Microsoft’s new Surface is aiming to reinvent the Tablet PC; but what separates it from the competition?
Since the arrival of the iPad, tablets have been used primarily for companion or entertainment purposes. However, the Windows tablets that came years earlier were built for productivity, but were plagued with a terrible touch interface; expensive, bulky, and with poor battery life. While iPad and Android devices quickly shed the bad rap of Windows Tablet PCs and rose to prominence, along with it they shed the potential to get serious work done. Sure, you can buy an add-on keyboard, but this is merely a stopgap measure that hits a roadblock as soon as you need powerful software such as Office and Photoshop.
Windows and the tablet form factor: Can they finally get along?
Microsoft looks to change all of this with the recent announcement of their Surface Tablet. At first I was skeptical – the clumsy Windows tablets of old are enough to bring back nightmares.
However, the advances in hardware cleanly bridges the gaps between both worlds: PC power (and full Windows Software) with an iPad interface and thin form factor. Microsoft is taking the only route left available, giving tablet users essential productivity tools like Windows 8 and MS Office with a thin physical keyboard and touchpad (with and without tactile keys, that doubles as a cover) to back it up. A tough, magnesium case and built-in kickstand eliminate the need for expensive, bulky cases. These are great innovations, and along with borrowed elements such as a magnetic cover and magsafe-style power cord, the Surface is Microsoft’s answer to both the iPad and Ultrabook.
Partners in crime or new-found competitors?
What does this mean for Microsoft’s partners? After all, Microsoft has a long history of licensing its software across a wide range of companies, and amidst much secrecy (so far as being developed in an underground bunker), has sideswiped everyone by announcing their own in-house Tablet PC. Acer was first to voice their disdain, believing Surface will fail, according to their Senior VP for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Oliver Ahrens. “I don’t think it will be successful…they open a new battlefield”, he states.
However, looking at past attempts by Microsoft partners, is this really a bad thing? HP’s failed WebOS tablet; Dell’s discontinued Streak; Acer’s lackluster Icona tablets, playing second fiddle to Samsung and Asus (also Microsoft Partners), who in turn to Amazon’s Kindle Fire. And the last thing we need is another has-been imitator; the battleground is littered with the ghosts of tablets past. If anything, Surface gives partners a solid reference design to work from, while avoiding the fragmentation issues of Android, who never had a reference Google tablet, made by Google, to start with (the Xoom and Nexus 7 are Google tablets but made by Motorola and Asus, respectively).
Will the premium price turn away the price-conscious?
With new tablets such as the new Google Nexus 7 pushing half the price (or less) as the iPad, will consumers be able to justify premium price of Surface? After all, the cheapest option is rumored to be the Windows RT version at $599, which is $100 more than the lowest capacity iPad. The x86 model will command at least a $200 premium over that. At this point, Apple’s foothold on the tablet market, at least for the 10″ form factor, seems to be pretty solid.
My thoughts are that for Surface to succeed at such a high price point, Microsoft will need to market it heavily as a genuine laptop replacement. Only then will the investment seem justified to the typical consumer, as I don’t know a single person who has completely replaced their Laptop with an iPad or Android. Marketing Surface, even the RT version, as simply a companion device would surely lead to an early demise.
The Surface is out to redefine the Tablet market with an iPad-like device that boasts Office over Angry Birds, and a second Ultrabook killer (their x86 model) which has a similar form factor, running full Windows 8. Microsoft is banking on people wanting to rest easy leaving their laptop at home, knowing that essential programs are always on hand. Provided they can drum up enough developer support for tablet apps, I believe Surface will be a strong third player in the space – unlike Windows phone OS, which only has 4% of the Smartphone market, greatly trailing even troubled RIM according to the latest Comscore Smartphone Platform Report.
What do you think of Microsoft’s upcoming Surface? Are you planning to buy one, and would you trade both your iPad and laptop for the all-in-one device? Feel free to sound off in the comments and poll below.