Recently Ballmer and Reid Hoffman talked about quite a few different Microsoft-related things at a Churchill Club Event.
The subjects included Steven Sinofsky leaving Microsoft, Microsoft’s position in the mobile world, and even about the push into hardware with the Microsoft Surface.
When asked directly about the push into hardware, here is what Ballmer had to say:
There has been a shift. OEMs will still build the lion’s share of Windows devices. With that said, it is clear that there is an innovation opportunity on the seam between hardware and software – and it must not go unexploited by Microsoft.
We continue to work with HP and Dell, Toshiba and Sony and Acer and Asus and HTC and Nokia and Lenovo. But where there is innovation that crosses hardware/software boundary, they are not going to cede. Software is still the skill to have; but going to the market will be through devices and online services.
Basically Ballmer made it clear that they weren’t backing out of hardware and that more hardware will come as they see the opportunity to release it. At the same time, Steve said they were treading carefully and understood that they needed to work closely with vendors and be up front with their moves into the hardware market.
When asked if Ballmer and company had plans to make their own PC, Ballmer said that the “Surface is a PC for all intents and purposes. The OEMs are doing great work and we’re excited about it. Same is true in phones. No need to repeat what other companies are doing brilliantly.”
His comments seem to clarify that will Microsoft might be testing out laptops, phones and other hardware (as rumors continually suggest), that doesn’t mean they are interested in releasing them. I suppose it is just good to have a backup plan for if/when their partners no longer are “doing things brilliantly”.
If hardware from Microsoft partners is so great, why bother with hardware like the Surface RT at all? Honestly, a lot of it has to do with perception, at least in my opinion. Some consumers like the idea of buying a product that is made by the same company AT EVERY LEVEL.
With the iPhone, you get Apple software, Apple hardware and Apple support. It’s a consistent experience all around. This is even somewhat true with the Google Nexus line as well, even if Google contracts other companies to do the actual hardware building.
Microsoft will continue to offer an expanding range of hardware, but they will do so cautiously. Why? Just like some folks like having the same brand controlling all software/hardware aspects, some of us don’t. What do you think of Microsoft hardware like the Surface and Xbox 360? Impressed, or would you rather stick to Microsoft software and a Microsoft partner’s hardware?