Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
7/10/2013
02:32 PM
Shane O'Neill
Shane O'Neill
Commentary
Connect Directly
Google+
LinkedIn
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%
Repost This

Microsoft's Surface Experiment Has Fallen Flat

Microsoft Surface devices can't find a home as consumers shrug and enterprises focus on Windows 7 and BYOD programs.

Microsoft Surface Pro: Is It Right For You?
Microsoft Surface Pro: Is It Right For You?
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Will the Microsoft Surface tablet be remembered one day as a noble but failed experiment?

Microsoft announced Surface last summer to great fanfare. It was, after all, historic and surprising for the company to get into the computer device business, especially for Microsoft OEMs whose longtime partner suddenly became a competitor. Microsoft rolled out the Surface RT tablet, running on ARM chips, last fall and the more powerful Surface Pro followed in February.

But the devices have fallen flat, even with relentless advertising. Consumers, already comfortable with myriad tablet options from Apple, Google and Amazon, were confused by Windows 8's tile interface and had trouble discerning the difference between Surface RT and Surface Pro. Meantime, enterprises were already reluctant to move to Windows 8, as many had taken Windows 7 as the natural upgrade path following the Vista debacle.

A May report from IDC reveals that Surface shipments totaled 900,000 units (700,000 Surface Pros and a meager 200,000 Surface RTs) in the first quarter, capturing only 1.8% of the tablet market. When measured by operating system, only 3.7% of the tablet market went to Windows 8/RT tablets, a distant third place behind Android (56.5%) and iOS (39.6%).

[ What could Microsoft do to boost Surface sales? See 10 Ways Microsoft Could Improve Surface Tablets. ]

Surveys about enterprise adoption of Windows 8 don't provide any better news for Microsoft. In a Forrester survey in May of more than 1,200 enterprise and small and midsize business (SMB) IT decision-makers, only 7% said Windows 8's Metro interface is an improvement over Windows 7, and only 17% said Windows 8 will be a good PC operating system for their companies' users.

When asked in the Forrester survey "Which mobile operating system (tablet or smartphone) do you most associate with the following attributes?" only 3% of the 1,200-plus respondents ticked off that Windows 8/Phone is "preferred by employees." Says Forrester principal analyst David Johnson: "Windows 8 is not going to be adopted as the enterprise IT standard, so any hardware designed for Windows 8 faces an uphill battle."

Surface tablets will still find their way into businesses, Johnson says, mostly as bring your own device (BYOD) stragglers and secondary issued devices. Microsoft, for its part, is doing all it can to get application developers and enterprise IT decision-makers excited about Surface.

The company announced last week that it's extending Surface Pro and Surface RT to its U.S. business channel, letting resellers sell the devices. It also announced Apps for Surface, a program that provides tools and funding to developers for Surface-specific business applications.

Meanwhile, Surface tablets could capitalize on the iPad's shortcomings. The Surface Pro may have shorter battery life than an iPad and a higher price tag ($899 compared with $699 for 64-GB models), but its screen is an inch bigger, it has four times the RAM (4 GB vs. 1 GB) and it runs a powerful Intel i5 chip. Surface Pro can also run a full version of Office, an important feature for nearly all information workers. Furthermore, Surface tablets are more easily managed and secured by the Windows Intune or Microsoft System Center tools commonplace in IT shops.

All of this makes Surface appealing to the enterprise, in theory. But is it enough to rise above the Windows 7 comfort zone and increasing customer loyalty to Android and iOS devices? iPads, for instance, are making enterprise headway in the medical, retail and restaurant industries, either as company issued or through BYOD programs.

The upcoming Windows 8.1 update aims to reduce UI confusion by bringing back the Start button and letting users boot directly into desktop mode. This change may please purists who want Windows 8 to be like Windows 7, but it contradicts Microsoft's vision of a touch-based, tablet-friendly Windows brimming with mobile apps.

The Surface may ultimately stand as proof that you can't please everybody with one device. In trying to serve two masters, Microsoft ended up designing a device that's neither a great laptop (flimsy keyboard, a screen still too small for prolonged use) nor a great tablet (awkward UI, lacking in quality apps compared with Android and iOS).

