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peter

My quick reaction to the Microsoft Surface tablets

Just cranked this out, apologies for any typos.
1. Microsoft needs to know when to stop when it's naming stuff. Just call it the "Surface" and "Surface Pro" and be done with it. "Microsoft Surface for Windows RT" and "Microsoft Surface for Windows Pro" might be more descriptive, but it isn't sexy. (And I think Apple made a similar mistake with the "MacBook Pro with Retina display". Yes, it's accurate, but surely that was not the best they could come up with.)

2. It shows that the OEMs don't have anywhere else to go. If you're HP, Acer, ASUS, Dell, etc., are you happy that Microsoft is coming out with a tablet? Absolutely not. But what are you going to do, cancel your Windows license and stop making PCs? It's not like there's another viable OS for them to use (and don't say Ubuntu, because as much as I might appreciate it, the cold reality if Dell only sold PCs with Ubuntu on them they'd be out of business in weeks). I'm sure many of them feel blindsided by the news. It's always tough to compete with your partner in a situation like this. On the other hand, it will force PC makers to raise their game, and if it ends up establishing Windows 8 as a successful alternative to the iPad that is ultimately in the long-term best interests of the OEMs.

3. It also shows that Microsoft is scared enough by the iPad that they don't want to leave countering it entirely up to the OEMs. Windows 8 is a big bet on tablets as the future of PCs (or at least where the future growth -- and profits -- will be), but I can't help but think that its dual UI's are symbolic of what must be a growing tension within Microsoft between its consumer and enterprise businesses.

On one hand Microsoft has Windows and Office, two fantastically profitable franchises which generate the bulk of the company's earnings, but which also face some strong challenges given the direction of the industry. On the other hand they have very consumer-oriented stuff like Xbox and Windows Phone, which although they aren't making as much money (or really any in the case of Windows Phone), are also clearly better in sync with where computing is going.

Now you can see in Windows 8 how Microsoft is trying to satisfy its desire to be both a cool consumer brand that has its pulse on the future of mobile computing AND a safe, reliable platform that businesses (and regular people, for what it's worth) can rely on and be productive with. I've been using Windows 8 for the past few weeks, and I'm not convinced it can successfully be both of these things at once. In fact, I wonder whether Microsoft can successfully be both of these things at the same time. I don't know what the solution is, and maybe I'm seeing things that aren't there, but as an outside observer the design of Windows 8 and the decision to release a tablet are emblematic of how conflicted they are.

4. The attention to detail and the quality of engineering shows that Microsoft gets how important design is now. Even the fact that it comes in a selection of colors is nice and shows they're aiming this squarely at the mass market (at least with the Surface for Windows RT). I'm a little skeptical of the Touch Cover for typing -- I'd like to see how it works for myself -- but it's hard not to give Microsoft points for doing new things and trying to do them well.

5. That said, I will gripe about the lower resolution screen that's going to be in Surface for Windows RT. Unlike with the Pro, which they've said will sport a 1080p display, I haven't seen anything about the resolution of the RT's screen except that will be "HD", which means at least 720p. I get that higher resolution screens mean higher prices and worse battery life, but Microsoft's main target here is the new iPad, and if the Surface for Windows RT's screen is disappointing in comparison it will make it harder to convince people to buy one over Apple's offering.

6. Two big unknowns right now are pricing and release date, and Microsoft better get these right. Announcing these Surface tablets in June and then not releasing them until October or November would be bad. So would not pricing them aggressively against the iPad, which is ultimately the real competition for these things, not other Windows 8 tablets (or ultrabooks). I'm sure there was some strategic decision to announce ahead of Google I/O, but I sincerely hope that we see these on sale sooner rather than later.

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161 replies
BradGroux

I disagree with a 1080p display for Surface RT, I think Microsoft will price this below the new iPad. I would not be surprised at all if the 32GB model comes in at $399. I also think this is the same reason they opted with USB2 on the Surface RT as well. I just don't think the RT version can compete with the iPad selling at the same price, even though functionally it is a superior device... thus, I think Microsoft will set it at a lower price point than the next iPad to further stand apart.

