“Microsoft is not, and never will be, a hardware company.”

That’s one of the quotes from a slide deck put together by Charlie Kindel, the former Windows Phone general manager turned entrepreneur who spoke last night about the “Future of Mobile” during an event at ThinkSpace in Redmond.

Kindel was referring in part to Microsoft Surface, the company’s upcoming tablet computer. He pointed out that Microsoft’s sales of the device will be a small fraction of its overall business and of the PC industry as a whole.

So why is the company making the tablet?

Charlie Kindel

“It is a North Star for the rest of the PC industry,” he said. “That is why Microsoft is building Surface. They are not building Surface to be a business. They are building it for the same reason they built the Microsoft Store. Think of it as a marketing expense. It shows the rest of the industry what is possible and how to do it right.”

That view was reinforced this morning, sorta, as Sony unveiled a new Xperia Tablet S with a keyboard similar to Microsoft Surface — but running Android, not Windows 8.

Kindel said he is bullish on the Surface as a device, enough to advise his wife to hold off on buying an iPad until she has a chance to experience what Microsoft has developed.

Kindel’s talk covered a wide range of topics, including his view that “apps are dead” — destined to be replaced over time by “experiences powered by services.” For more see the slides and archived video on his blog.

Post updated to reflect a revision in Kindel’s slide deck.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline


  • Guest

    Hallelujah! I’m glad Charlie is on board with the death of apps. Most of the “apps” on my phone and tablet should not be applications, but rather services which augment my existing experiences. Ironically, such services remain an underused feature of Mac OS X: tucked away in the little Apple menu in the upper-left corner, even power users don’t understand what they can do. Perhaps Microsoft can show the world the future of applicating.

    In short, I want the device of the future to let apps run almost invisibly so I can get work done in new and innovative ways.

    • guest

      “Perhaps Microsoft can show the world the future of applicating.”
      Or not…
      Kindel said. “And I have bunch of things I can say about Steve Ballmer. A lot of them aren’t very positive. But he is a very smart man.

      • http://twitter.com/MobileHudson MobileHudson

        Hello Guest…if that is your real name – that is an arbitrary quote. If you were not there then it is easily out of context. I was there and that statement was perfectly legitimate.

        Someone had asked Charlie to speculate on the direction, plans, and strategies of Microsoft. You left off – paraphrased “I don’t know, but the decisions will be fiscally responsible and smart…”

        • Guest

          Obviously guest isnt my real name. If i felt like using the latter i would. And that was the quote I thought was relevant, in full. WRT Ballmer restricting himself to just decisions which are fiscally responsible and smart, I don’t know the context for that, but I’m quite sure CK is as aware as I and everyone else is that there’s abundant evidence to the contrary. aQuantive comes to mind, if you’re looking for a recent example.

          • Bob

            Yeah, Charlie is aware of them. He even put the Xbox “success” into context by talking about how losses hit $10b at one stage, which is a full $2b more than I’ve even seen reported publicly and means the whole exercise is still deeply lifetime unprofitable despite recent profits.

  • guest

    I guess Charlie is talking about their essential DNA. Because otherwise they’ve offered hardware as well as software for a good part of their history (with mixed results), as he’s surely aware. Some would point out that their software prowess is no longer a given either, but that’s another conversation.

    I think he’s right that Surface isn’t a business. But then most of Ballmer’s new initiatives haven’t been, so not much risk in that conclusion. Not sure he’s correct about Surface being a “North Star”. That might be accurate, but it seems it’s also a “shame OEMs into making sure they offer innovative Windows-based products and not just Android or Chrome ones”. Finally, “never” is a long time. If MS’s previous lock on OEMs continues to dissolve at the alarming rate it has been, and economics keep changing in favor of a large veritically integrated supplier, MS will have no choice but to consider a more direct hardware move. Same thing if W8 lands with a thud, which from what I’ve seen is a distinct possibility.

  • http://twitter.com/mattoperry Matt Perry

    I’m a complete outsider but the sentiment “this is not a business” sounds too-close to a sort of built-in excuse that could be produced when this particular “business” fails. What rational company launches a product line while thinking, basically: “we don’t expect this to succeed, and it’s okay if it doesn’t as long as it influences the broader market” Guess what? If Surface fails, no one will care why — all the world will see is the big bag of crap that MSFT will be left holding if this does not go well.

    Who’s to say that if and when OEMs begin to smell blood in the waters surrounding Surface, that they just don’t just reject the whole exercise, and take their hardware in whatever direction makes sense for them?

    Everything hinges on whether Surface succeeds on its own merits or not. And coming out with an idea like this — that it’s “not a business” … doesn’t make any sense. MSFT should be throwing their full weight and credit behind this product, and fighting like a wounded badger to make sure that it wins in very real ways.

    Am I missing something?

    • guest

      “Am I missing something?”
      Yes, you’re trying to assess a Steve Ballmer decision using logic.

    • http://www.getsoundline.com/ Michael Cramer

      It already is a success in my mind. Even if the surface device itself does not turn out to work well. Its the idea, the spirit of the thing that is the gold mine here. It’s the holy grail of computing, consume and edit/create the same files as on your desktop. It was the same direction as the laptop. It’s the logical progression to smaller, more efficient. And for a lot of people I imagine this could be their only device they hookup to big monitors and a real keyboard when they get to the office. I think this is what they mean when they say its not a business. I don’t think anyone wants to make the argument that people don’t want to take all of their work with them when they leave the office (obviously with good work/home balance of course).

  • http://twitter.com/WaveRunnr WaveRunnr

    I guess you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Charlie is talking about the old Microsoft. The new Microsoft emulates the most successful tech company on the planet: Apple. As a result, they have their hands in just about everything, including hardware.

  • John Nelson

    I am holding an event next week on Windows 8 Mobile, surface will be discussed in detail. Seattle tech community is welcome.


  • Rob

    Whether or not the Surface succeeds doesn’t matter, not to Microsoft. All that matters is if Windows 8 tablets succeed. And the whole point of the Surface was to increase the chances of Windows 8 succeeeding.

Job Listings on GeekWork