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Microsoft boss confirms more hardware on the way

As it sets the stage to release its first branded tablet, the Surface, Steve Ballmer says that the software giant will develop yet more gadgetry.

Josh Miller/CNET

Microsoft's top brass confirmed that the software giant turned tablet maker plans to develop and build more devices.

Speaking to the BBC News' technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones, Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer said that the company, which will later today debut the Windows 8-powered Surface tablet, will build more devices under its name. (CNET will be live-blogging Microsoft's New York event later this morning.)

Is it fair to say we're going to do more hardware? Obviously we are. We did our first piece of non-Xbox hardware when we launch the Surface. Where we see important opportunities to set a new standard, yeah, we'll dive in.

ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley also wondered whether Microsoft could be planning a 7-inch tablet alongside the bevy of existing smaller, more petite tablets, including the newly unveiled, 7.9-inch Apple iPad Mini. During a recent Reddit "Ask me Anything," the Surface team did not flat-out deny that the software giant would make a "Surface mini," but equally did not confirm anything either.

In recent weeks, there has been continued speculation that the software giant may distance itself from its pact with Nokia -- the two companies have a partnership to build Windows Phone-powered Lumia handsets -- to build its own branded smartphone.

Although Ballmer did not mention by name an already dubbed "Surface phone" when asked by the BBC, he hinted:

We have committed ourselves on a path where we will do whatever is required from both a hardware and a software perspective -- and the cloud innovation perspective -- in order to propel the kind of vision that [Microsoft] has.

Despite the rock-solid relationship between the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant and the Finnish phone maker, Microsoft is also eyeing partnerships with rival firms, including HTC.

But existing Microsoft partners and rival tablet makers have already warned the software giant from expanding to the hardware building industry.

When the Surface was announced in June, Taiwanese PC maker Acer's chief executive JT Wang warned Microsoft to "think twice" and rethink the move to compete in the tablet space.

Wang was quoted as saying: "If Microsoft is going to do hardware business, what should we do? Should we still rely on Microsoft, or should we find other alternatives?"

An earlier report quoted Acer founder Stan Shih as saying that Microsoft "has no real intention to sell own-brand tablet PCs," something which Ballmer appeared to contradict in the BBC interview.

Microsoft has a series of long-standing partnerships with tablet and PC makers, as ultimately Windows software powers them.

Other PC makers were less concerned by the move. Dell, for instance, which in recent years pulled the plug on its tablet endeavors some years ago after the failed Dell Streak tablet failed to take off, re-entered the market earlier this year in the run up to the launch of Windows 8.

Meanswhile Lenovo seemed unconcerned by the Surface tablet, claiming it would make "better hardware." According to Lenovo chief executive Yang Yuanqing during the firm's first quarter earnings call: "To be frank, we're not that worried about [Surface]. Microsoft is still our strategy partner. We are very optimistic on the Windows 8 launch so we will fully leverage that to launch our new products."

Tune in to CNET's live coverage of Microsoft's Windows 8 event today, starting at 7:45 a.m. PT.
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