Two years before Microsoft's Hardware Group was created, the company released its first hardware product. In 1980, Microsoft rolled out the Z-80 Softcard, a plug-in card for the Apple II computer. The card enabled Apple II users to run Digital Research's CP/M operating system and supporting software.
In 1983, a year after the Hardware Group was formed, Microsoft released its first PC-compatible mouse, aptly named the Microsoft Mouse. Over the past decades, Microsoft has continued to refine the mouse design.
While Microsoft engineers continued to refine the mouse, they also started looking at the keyboard. In 1994, the company unveiled its first Natural, an ergonomically designed keyboard that had keys slanted in a way to help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. Microsoft has since released upgraded Natural keyboards, including wireless designs.
The next leap forward for Microsoft's mouse efforts was the Microsoft IntelliMouse with IntelliEye and IntelliMouse Explorer, which was introduced in 1999. It wasn't the first optical mouse invented, but it was the first one to be commercially successful. Microsoft has since expanded on its designs.
Microsoft introduced the first Xbox game console in 2001, and four years later came out with the Xbox 360, still the most popular game console in the market. However, thanks to an overall weakness in the game console market, the Xbox business unit lost $229 million in the first three months of 2012, on $1.6 billion in sales.
Microsoft's stab at offering an iPod-like portable media player finally flamed out in 2011, after five years of trying. Microsoft then turned its focus to Windows Phone. However, the Zune name had lived on for the digital media player software for Windows systems, as well as for streaming services to Xbox consoles and a music subscription service (Zune Music Pass). In early June, Microsoft officials announced they were phasing out the Zune brand altogether.
Microsoft introduced the first LifeCam Webcam in 2007, and has improved upon the original design since, as seen in this photo of the Lifecam Studio, which offers a high-definition camera, among other features.
For two years, starting in 2008, Microsoft engineers worked furiously on the Courier, a book-style tablet featuring two touch-screens bound together by a central hinge. However, the project died a harsh death in 2010 after several prototypes were developed. According to an unnamed Microsoft employee who worked on the project, Microsoft founder Bill Gates had an "allergic reaction" to the concept, which sealed its fate.
Microsoft's Kin smartphones had a similar end to that of the Courier, though the phones did hit the open market, however briefly. The devices, launched in 2010, were aimed at teenagers and young adults obsessed with social networking, and Microsoft did an advertising blitz when it released the smartphones. However, the Kin devices were yanked off the market after about two months.
Launched in late 2010, the Kinect—Microsoft's hands-free device for the Xbox 360—became a hot-selling item, selling some 10 million units in its first four months, outpacing such hot devices as Apple's iPhone and iPad. Kinect not only was a popular technology, but also one of several avenues for Microsoft's aggressive push into natural user interfaces.
Before this month's launch of the Surface tablet, Microsoft had another piece of hardware carrying the name—the Surface tabletop computing device with touch-screen capabilities. Microsoft in 2011 showed off the Surface 2.0, a system designed by Microsoft and built by Samsung Electronics.
Arc Touch Mouse
In 2010, Microsoft introduced its latest in mouse designs, the wireless Arc Touch mouse. The stylish device's features include Microsoft's BlueTrack for use on rough surfaces like wood and carpet and the ability to use it up to 30 feet away from the computer. It also can be curved for use—with users gliding their fingers up and down the scroll pad—and then flattened to be turned off and easily stored.
Microsoft's new company-branded tablets will come in two models—one for the upcoming Windows 8 operating system, the other for Windows RT, the version that runs on ARM's architecture. Both are expected to be released to manufacturing this summer, with general availability possibly as early as August.