I think the Surface Pro is meant for students and business travelers. Thus the better keyboard and 1080p display. I'm again betting that this will be priced significantly lower than the Macbook Air as a differentiating factor... I'd imagine a starting price of $799.

I don't think the OEMs like Samsung, Dell or ASUS are blindsided by this at all. I also think that Microsoft is intentionally holding back the Surface Pro for 3 months to appease the OEMs who have Windows 8 launch tablets in development.

In my opinion it was a brilliant move by Microsoft to set the design bar high right out of the gate, and now OEMs have no excuse not to meet and/or exceed the Surface in the future. Basically, it is Microsoft saying "Here's what we can do, and we aren't even a hardware company."

Windows 8 will be RTM in August and general availability in September, along with the Surface RT. Mark it.
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peter

I think these are good points. Just without pricing it's hard to make some of these judgements.
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BradGroux

I think this is just an "all in" moment for Microsoft, so I don't think there is any chance they'll price at or above competitors.

The success of Windows Phone is going to hinder tremendously on the success of Windows 8. As more people use Windows 8 they'll finally realize that they can get a phone that works seamlessly with it, and functions like it. I think this was the plan all along. Add on to that the new Xbox we'll hear more about in the next twelve months, and you have the trifecta.

The additional revenue generation from a full application marketplace added with the revenue from media partnerships (Netflix, Hulu, etc) and it is clear that they could easily sell these at or near cost and still make a tremendous profit in the process, while simultaneously boosting the company's image.

I think Sinofsky was and is the key in all of this, and every since he's been at the helm of the Windows division they haven't been lead astray. Hopefully that'll still be the case when release dates and pricing are made available.

EDIT - I realize you have to stay objective because you have journalistic integrity... I can be a fanboy and biased =)
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georgemag

Indeed it is Microsoft's "all in moment," the telling sign will be if if HP, Acer, ASUS, Dell and smaller OEMs decide to continue making Windows Tablets at all. I see them all just walking away from the market.
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johnswilson1

Yup. I don't even think Microsoft will license Windows 8 for tablets. I think they'll keep it to themselves.
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stynkfysh

Yes they are. Its either $85 to $89, on average, for RT as I understand it. It is fairly expensive and the OEM's may have a hard time competing on price because of it.
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johnswilson1

True. I saw that leaked doc too. Thanks for reminding me. I think that price point shows you how Microsoft looks at OEMs. They know that the $85 is way too high and makes it that much less likely that hardware partners will either be interested or can make money.
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stynkfysh

The only saving grace there is the Microsoft is pretty good at broad hardware compatibility and they may include an office package which increases value to OEM's. On Android, which is free, it seems like the OEM's spend a ton of time getting Android to work with their hardware... Or maybe they put minimal resources towards it, I don't know.
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johnswilson1

Well don't forget Microsoft has been getting royalties from Android OEMs. That won't stop.
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icu

Here's something that just flashed in my mind which afaik nobody else has pointed out or discussed. This thing is touting itself as a tablet/laptop all in one, but for it's fancy/thin design elements it's missing one basic and imo essential use case.
This thing cannot replace your laptop because (wait for it) you CAN'T USE IT IN YOUR LAP!
Admittedly, I'm intrigued by the hardware - throw Ubuntu on there and I'm in ;). But seriously, I was thinking of this as a competitor for the ultrabook buyer who also wants tablet functionality. imo it's missing a MAJOR laptop use case. I'd prefer a solid, but thin laptop with a removable tablet screen.
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CJMCDM

one of the best point I've seen today, but you can still just fold the keyboard, and use the on-screen keyboard
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stynkfysh

