Following the news that Microsoft will be moving into hardware production with its upcoming Surface tablet, there’s been a lot of talk about whether or not the tablet is just the start of an all-new, all-round Microsoft model that will more closely resemble Apple, with the company taking on both software and hardware development and production for a number of products. In particular, much speculative scuttlebutt has been spent on the subject of whether or not Microsoft – having conquered how to make a tablet – will go smaller and start manufacturing its own phone hardware. Thankfully, someone thought to actually ask someone at Microsoft, and the answer they received was fairly definitive.
When InformationWeek’s Paul McDougall asked Greg Sullivan, the senior marketing manager for Windows Phone, whether or not Microsoft had plans to move towards creating the hardware for a new phone, his answer was short but sweet: “No, we do not.” As if to underscore the surprisingly unvague response, Sullivan explained that “We have a strong ecosystem of partners that we are very satisfied with,” pointing to HTC, Nokia, Samsung and Huawei, and suggesting that Microsoft simply has no need to move into phone hardware manufacturing as a result of that ecosystem.
(What the construction and release of Surface means about Microsoft’s relationship with other PC and tablet manufacturers like HP and Dell remains to be seen, but let’s take Sullivan’s response at face value and not go reading in problems with the company’s other partners. Although, if you happen to work at HP, Dell or other Microsoft partners in the PC manufacturing business and can reach out to the company to check that everything’s okay, you might want to take the chance, just in case.)
That denial flies in the face of a note released last week by Nomura analyst Rick Sherlund, who told investors that Microsoft has a deal with a manufacturer to produce its own Windows Phone 8 devices. While he hedged bets as to whether or not it was a consumer device or some kind of reference platform for internal use, Sherlund’s note did express that he “would not be surprised if Microsoft were to decide to bring their own handset to market next year.”
While Sullivan’s response may seem uncharacteristically clear – Don’t companies normally offer some variation on “No comment” when faced with questions like this, just to ensure wiggle room at some distant point in the future when current plans have changed? – it doesn’t necessarily force Microsoft into a world where it can never offer its own phone hardware; after all, he didn’t say that the company would never manufacture its own phones, just that there aren’t any plans right at the moment when he was asked – and plans, as we know, have a way of changing when you least expect it…