanwhile, a report from Reuters claims that many PC manufacturers were kept "in the dark" about Surface. Citing anonymous sources, the report claims that the earliest they had gotten word was last Friday, and furthermore said that Acer and Asustek first heard the news from the conference itself. However, an earlier Bloomberg story specifically cites Asustek as being one of the manufacturers who had received early notice. Spokesperson Nick Wu told Bloomberg that "Our management did learn about that in a later stage." That matches up with what Steve Ballmer himself told us in a brief interview on the day of the event.
When exactly manufacturers learned about Surface is one thing, what they think of it now is quite another. Even though the companies we reached out to universally declined to provide any comment on Surface itself, we expect Ballmer's prediction that OEMs would "opine" will come true soon enough. In fact, it may be starting already, with Digitimes reporting that Acer founder Stan Shih doesn't see Microsoft's hardware intentions as genuine at all. Instead, Shih reportedly feels the Surface is an effort to encourage other manufacturers to produce Windows 8 tablets, and that he expects Microsoft to bow out of the tablet hardware race once Windows 8 gains momentum. We'll see if other manufacturers agree in the months to come.
Dieter Bohn contributed to this report.