It's also possible that Microsoft knew all along that Surface is just an experiment -- a sly way to motivate its hardware partners -- and if it goes the way of the Zune, Microsoft will carry on.

"Microsoft created the Surface Pro for two reasons," Forrester's Johnson says. "To express its vision for what having the elusive 'tablet and PC in one' should look like, and to push skeptical OEMs to innovate on tablet hardware for Windows 8. I doubt they ever saw it as a major revenue stream or to try to take significant business away from their OEMs."

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
<<   <   Page 2 / 2
trentondel
50%
50%
trentondel,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/13/2013 | 6:02:21 PM
re: Microsoft's Surface Experiment Has Fallen Flat
"It's also possible that Microsoft knew all along that Surface is just an experiment -- a sly way to motivate its hardware partners -- and if it goes the way of the Zune, Microsoft will carry on. "

So what your saying that by designing and releasing the Surface Tablet is that Microsoft meant to screw up both the Windows 8 brand name and its own brand in releasing a flawed product?

I would think a couple of gallons of gasoline and some matches would have been much more effective overall. I think Microsoft can carry on ,but if the company was trying to use Surface as leverage to increase manufacturer's adoption of Windows 8 then they failed miserably. Selecting a preferred vendor limits overall risk to the bottom line for MSFT look at Nokia.
The Surface maybe a great product ,but consumers don't care because its something different that they don't want to learn. Microsoft is a mature company now and its needs to start acting like one.
Shane M. O'Neill
50%
50%
Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
7/12/2013 | 2:57:56 PM
re: Microsoft's Surface Experiment Has Fallen Flat
I understand the Surface Pro and the iPad are different beasts, just trying to convey that Surface Pro could handle the heavy loads if you wanted to use it that way. Regardless, the Surface Pro has been perceived as Microsoft's response to the iPad (even if it's not a direct response) and Microsoft has perpetuated that notion in its ads. But the awkward tablet/desktop marriage, the power-hungry nature of the device and exorbitant price ($1,000 with keyboard!) were too much for people to take. Microsoft just gave Apple too much time to establish what the tablet experience should be like. It's tough to undo all that.
NG11209
50%
50%
NG11209,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/12/2013 | 12:14:25 AM
re: Microsoft's Surface Experiment Has Fallen Flat
I tested a Surface Pro a while ago and I agree with your assessment on it striking the right balance. I think its poor traction is related to its price point Gă÷ you can either get a better laptop for about the same price, or a better tablet for less. I just don't know if there's enough of an "in-between" market at this point Gă÷ though I hope this doesn't discourage innovation in the space because I think there is a great device at the right price waiting to be designed.
Andrew Binstock
50%
50%
Andrew Binstock,
User Rank: Author
7/11/2013 | 9:48:15 PM
re: Microsoft's Surface Experiment Has Fallen Flat
"In trying to serve two masters, Microsoft ended up designing a device that's neither a great laptop (flimsy keyboard, a screen still too small for prolonged use) nor a great tablet (awkward UI, lacking in quality apps compared with Android and iOS). "
I have to ask whether you've actually used one for a prolonged period of time. Personally, I like my Surface Pro and find that it strikes exactly the right balance between the two models. It solves the tablet's need for a true keyboard and addresses the ways a laptop can be enhanced by touch screens. More importantly, it can run all Windows software, which is a huge plus.
If the Surface Pro does not succeed, I doubt it will be because of the design. More likely Windows 8, price, or battery life will be greater factors.
Michael Endler
50%
50%
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
7/11/2013 | 7:40:14 PM
re: Microsoft's Surface Experiment Has Fallen Flat
"All of this makes Surface appealing to the enterprise, in theory."

This is the problem. On paper, the Surface Pro checks off a lot of wants/ needs: mobile form factor and good build quality; access to desktop apps; access to mobile/ touch apps; HD screen; peripherals that let it shift between desktop mode and laptop mode; etc.

But in practice, the device is flawed. It has a lot of merits, and I actually really enjoy aspects of IE in the Modern UI, and, once I got used to it, the way Bing is integrated. But none of the Surface Pro's tablet attributes are going to persuade many people who already like and have iPads. That means the device's primary differentiator is its ability to handle x86 apps, and on that front, it's just not that great.

