Microsoft’s Surface Tablet is Confused

21 November 2012
By Dmitry Bagrov, Senior Vice President of European Business, Head of London Office

As Microsoft reveals prices for its Surface tablet, the concerns for the fate of the product grow bigger and bigger in the technical community. The product’s basic price is on the iPad’s level and to get the cover that serves as a keyboard a customer is expected to shell out even more.

Thus, as long as the price would not be an advantage there should be something else Microsoft should offer to beat the competition. But what might it be? Surface runs Windows RT which is not compatible with the desktop version of Windows application-wise, so the iPad would even have a better ecosystem. Besides, using desktop applications in tablet format, while at a first glance sounding attractive always has been a nightmare. This was shown pretty well by Microsoft’s own early experiments in the tablet market with Tablet PC platform.

What’s even more disturbing is that it’s not very clear what particular target audience and use cases are being considered by the new device. Looks like Redmond is trying to tell us – ‘Look, our product is a tablet, but it’s also a notebook, you can use it on the go and set it on your desk, too. Isn’t it amazing?’ Might sound so, but it is not.

We heard it all before in the times of Tablet PCs. What in theory was a universal solution in practice was just a frankensteinean device full of compromises, a thing that did everything but not in a quite right or convenient way. It was almost like the adult three-wheeled bicycles of the old times. You could ride them if you wanted to, you could use them as transport if you needed to prove this is possible, but it was not convenient or productive at all, even if amusing. If we continue with this analogy, what Apple later did was getting rid of the third wheel and inventing the bike in its modern form, making it practical, as well as defining the field of usage for this kind of device, a niche between traveling in a serious vehicle, such as a carriage, a bus, or a car and walking.

What Microsoft does now is almost like coming back and saying – yeah, we get it. This new concept is awesome and we will make it even more so. Now you can have a roof on your bike so you can use it almost like a car, and just for the sake of safety we are giving you re-designed hi-tech 3rd wheel, too. 2-wheeled construction is too unsafe to use, isn’t it?

The device is trying to be everything for everyone, a mobile, a desktop, and your best buddy. It’s just as good as having your cake and eating it too. But did it ever work?

Microsoft history shows it didn’t. Having a price advantage could somehow help to solve the problem with targeting by just forcing device onto the market and then hoping users will figure it out how to use it best. Without said advantage the fate of the Surface is very questionable. It might very well repeat the grim story of BlackBerry Playbook and HP Touchpad – two very well-built devices that even had technical advantages over iPad but never had a clue how they can make themselves actually helpful.

Still, the tablet market needs competition, that’s for sure. Apple is there big time, but the maps gaffe shows that it is too, unfortunately, not infallible. It looked in fact more like Microsoft strategy: release a product which is half-ready, and then slowly built it up to acceptable standards. And if Apple is going Microsoft-style, perhaps we will Microsoft going in Apple-way?

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