Yeah, that is a good point. However it seems like a significant number of people who would use their actual lap might enjoy using it as a tablet. Also, one of the unsung heroes of Windows 8 is its speech to text capabilities. As a matter of fact, I am typing this with my voice on Windows 8 right now. Obviously it can't be used in a noisy place or if you want privacy, but it is a credible alternative. It not conversational like Siri, but it can do many more functional things that Siri can't yet, like load programs. So in summary, even if it stinks on our actual laps, there is the tablet form factor usage, speech to text, and the onscreen keyboard. And let's not forget, the device is a little over 10" with a 16x9 screen size ratio so not very cumbersome. Lap use can't be counted out completely.
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stynkfysh

Just read a hands-on review of the tablet and they say that it works well in your lap. Here is a picture:

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jlklop

You are not supposed to use "laptop"s in your laptop now-a-days, because they usually get hot and burn your legs, that is why most vendors call them notebook computers instead of laptop computers.
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johnswilson1

I'm sorry, why is someone going to pay $800 for a tablet? just because the MacBook Air is higher? That's not comparable. The highest selling iPad is the 16gb wi-fi model. That's $500. That's what Microsoft is competing against. Anything higher will be a tougher sell.
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stynkfysh

I think MS is simultaneously competing with the Air and the iPad and that is their strategy. Interface of the iPad with the functionality of an Air. Instead of spending $1,500 on two Apple devices, you can spend $700 on a single Microsoft device.
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johnswilson1

I got you. But folks don't buy an iPad and an Air because they HAVE to. They buy both because they WANT to. Look at it this way: if someone had an iPad and needed a basic laptop for word documents and the like, why not a net book? Or why not a cheap PC? Instead these folks invest in an Air because they believe it presents a great value at a good price.
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BradGroux

I travel every week for work, and am on anywhere from 2-4 flights. I currently carry a Lenovo T420s laptop and an Acer W500 tablet. I would LOVE to trade both of those in for a Surface Pro. Honestly I don't need two devices if I had the Surface Pro, it is everything I want in a device as a traveler.

Apple has sold 65 million iPads, which is a ton... but 350 million PCs are sold per year, so there is huge potential for growth in the tablet market (and that is what Microsoft is aiming for).
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johnswilson1

Sure. And I'm sure there are plenty of folks who feel as you do. But I don't think people will be rushing to trade in their Air and iPad for one. I think most folks who have iPads and Airs are very happy. Consumer satisfaction surveys say as much.
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dionkov

I don't think this is for the people that want to "trade" their devices but rather for the 500+ million that don't have a device and may choose the Surface as their only device for travel.

And on the battery point, they did state at some point of the keynote "a full day of entertainment" and having in mind that the ASUS Transformer Prime has a 25 Wh battery and goes for 10 hours... the Surface RT has a 35 Wh battery... so should easily get to the same 10 hours if not more.
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johnswilson1

Do you think Microsoft is aiming to kill the PC market? If so, why? They make far more from licensing Windows (while doing nothing but counting checks) than they will from manufacturing their own hardware and trying to undercut Apple's pricing -- which isn't easy. No OEM has been able to undercut Apple's pricing while making a comparable tablet.
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stynkfysh

I think they are adapting to the times. There is a great video with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs together on a stage at the D5 conference... its on YouTube and a great watch (search: pLraZy0eRhs). It is from 2007, just before the iPhone launch. It is really fascinating because MS had just launched MS Surface, which is akin to a table sized iPad in terms of its multi-touch capabilities, and Bill Gates sits there and goes on and on about how tablets and phones will be the center of our digital lives. Meanwhile, Steve Jobs just sits there with a grin on his face, knowing the iPhone is set to debut and that he is bringing to market all that Bill Gates is talking about. My point here is that Microsoft has had the vision of the phone and the tablet space being the cornerstone of computing, they just miserably failed on delivering the touch screen interface. To me, that one difference - control with your finger vs. control with a pen, has cost Microsoft billions. But back to my point, they are not aiming to kill anything, they are just delivering on the path they were on at least as far back as 2007.
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johnswilson1

That makes sense. Yes, I remember that conference. Not from watching as it happened, but after Steve passed away I watched it in full. I think Microsoft has a tremendous amount of engineering resources but they haven't had the leadership required to get the job done.

