Now that Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) has introduced the Surface tablet, we're talking about a "new" Mr. Softy that's converted to Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) vertical integration religion.

Maybe that's true. But even if it is, Microsoft was copying elements of Apple's iPad strategy years before anyone had heard of Surface. Don't believe me? Rewind to 2009, when Microsoft first announced plans to open a network of retail stores. Today, there are 26 stores across 15 states and Puerto Rico.

I'll be the first to admit that I wasn't a fan of the original idea, if only because it sounded like a tone-deaf attempt to show off Windows rather than engage consumers who might be interested in Microsoft's digital-entertainment products. As I said at the time:

 "So, Microsoft's retail stores will help show off ... Windows? That's a funny way of expressing Apple envy; the iEmpire's own stores are designed for playing with Macs, iPhones, and iPods."

Now think about where we are today. Microsoft, like Apple, has used stores to engage with consumers as it rolls out new phones, game consoles, and finally tablets. Surface isn't Microsoft's copycat play here; retail is. And it's brilliant.

By seeding big markets with stores, Microsoft has positioned itself to win just as Apple has. Consumers will show up and play with the tablet. Get enough to fall in love, and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) -- which relies on not only Samsung and Asus but also Best Buy (NYSE: BBY) to generate enthusiasm for its Android products -- has a big problem.

I've had a losing underperform CAPScall on Microsoft since January. I'm ending that today and opening a new call, this time a three-year outperform based on Mr. Softy's expanding retail strategy. A broader footprint will not only promote the Surface -- to the detriment of Android tabs, I'm afraid -- but also help Nokia (NYSE: NOK) in its quest to boost Windows Phone sales while aiding consumers who need the occasional PC repair.

Think I'm right? Wrong? Either way, mobile devices such as the new Surface are changing how we think about connecting and commerce. Our top tech analysts call the shift "The Next Trillion-Dollar Revolution," and they've created a report that singles out the one stock they believe will benefit most. Their research is yours for the asking but only for a limited time. Get a copy of the report -- it's totally free.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He owned shares of Apple and Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's Web home, portfolio holdings, and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Google+ or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

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