Recently both Microsoft and Google have come out with devices that are self-branded. These moves solidify a trend coming from the big three that changes the way that the major players in the computer industry promote their products. Apple has been doing this for years, and for many years, they remained one of the only technology companies to do so.
By the 1990’s, computer companies began switching from developing all of their hardware and software in-house as was popular in the 1980’s to producing products via a number of companies. This strategy had a number of benefits, solely the lowered cost and time it took to develop a product. If you had a consortium of companies that built their hardware to run your system, then mass collaboration could take place developing all aspects of the computer at once. Yet, Apple avoided this policy, and it almost destroyed their company.
Their company was saved through products that once became popular locked users into that company’s offerings to get the most out of your iPod, iPad, or Mac. It only made more sense that the user experience would be better from the company that produced the product, their software and systems would work together seamlessly. No need to download additional drivers or suffer the inevitable upgrade that breaks everything. That is one of the main benefits of in-house development – the level of control that you have not only over the customers that use your products but even more importantly today the overall user experience. It’s a win-win for the producer. The better experience brings more customers who must use only that company’s products to obtain the quality experience. Now, the other major players (Microsoft and Google) had found themselves in an interesting situation. People were beginning to define their products by the brand. Nobody really cared if they used a Compaq versus a Gateway. If it’s a PC, then it’s pretty much going to be the same experience.
That leads us to the second major benefit of in-house development, the one that I believe is leading this trend of companies pushing for self-branded products. Products built in-house often times work better than their collaboratively-produced cousins. This experience is something Apple has tried incredibly hard to maintain in their products, and in the case of Microsoft and Google this experience factor was showing it’s edge over the competition. Microsoft was notorious for having slow, often crippled software, often caused by the hardware on which the system was installed. Google’s Android system worked great on the really good phones and tablets, yet seemed broken on weaker devices.
When a user decides how much they like a product, who are they going to blame for shortcomings? Since Apple has become a major player in the industry and the media has focused more on what Microsoft and Google were doing in response to the seemingly more successful company, people are more likely to blame Microsoft and Google for shortcomings in the devices on which their systems are installed. Google may have nothing to do with a cheap phone that had Android slapped on it, their reputation is still hurt by the product’s performance.
Now Microsoft and Google have taken steps to build products that display their name, not only to compete with Apple but to engage the public in showing that their products are just as good, if not better, than the Apple offerings. Google cooperated with Asus in developing the Nexus 7, yet their cooperation with Asus was much closer, much more intimate than that of normal OEM operations. Microsoft went truly in-house when developing Surface, and perhaps the quality of the device will be enough to show that when developed in-house, Microsoft can create some pretty amazing products.
What I find most interesting about this trend is that it does break with tradition and bring the focus back on the company who’s software is on the device. Following public perception about who is responsible for creating the products, Microsoft and Google have been working on product offerings aimed at showing that they can create amazing products, especially when not left to the workings of unsupervised OEMs. It will certainly be interesting to see how this trend effects not only OEMs, but the major corporations as well. I personally believe that when a company’s reputation is at stake in their own device, there is a larger amount of risk than that of an OEM produced product. There’s only one company to blame — and that company is themselves.