Hopefully the Surface is interesting and adds some value to the overall tablet market. But it's gonna be extremely tough to be successful.
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stynkfysh

That was my response too. I do a lot of traveling around town and I want a single device, not to lug around two. That defeats the purpose of the portability of these devices.
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georgemag

I have both a 13" Air and an iPad in my traveler's kit. At home I use a 13" MacBook Pro, as I am typing this the transition to a Surface tablet would only make sense if it were subsidized my employer. If Microsoft includes free licenses for Windows RT devices then it has a winner, if not and requires companies to pay, this thing is dead in the water.
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johnswilson1

Interesting. Why a Pro and an Air? If you don't mind my asking, what field are you in? Also, do you think the new Pro could replace the need for two different laptops? I have an Air and find it is more than enough for all my tasks, however I do want a bigger screen and will upgrade to Retina Pro.
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johnswilson1

They aren't. As a commenter pointed out to me, Windows RT will cost OEMs $85 per license.
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jlklop

I don't think it will be a viable option against the iPad onslaught unless it is priced below the iPad price, so 799 will not do it.
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Kanogul

I'm sure that Microsoft would love to steal lots of consumers from Apple's base, but I think their main strategy is centered elsewhere. The design of these tablets and the Windows 8 OS in general seems to be trying to open up the tablet market to consumers who never wanted a tablet before. There are a few key demographics I see in this group:
  1. People who, for one reason or another, don't like touch screen controls. Personally, my experience with touch-screen input has been shaky and jarring at best, and I often find myself wishing I just had a real mouse/keyboard. Voilà- the keyboard/trackpad cover.
  2. People who are turned off by the mobile-style OS of all currently available tablets. Microsoft seems to be trying to split the difference between mobile and desktop OS (whether or not that works I'm interested to see).
  3. Business professionals, scientists, engineers, and others who have stuck with PC's at their places of employment, due to the necessity for the more robust and fully-developed Microsoft Office applications. I'm an engineer, and while Google Spreadsheets is getting better, I can do so much more with Excel. These tablets (or at least the Pro) will hopefully have fleshed-out versions of Microsoft Office.
This list is by no means comprehensive, and I'll admit that I have personally had almost all of these complaints in one form or another, so I'm somewhat biased. Microsoft will have to do some work (and set a good price point) for me to consider switching from my netbook to a tablet. Still, I'm glad to see that they're taking the tablet game seriously and throwing in their hat to give Apple more competition in this market.
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stynkfysh

Well said.
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user7642208ddfd

Best argument that I've heard thus far.
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Tuffie

Took the words right out of my mouth mate. I don't know why it always comes down to any new tech that's released being compared to the almighty Apple. What happened to healthy competition being just that, healthy competition! Apple did not invent the consumer technology industry, they simply built stylish well performing easy to use products that they sell at a premium because the average tech consumer is just that, average. Nuff said there.

I for one am excited about this step Microsoft is taking. If they can produce a sexy, solid, multipurpose well performing tablet that multiple consumer segments will want (business, students, average consumers), I'm all for it! I for one have been on the edge of buying a tablet for years because I've never found a true 'need' for one when I already own a laptop. But as I travel more for work I'm starting to want a lighter, smaller product that I can do more with and the Surface so far has everything I'm looking for and then some. If nothing else Microsoft is setting the tone for Windows based tablets and either industry will finally up their game and focus on releasing innovative and stylish yet fully functional products that give Apple a true run for its money, or Microsoft will do it for them and reap the benefits.
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johnswilson1

But...they are going to competing head to head with Apple. That's just the reality. If they had only released the Surface Pro you could argue they're only looking at enterprise, but even then they'd be going against the most popular enterprise tablet thus far: the iPad. So I see where you're coming from in that there is room for multiple players, but so far iPad is the de facto king and any player must challenge them to win some market share. That's just reality.
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Tuffie

