Wednesday, 26/10/2016 | 2:12 UTC+8
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When software giants covet hardware

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[dropcap]F[/dropcap]acebook’s been angling for its own smartphone, Microsoft spent US$1billion promoting its Surface tablet, and Google has the $1,300 Chromebook Pixel. What’s with these software companies getting into hardware?

Maybe they all want to be like Apple. The Mac, iPad, and iPhone manufacturer has always made both hardware and software for their products. The integrated systems have been successful, even if outsiders are crying out saying that Apple’s ways are draconian and closed. But it is sure hard to argue against Apple’s net worth.

In the case of Microsoft, they have repeatedly stated that they are now a devices and services company. The services part—mostly the cloud-focused Office 365 solutions and things like Skype and SkyDrive—we get. The devices part? Well, that seems new. Sure, they’ve made mice and keyboards, and the Xbox is certainly a device. Okay, they made the Zune media player (remember that?) and the Kin messaging phone, although those have been long buried.

But the fervor with which Microsoft is pushing the Surface RT and the Surface Pro is unprecedented. Despite the flack received by the Surface RT, it is a laudable effort and a stellar piece of hardware. But it isn’t for everyone, especially at the price they are selling it. Also, customers shouldn’t have to pay extra for that fancy keyboard cover.

The Surface Pro, a real Windows 8 pro computer that runs all Windows 7 applications, competes with various devices from Windows OEMs like Lenovo, Asus, Acer, HP, Gateway, Toshiba, and many others.

It’s easy to see the Surface Pro as living proof that Microsoft doesn’t think too highly of its OEM partners, or at least feels that they can create a proper Windows 8 device better. Google has also stepped up and created its own notebook. The audaciously expensive Chromebook Pixel seems to have out-Appled MacBook Pro with Retina display.

The Chromebook Pixel is a cloud notebook that runs a browser operating system, has minimum built-in storage, and requires constant connection to the internet to be of any real use. To many people, it doesn’t make sense, especially with a mind-numbing $1,300 price tag.

Could Google be testing the hardware waters? How long before we have cheaper Chromebooks and Googlebranded tablets not made by OEMs such as Asus, Samsung, or HTC? Google already owns Motorola, so one would expect a true flagship Android phone from them. But that hasn’t happened yet.

Google is generally unpredictable, so there’s no telling what they will get into next. If they want to push Chrome beyond where it is today, then we can expect more Chromebooks. But prices have to be affordable.

As for Facebook, they seem to have realized that their future is in mobile devices. They continue to improve their smartphone apps and make them available to all mobile operating systems. But they seem to be hellbent on a proper Facebook smartphone. Why?

The easy answer is that Facebook sees life beyond the timeline, and plans to expand their applications and services ecosystem. Expect Facebook to slowly get into Skype’s face and become the key chat, voice, and video communications platform. They have already introduced VoIP functionality in the US and Canada on the iOS and Android Facebook mobile apps.

(Dipping its toes in mobile devices, Facebook partnered with HTC to launch Facebook Home, its dedicated Android homescreen, on the pioneering HTC First smartphone. Facebook has also updated its mobile apps to offer Home and Chat Heads across all Android devices. -Ed.)

In order for these companies to be able to control the experience better and engage their users, they need to integrate software, services, and hardware. The question is, “Can they pull it off?”

Words Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla 

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