On the Surface, It Feels like a Corporate Tablet Play
So yesterday Microsoft unveiled it’s entrant into the tablet market with the new Surface. First, if that name sounds familiar, it should. In 2007 the Redmond juggernaut released the tabletop touch computer that has primarily been used in retail, hospitality and restaurants. In case you care, they are still selling it, but changed the name to PixelSense (yeah, how about “makes no sense”).
Early reviews point to some nice attempts to innovate in areas where iPad and Android tablets have been challenged, the primary area being around the keyboard (or lack thereof) and solely using a finger as a pointer. The Surface will offer a cover like the Apple Magic Cover, but with an integrated keyboard. One version will have a touchpad as well.
There will be two units both running the forthcoming Windows 8 operating system with two distinct differences. The base unit will use an ARM process and run on a limited version of Windows while the Pro version will use an Intel processor and run full Windows.
So what does this really mean to the market? Well it’s clear that Microsoft and their good friends at Intel decided to join forces since neither has been able to make an impact in the mobile market. Intel is essentially a non-entity in the mobile process space and well, how many people have you seen with a Windows Phone?
What this also tells us is that the WinTel team believes there is an opportunity to penetrate the enterprise market where they have deep relationships and entrenched ecosystems that Apple and Google have not matched. This was also the opportunity I thought HP had with WebOS, but their lens was clouded with dreams of a big consumer payoff.
I think the best chance for the new Surface is as a field automation device sold in bulk to enterprises seeking a portable device for field personnel that do not require heavy computing power or extensive needs for creating content. Think pharmaceutical reps and light industrial repair people. These enterprise markets are more forgiving for a lack of apps and accessories. In fact, to some degree a smaller market for apps appeals to the IT department that needs to control what has access to their infrastructure.
Since Microsoft’s announcement did not include pricing — but stated that the base device would compete with other tablets in the market and the Pro would be closer to laptops — which leads me to believe they will start at $500 and run up to about $999. And that begs the question: How many consumers really can’t wait to pay the same amount as an iPad for a device with fewer apps than Blackberry (if that’s even possible), limited accessories, a new and unproven OS that carries the baggage of “Windows” and absolutely zero sex appeal?
The last note is the need for a real ecosystem. What makes iOS, and to a lesser degree Android, popular with consumers is the ecosystem of applications, and in Google’s case, services with which they integrate seamlessly. If the Xbox Live service is any indication, we can’t expect WinTel to create a compelling reason to adopt or switch. Ultimately, if the focus is on consumers, the new Surface may prove to be as popular as the original. I just don’t see my kids asking for a Surface this coming December.