True, but a king is only secure when there's no real competition for his thrown, and I think Microsoft has made it clear even with this basic sneak peak, that it and its Surface can compete. I think Apple is an amazing company, its products some of the best in the world, no sane person could ever dispute that, but they've yet to win me over. I like my options. I like being able to buy, and a year later, tear down my tech and rebuild it if I choose to. I enjoy a product I won't have to replace every 1-2 years just because the company that produced it spits out a newer/better model. Call me crazy but I like to see my dollar and its purchases stretch, and Apple is not that kind of company, and there's nothing wrong with that if you have that kind of cash to blow.

At the end of the day I think there's room in the market for two or multiple premium tablet brands and I commend Microsoft for finally putting some muscle behind its software. Could the Surface be a total flop? Of course. Could it end up becoming a successful and major tablet player for the non-Apple consumers? Definitely. I think there's room for both and competition like this only benefits the consumer in the end, and that makes me one very happy consumer.
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stynkfysh

Tear down? I just want to install whatever software I see fit and not just what Apple thinks is ok. Those folks in the Jailbreak community have some really amazing software. Could you imagine what could be done if they could operate out in the open?

The other thing that hasn't been touched on here are business practices. Over the past few weeks it has really been hitting me hard that when I pay for something, I am condoning their business practices. I REALLY don't like Apple filtering the software I can buy and limiting the products and services I can buy through their App Store by requiring their hefty commission. For App sales, sure, they can have a cut... but then again, they don't let any other App stores exist which is cause for pause. I really don't like that. And their exceptional pressure stretches far beyond what I have described here.

Outside of Apple I recently had to make the choice of home ISP. My choices were AT&T, TimeWarner, and Cox. After researching them all, I realized that AT&T and Cox both have data-caps, TimeWarner does not. So I went with TimeWarner. I don't hit caps, but I want to nip home data caps in the bud, if I can.

Apple is such a force in the mobile tech arena that I love, and I have been thinking that I don't want to condone their behavior by giving them money. In practice it has only been a short time, but I am thinking I shouldn't buy any more Apple stuff on business practice principals alone.

I think their 'partners' are starting to revolt too. If you recall, Verizon used to charge $299 for a flagship 32GB Android device, the same price as the latest iPhone 32GB. From what I understand, the iPhone subsidy costs significantly more to the carriers and is a less appealing option for Verizon. They are not allowed to adjust iPhone pricing so instead they introduced an upgrade fee of $30 recently and reduced the price of the new 32GB Galaxy GSIII to $249. In essence, they discounted the Android flagship device while simultaneously increasing the iPhone 4S price.

"The more you tighten your grip, Apple, the more iPhone Sales will slip through your fingers." - Princess Leia

Or she said something like that...
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johnswilson1

What makes either of you think you'll be able to tear down the Surface or Surface Pro? What tablets can you upgrade at home by replacing RAM, processors, or SSD? What's hilariously ironic is that by releasing their own hardware Microsoft is essentially saying how important it is for one company to control both hardware and software.
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Tuffie

Dunno, but historically PCs are much easier to tear down compared to Apple products, so I guess we'll find out once it finally hits the streets.
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johnswilson1

That's true historically. But they've never made a 2lb computer. I would venture to say you won't be able to tear down anything. 1) Because its form factor won't be amenable to upgrades, and 2) the market of folks who do upgrades is so small it's not worth catering to.
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stynkfysh

I am guessing you are right and it can't upgrade the device, but want to point out that my Fujitsu Lifebook P1620 (a convertible tablet computer) from 2006 weighed 2.5lbs (with battery) and had changeable memory and hard drive. Screen was a little smaller at 8.9" though. Point here is that if Fujitsu could do that in 2005, I am suspicious that not doing it now has more to do with making more money by the manufacture than anything else.
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johnswilson1

Fair enough, but I disagree. I think tablets shoudn't weigh 2 pounds. Even folks who like the iPad say they wish it were lighter, and it weighs 1.33-1.44 depending on the version. The only way to have a removable battery or movable back casing is to make it out of plastic. That's just not durable enough. Aluminum or something as durable has to be used and it's not malleable enough to allow access.

