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Microsoft’s new Surface tablet isn’t the first time that Redmond has moved into the hardware arena. The result: Some wins, but even more fails.
Redmond's Track Record on Hardware
Monday, in a launch event preceded by secrecy and speculation, Microsoft introduced a family of tablets to take on Apple’s iPad head-to-head. It’s big news, and so far reaction to the Surface tablets has generally been positive.
That’s not to say Surface is a slam dunk. Redmond has made ill-advised hardware decision before. Let's look at some past Microsoft hardware successes and failures, starting with the good news.
Win: Kinect Motion-Sensing Input Device (2010)
This innovative motion-sensing input device for the Xbox 360 allows users to control and interact with the game console without having to touch a game controller.
Practical applications of the device, however, have grown far beyond games. Users have developed all sorts of innovative Kinect hacks to do things such as find lost keys or a cell phone, park a car, and help treat patients with phantom limb syndrome.
Win: Xbox 360 Game Console (2005)
The Xbox 360 has been the best-selling game console worldwide in 2012, proof that the Xbox platform remains a big win for Redmond.
With exclusive game franchises like Halo, innovative peripherals like the Kinect, and access to your favorite media services, the Xbox 360 is a fantastic piece of tech.
Win: Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 (2005)
Microsoft scored a major success with this ultracomfortable keyboard, introduced in 2005.
The 4000's gable design corrects faulty hand positioning with center keys that are oversize to compensate for how frequently they get used. The keys on each side sit in a concave configuration to help the typist reduce repetitive motions.
The keyboard also includes dedicated keys for launching applications, a convenient zoom button, and an array of customizable buttons.
Win: Microsoft SideWinder Joysticks (1999)
Back in 1999, Microsoft SideWinder joysticks helped create an affordable gaming experience.
"The Sidewinder series was released as a companion to the Microsoft flight simulator games, to compete in a space where guys like Saitek, Thrustmaster, and Logitech's joysticks were really expensive," says Geek.com's Russell Holly. "These joysticks were priced in between the really expensive joysticks and the lower-quality gamepads."
Flop: Kin Phones (2010)
Called (shortly after its demise) "one of the worst-designed products of all time," Microsoft's Kin One and Kin Two (shown here) were more powerful than feature phones, but less powerful than smartphones. Unfortunately, they were priced closer to smartphones.
As a result, though initial reviews were mixed, sales were dismal. After only two months, Microsoft gave the Kins the axe.
Flop: Windows Slate With Windows 7 (2010)
HP, Fujitsu, Dell, Motion, Samsung, and ViewSonic all have released Windows 7 tablets, with limited success. "The challenge with Windows 7 is that it's based on the same paradigm as 1985--it's really an interface that's optimized for a mouse and keyboard," said Howard Locker, Lenovo's director of new technology, after the company scrapped its plans to build a Windows 7 tablet in 2010. "It has to be optimized for touch."
In 2010 Microsoft's Steve Ballmer relaunched the UMPC (described in next slide) as the Slate PC, the intention being to promote tablets running Windows 7 and to beat Apple's iPad to the punch. In this instance, however, having a head start didn’t pan out for Microsoft.
Flop: Tablet PC (2002); UMPC (2006)
Tablets are far from a new product field for Microsoft. In 2002, the company announced the Tablet PC (shown here), built with an electromagnetic screen that let users write or draw on it with a digital pen.
In 2006 the company announced its ultramobile personal computer (UMPC) initiative, wherein smaller Windows tablets became touch-centric.
Did anyone buy either of these products?
Flop: Windows Home Server (2007)
Although Windows Home Server is software, we include it on this list to honor the many consumers who found that trying to use their home server with this software was too darn complicated, even though it brought them such desirable features as home file-sharing, automated backups, a print server, and remote access.
In 2010, Hewlett-Packard decided to retire a line of servers carrying the Windows Home Server OS.
And while folks continued to give Windows Home Server the cold shoulder, services such as Google Cloud Print, Dropbox, and Microsoft's own SkyDrive came along to render the Microsoft product unnecessary--except for cloud-wary geeks who enjoy tinkering with network setup options.
If that describes you, you might want to give Windows Home Server 2011 a try.
Image: The Acer RevoCenter with Windows Home Server 2011.
Flop: Zune Music Player (2006)
Microsoft launched the Zune music players and Marketplace to challenge Apple's iPod and iTunes. However, several months later, Apple launched the iPhone, a widescreen iPod that could also make phone calls and surf the Web.
Though experts considered the Zune and its successors (like the Zune HD) to be great music players, the devices just didn't catch on. In 2011, Microsoft announced that it would discontinue the Zune hardware to concentrate on Windows Phone.
Flop: MSN Direct Smart Watch, aka the SPOT Watch (2003)
Bill Gates unveiled these watches to the world at the Consumer Electronics Show. Made by Tissot, Suunto, and Fossil, they could display information such as news, stock quotes, weather, traffic, and restaurant guides.
Unfortunately, they were bulky (as watches go), and the information they offered was available in more convenient form from other devices, such as cell phones. Watchmakers eventually jumped ship--and in 2009 Microsoft announced that it would discontinue the service.
Flop: WebTV (Renamed MSN TV When Purchased by Microsoft in 1997)
In the mid-1990s, WebTV aimed to bring the Internet to people's TV sets via a subscription service, a set-top box, a remote, and a keyboard. It was a product ahead of its time.
Microsoft bought WebTV in 1997, but the service (and hardware) never got much traction with consumers. Microsoft subsequently changed the brand name to MSN TV, but it no longer sells any related hardware--though it does support customers who have kept their subscriptions.