Microsoft officially announced their Surface tablets yesterday. The tablets are available in two models, the cheaper ARM-based, Surface RT and the Intel i5-based Surface Pro. In true Microsoft fashion as of late they got a lot right, a lot wrong, and a lot of things Apple.
This thing looks good. The device is thin with no abrasive lines, or ugly accent colors. It’s simple, looks functional, and has a built-in kickstand. Which, if implemented on the iPad/iPhone, would eliminate a whole category of accessories.
2. Ports, ports, ports and storage
HMDI, Display port, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, these things have all the connectivity you could want in a tablet. Of course that depends on what version you buy (the RT only has USB 2.0). Also, storage varies from 32GB with the smallest Surface RT to 128GB in the largest Surface Pro.
3. The magnetic cover is awesome
The magnetic cover Microsoft debuted with the Microsoft Surface makes Apple’s Smart Cover look really, really stupid. It features a super-thin keyboard and multitouch trackpad. Apple’s Smart Cover is just a cover.
4. Fully functional Windows 8 applications on your tablet
It will potentially run all of your Windows 8 applications with ultrabook like performance depending on what version of The Surface you get. Adobe Creative Suite on your tablet? Check. Office Suite? Check.
5. A tablet to genuinely challenge the iPad:
Android tablets are Android tablets. Outside of the Transformer Prime not much is really exciting, and certainly nothing is in a position to directly challenge the iPad. Microsoft’s entry has the potential to be a legitimate challenger if for no other reason than Microsoft owns over 90% of the personal computing OS market share worldwide. Moving this to a functional tablet interface with Windows 8 and its Metro UI means less headaches for IT professionals.
1. The name
It’s called Surface Windows 8 Pro. This is bad. Even if Microsoft didn’t already have a line of multitouch tables called Surface this would be bad. It doesn’t scream tablet, it’s ambiguous, and nearly as bad as Apple’s MacBook Pro With Retina Display (guh).
2. Two different models
Microsoft pulled a Microsoft. Windows comes packaged in infinity flavors, and while they boiled it down to two models for their tablets the Surface RT and Surface Pro the models feature incompatible operating systems. The Surface RT is an ARM-based system with a lower resolution screen and runs a Metro version of Windows 8. The Surface Pro is an Intel i5 based tablet running the full version of Windows 8. Both versions feature different ports as well (Mircro HD vs Mini Display Port, USB 2.0 vs 3.0) and have different displays (full 1080p for the Surface Pro, not so much for the RT). However, their physical builds are nearly identical.
3. No word on price, release, and the app predicament
Microsoft’s presentation featured lots of buzzwords and grand ideas and a great piece of hardware, but no information on availability or price except that The Surface will be priced competitively. This is huge. The Surface RT will presumably be in the $500-$600 range based on its ARM architecture, but the specs of the Surface Pro rivals many $1,000 ultrabooks. Also, with an estimated release date later this fall, and even later for the Pro version, Microsoft gives Google and others a chance to undercut and beat them to market.
4. They wouldn’t let anyone use the awesome multitouch keyboard cover hybrid
This accessory looks awesome, but Microsoft wouldn’t let a soul on hand for the announcement actually touch the damn thing. Reports claim that Microsoft reps claimed they could type faster than 60wpm the first time they used the device. Yea, that’s fantastic, not let me touch it.
5. Buyer confusion, developer frustration
Microsoft’s release timeframe places The Surface RT coming out months before The Surface Pro. This wouldn’t be a huge deal except that both tablets share a surname and run incompatible operating systems. Seriously? Imagine if Apple announced the Retina Display iPad ran a different OS than the iPad 2. Yea this is that kind of stupid. The average consumer won’t know the difference, and will likely be peeved they can’t run the Windows programs they thought they could with the RT version compared to the Pro version. All of this is made worse by the fact both Surface models look nearly identical sans the thicker housing of the Pro model due to beefier internals.
The incompatible models mean developers have two tablets with incompatible operating systems they have to develop for. Does a developer make a Windows 8 application and optimize it for tablet use, or do they build a stand alone Metro tablet app or do they do both? Apple's iOS applications can run across multiple devices without problems. Microsoft's won't be able to run on products that share the same name.
They pulled an Apple. Almost.
Microsoft managed to keep two fantastic pieces of hardware out of the public eye up until its announcement. This is decidedly an Apple technique, but they missed a few integral steps.
1. Announce, and make immediately available.
The argument can be made that Microsoft wants to build hype surrounding Windows 8, and this will help in the months before its release. This is a problem. Microsoft let the rabbit out of the hat, but now the magician wont be paid till months after the show. Competitors know their hand, and can bring products to market with similar features before the likely fall release of Windows 8 and either tablet. Microsoft should have launched both tablets alongside Windows 8.
Steve Ballmer looked like zombie launching a product. Microsoft announced arguably the most capable tablet other than the iPad, with a truly forward thinking accessory, and the people most excited about it were those watching, not those who built it. Steve Jobs and those who inherited his empire genuinely adore the products they produce, and that excitement is infectious to the Apple masses, and media.
3. Battery Life
Ok, this shouldn’t be a big deal in this new age of functional computing, but things like battery life are essential pieces of information buyers need to know. The ARM based Surface RT will likely get 8-10 hours of life, but the Intel i5 based Surface Pro could get substantially less battery life with comparable tablets on the market now registering 3-5 hour of battery life.
The Surface line of tablets look to be the first genuine threat to Apple’s throne at the top of tablet world. However, Microsoft has directly positioned itself not only against Android tablets, but have positioned them against hardware makers who will license and run their operating system. Microsoft has proven it can design and release great products, but they’ve also proven they can botch product launches, and prove ineffective at marketing their computing devices to the masses.
The lack of information regarding exact specs, release date, and the fact no one was able to use their awesome keyboard cover signals to me they haven’t finalized the hardware yet. Microsoft should have held off announcing their new tablets until Windows 8 launched, and they should have released a single tablet instead of two almost identical devices that run incompatible operating systems.
I hope Microsoft's Surface tablets are successful, Apple needs the competition and consumers need the choice. But, the separation of Microsofts tablets into two incompitable products could create problems especially for developers. Who would want to develop tablet Metro apps if they only work on a device with a more capable older brother?