Microsoft's announcement that it is to build and sell its own tablet hardware is an indication of how seriously the company takes the threat Apple's iPad poses to its traditional PC market. It also shows how far it is willing to go to counter that threat.
But a close look at the details highlights the confused messages that Microsoft is sending out to the market, and to its industry partners. Who are these Windows tablets aimed at? And why is Microsoft seeking to compete against the very companies whose support it needs to make Windows 8 a success?
The announcement of the two Surface tablets at an event in Los Angeles was preceded by many leaks and rumours that Microsoft was about to unveil its own hardware. But the disclosure still came as a surprise to many, simply because competing against your own customers is such a potentially disastrous move for any technology company.
"On the hardware front, what does it say about the tablets Microsoft is seeing from its OEM partners as it gets ready to launch Windows 8, that they felt they needed to launch their own tablet? Either they are not happy with the devices out there, or they are not satisfied with only taking a licence fee from selling Windows-based tablets. Either way, it is a huge vote of no confidence in its OEM partners, who should rightly feel slighted," said Jan Dawson, chief telecoms analyst at Ovum.
Analysts and other industry observers are also confused over just who the new devices are aimed at. Some experts see them as a consumer play, while others point to the inclusion of a Touch Cover keyboard and integration of Office apps on the ARM-based model as indicating a business slant to Microsoft's plans.
For example, Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps wrote in a blog that Microsoft's new strategy "blends the Xbox first-party hardware model with the Windows ecosystem model. It puts the focus on the consumer rather than the enterprise."
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