Microsoft describes Surface as the re-imagining of the tablet, much as it describes Windows 8 as the re-imagining of Windows. Of course, that brings up an interesting question: What about those "other" Windows 8 tablets?
After all, Windows 8 is expected to launch this fall on an assortment of different tablets. A slew of companies including Dell, Nokia, Lenovo, Acer and Asus have already publicly committed to building Windows 8 tablets either running Windows RT or on Intel chipsets.
Part of the reason we expected to see a more media-centric tablet approach from Microsoft was because it seemed unlikely that the software behemoth would compete against its own partners.
Yet with Surface, that's exactly what the company is doing.
We can't imagine that Microsoft's hardware partners are too pleased with this news. After all, not only do the manufacturers have to compete with one another, they now have to contend with Microsoft.
Moreover, Microsoft isn't doing a standard Windows 8 tablet implementation it's creating what it dubs the "premiere" Windows 8 experience. This means top-notch hardware with carefully designed details. It means innovative accessories such as the Touch and Type Covers and the Windows Pro pen.
So what does all this mean for OEMs?
Makes the Windows 8 Tablet a Harder Sell
Truthfully, we've never seen a clear-cut incentive for Windows 8 tablets at least for hardware makers.
Last week, reports out of Asia indicated that Microsoft could be charging as much as $85 per tablet to license Windows 8 RT.
Tablet manufacturers are already struggling with margins on Android-based tablets and Google doesn't charge a licensing fee for Android. An $85 Windows 8 RT fee per unit could mean that tablet makers have to jack up the price on a similarly spec'd device or accept thinner profits margins.
Now that Microsoft will be selling its own Windows 8 hardware, the decision for OEMs becomes even more difficult. After all, is it worth investing in a low-margin product if your software partner is offering its own variant?
Even for companies that do decide to release Windows 8 tablets now that Microsoft is going to be competing, will that change the marketing strategy?
An Unclear Future
I fully expect Microsoft's biggest hardware partners to assert that Surface will have no impact on its Windows 8 hardware strategies. Still, it would be naive to think that there will be no fallout from this decision.
In the short term, the most immediate effect is that all future Windows 8 tablet announcements will immediately be compared with Surface. Inevitably, those comparisons will place all non-Surface Windows 8 tablets in a "second-tier" or "also-ran" category.
Perhaps there is room in the Windows 8 tablet ecosystem for both kinds of devices. Perhaps Microsoft's hardware partners are willing to play second fiddle to the main attraction that is Surface.
I don't know how the Windows 8 tablet OEM situation will pan out, but I am willing to make a prediction. I predict that within one year of Surface's release, Surface will be the de facto Windows 8 tablet experience. Other variations from various OEMs might exist for business or education customers, but the third-party Windows 8 tablet market will largely cease to exist.
Do you think Windows 8 OEM tablets can compete with Surface? In the comments, let us know.