My quick reaction to the Microsoft Surface tablets
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.
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.
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 =)
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.
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).
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.
Hopefully the Surface is interesting and adds some value to the overall tablet market. But it's gonna be extremely tough to be successful.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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?
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.