Also, even laptops historically have been harder to upgrade than desktop variants. I think that will continue to be the case as laptops become lighter.
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stynkfysh

I'm with you. Notebook upgrades are usually only memory and hard drive. Although I will say, I used to own a computer store and it was important for people to be able to get into the best cpu now and upgrade storage and memory as needed / when they had more $. And you are right, the Fujitsu was plastic.
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stynkfysh

Yeah, I am not concerned about tearing it down. My concern was software related.

Did you see that internal memo a while back from Microsoft? They are absolutely copying Apple's playbook. To gain market share, to build customer loyalty, a whole bunch of it. They came out and said "How can we be more like Apple?"

But I think if we put things in context, it is also natural evolution. Waaay back, the commoditizing of computer hardware allowed Microsoft Windows to flourish because they were more special needs systems, there was less interoperability between computer systems, and components cost more. Now, especially with the Internet being at the core of why consumers buy computers which wasn't around back then, most computers have the same requirements, not to mention, satisfactory components are cheaper.

I am paraphrasing here, but Steve Jobs once said that trying to differentiate on hardware now is a loosing battle because everyone buys components from the same place. So it comes down to design and software. Microsoft understands this - now - and is trying to get back in the game that Apple was smart to identify first.
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johnswilson1

Oh ok. I apologize. I assumed hardware.

No, I didn't see the memo. I agree that it's a smart move to own the whole experience. Look at the Xbox. I don't think it would be nearly as successful if they didn't own it from top to bottom.
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nohorse

Concerning loading apps: the Phone8 announcement this week confirmed that enterprise apps can be loaded without using the marketplace, loaded from SD cards, etc. This is a departure from Phone7 where side-loading was only possible via developer-unlock. If this approach holds true, we will be able to write LOB Metro apps and deploy/distribute them as needed. this might also translate to homebrew apps and to surface. If it does, that would be a great move allowing people to use the market or whatever for of distribution you like. no "jail breaking" or being any other sort of prisoner to your gadget vendor.
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stynkfysh

I had written Windows off for phones, but all they are doing now is intriguing me. Which sucks because my nuttiness forces me to get a new phone every 2-3 months.... Its not going to help to have a 3rd player in the game. Ugh! j/k. I am happy to have them (its just my wallet that is not).
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johnswilson1

Then how does enterprise lock it down to ensure security isn't threatened? It's a double-edged sword.
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nohorse

We'll find out more when it comes, but i'm assuming they will be using Windows Integrated Security that is built into the common Core under the hood. To the company employee this will manifest itself as as Company Hub where company approved apps will be discoverable. Security Policies will likely control other aspects like they do today (require a password, etc.). The device can be completely encrypted. Each app runs in complete isolation. Most of this stuff is made possible by the shared core and components with windows. It's not a double-edged sword as you might imagine, but old-hat in the windows corporate world.
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stynkfysh

That's the challenge isn't it? iOS is a scorched Earth approach to security where apps have very little access outside of their sandbox and has mostly great security (but lets face it, it is still jailbroken so not 100%) but it comes at the price of Apps being less functional outside of themselves.

Microsoft finally baked real Anti-Virus/Anti-Malware into the operating system with Win 8. Since Windows Phone 8 is basically running a core version of Windows 8, maybe it is baked in there too?
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beau

Ideally they would have the surface out by August so students could get them in time for the school year.

I do not understand the rationale for putting out both ARM and intel versions. All it's going to do is confuse their customers, especially with the silly naming system.

HP, Dell, etc are now in an even lower margin business if they try to make Win8 tablets, since presumably Microsoft won't be paying a license fee to make these tablets.
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frankspin

I can see the Pro and RT getting different marketing as they are definitely being intended for two different audiences.
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