I’ve been critical of the ways that Microsoft has both sold and marketed its Surface RT tablet but I’ve never second-guessed the company’s decision to upset its own manufacturing partners by building its own hardware for its Surface tablets. If you’re curious why this is the case, look no further than the Acer Iconia W3, the world’s first 8-inch Windows 8 tablet that is getting positively savaged by reviewers this week.
And when I say “savaged,” I don’t mean people are just saying that it’s not as good as the iPad — I mean they’re saying that the tablet “is a device that shouldn’t exist” (Ars Technica’s Peter Bright), that its “hardware sucks” (The Verge’s Tom Warren) and that it has an “infuriatingly poor screen” (Supersite for Windows’ Paul Thurrott). In fact, the Iconia W3’s reception has been so poor that Acer is reportedly already planning to stop selling the device in favor of a newer model that could launch as soon as September.
Why is this such a big deal, you ask? Well, Microsoft’s partners — including Acer — have been sniping at the company ever since it decided to get into the hardware business. In some ways this is understandable since many OEMs are having a tough enough time making money in the current market without having to also fend off competition from their own software partner. On the other hand, one of the reasons that Microsoft decided to make its own hardware in the first place was because it didn’t want to risk having a company such as Acer lob out a third-rate effort that would unfairly damage public perceptions of Windows RT and Windows 8.
Obviously, it didn’t work out the way that Microsoft planned since the company recently had to write off $900 million due to excess Surface RT inventory. But at the same time, while the Surface RT was certainly a flawed device in many ways, it was not an obvious half-assed rush job like the Iconia W3. What’s particularly infuriating about the Iconia W3 is that Microsoft has kept itself on the sidelines when it comes to making smaller 8-inch tablets so far, which in theory gave Acer the perfect opportunity to show the world that it can make top-notch smaller Windows tablets capable of competing with the iPad mini and the Nexus 7. If the Iconia W3 is a sign of what’s to come from Microsoft’s partners, though, then they really shouldn’t get upset when Microsoft releases a “Surface mini” sometime over the next year.