The hardware arena is becoming an increasingly crowded space and that’s a good thing for consumers who want more choices. Not that long ago, tech giants used to sit on the sidelines and leave the gadget making biz to Apple and the iPhone maker happily exploited the opportunity, churning out music players, cell phones, wireless appliances, set-top boxes, tablets and computers.

But things have changed quite a bit. Nowadays, everyone and their brother wants to build hardware, software and services in a vertically integrated fashion that made Apple a popular choice among the consumers. Amazon now sells tablets and e-readers and is allegedly building a phone. Google has become a handset vendor thanks to its pricey purchase of Motorola Mobility. And with a recent trifecta of Nexus devices, the search monster has become a hardware force to be reckoned with. But what’s Microsoft up to?

The Windows maker may have arrived late to the party, but the Surface has put the company on the tablet map. That’s just the beginning, as CEO Steve Ballmer suggest Microsoft is adamant to explore opportunities as the company begins to realize that controlling the design of both hardware and software is the only way to provide superior experiences.

Ballmer tells Reuters that more Microsoft-branded hardware is coming in the near future.

Do I anticipate that partners of ours will build the lion’s share of all Windows devices over the next five years? The answer is, absolutely.

With that said, it is absolutely clear that there is an innovation opportunity on the scene between hardware and software and that is a scene that must not go unexploited at all by Microsoft.

It’s been recently reported that Microsoft is building a seven-inch version of the Surface tablet, allegedly  aimed at gamers and to be marketed under the Xbox moniker.

TechCrunch has another quote highlight how Microsoft’s chief executive sees the current state of Android and iOS ecosystems:

The ecosystem of Android is a little bit wild, from an app compatibility perspective, a malware perspective… maybe in a way that’s not always in the consumer’s best interest… conversely, the Apple ecosystem looks highly controlled, and by the way, quite high priced.

Although he praised the Apple ecosystem, Ballmer then again portrays the iPhone as an overpriced phone:

The fact that we live in a country where almost every phone is subsidized, you may forget it. But I was in Russia last week where you pay $1000 for an iPhone.. you’re not going not going to sell that many iPhones…

The question is how do you get the quality, but maybe not the premium price. A controlled, but maybe not quite as controlled ecosystem.

Does that sound familiar?

I take it you heard that Microsoft fired its Windows chief Steven Sinofsky. Similar to Apple’s corporate shakeup that resulted in iOS boss Scott Forstall’s ouster over his abrasive management style, Sinofsky too was booted because he was seen as an obstacle to a harmonious co-operation between Microsoft’s many business units, a necessity if the company is serious about building even more integrated gadgets.


Additionally, Kara Swisher of AllThingsD heard from sources that Sinofsky was booted because he wanted the CEO job. It apparently came down to “former CEO and co-founder Bill Gates’s backing of current CEO Steve Ballmer in the controversial decision to part ways with the powerful exec”.

What do you think?

Can Microsoft become a serious player in hardware and should Apple be concerned about it?