I know Microsoft is very pleased with the kickstand, for example, but when I have to work on the go, I often have to plop down wherever there's space-- the floor, wedged between people on the train, in a corner of an airport, etc. The Surface Pro is fine if you have a flat surface but miserable if you don't. The flimsy keyboard peripherals are a culprit here, and while I can understand the decision to compromise laptop ergonomics in the name of increased mobility, the compromise doesn't balance properly for my needs.

The relatively small screen, though nice, also diminishes the appeal of the laptop mode and its x86 access. Is it valuable to have a light, portable device that runs Office? YES. But unless I'm in a situation in which mobility matters more than anything else (e.g. reporting from a conference), I'll use a laptop or a desktop every time for Word documents. The bigger screen matters.

Similarly, I like that Win8 tablets let me use things like Lightroom and Photoshop, but if I'm doing more than light work, the small screen gets in the way here, too.

Put another way, the Surface Pro is surprisingly fun when I'm just playing with it, but as soon as I need it to do some "real work," it becomes surprisingly limited, as often as not. I recognize that I might be forcing it into use cases for which it wasn't intended, and that if it's used within the scope of its design, it's great. Fine, whatever-- but how big is the market for people who want to stay inside these design confines?

And that's the point: I think the Surface Pro is a quality device, but it's just too compromised to appeal to a wide enterprise audience. For some people, it will be the obvious choice. Heck, at moments in my day, the Surface Pro is MY obvious choice. But at most other moments, my first choice is something else: a Win7 laptop, an iMac, an iPhone, a BlackBerry, etc. The Surface Pro doesn't replace devices so much as carve out a little niche of its own.
DocPG
50%
50%
DocPG,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/11/2013 | 6:40:48 PM
re: Microsoft's Surface Experiment Has Fallen Flat
Rust belt software companies will keep the Surface alive. For instance, we access our school's clinic information system through Citrix terminal services. The Citrix client works perfectly on a Surface Pro, and their iPad client is horrendous. So, even though we are a nearly 100% Mac shop, Citrix's pathetic iPad programmers are driving us to buying Surfaces.
melgross
50%
50%
melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
7/11/2013 | 6:24:48 PM
re: Microsoft's Surface Experiment Has Fallen Flat
Lets understand the differences between Surface Pro and the iPad. What may look to be a better spec'd tablet really isn't. I'm pretty surprised that Shane doesn't understand either piece of hardware, and why they are that way.

First the screen. In reality, the iPad's 4:3 9.6" screen has more surface area than the Surface's 10.6" 16:9 screen. It's also a better screen, with higher resolution.

While Windows needs 4GB in order to do its tasks, iOS only needs 1GB. 4GB for iOS would be like 16GB for Windows, because of the very different paths the OS's have taken. It's also well known that 64GB for the Surface Is not nearly what 64GB is for the iPad. You really need the 128GB model to get enough flash for Windows on these tablets.

In addition, Windows requires a chip as powerful as the i5, while iOS and it's apps do not.

Making a virtue out of a necessity isn't a good argument for a device that cost twice as much once the required keyboard is added.

And with tens of millions of iPads in use by business, large and small, as well increasing government agencies around the world, people have learned to do without Office on mobile devices. I did read in another article. In either Computerworld, or here, that the most popular apps for mobile in business and government are Pages, Keynote, and Numbers. Giving the lie to the argument that Office will be a major reason to buy any Surface, or Win 8 mobile device.

So far, sales seem to back that up.
D. Henschen
50%
50%
D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
7/11/2013 | 5:44:33 PM
re: Microsoft's Surface Experiment Has Fallen Flat
When Microsoft's Dynamics (enterprise apps) business announced new openness to rival mobile platforms two years ago it was a huge relief. Dynamics CRM supports iPads and Android devices, even if they always mention the Windows device options first. There's no way to ignore the realities of the numbers,
Somedude8
50%
50%
Somedude8,
User Rank: Ninja
7/11/2013 | 5:31:27 PM
re: Microsoft's Surface Experiment Has Fallen Flat
The Surface Pro is a legit contender, but is just not gaining much traction on the Enterprise side.
MS really screwed the pooch with the whole RT thing. The resulting consumer confusion killed the product at a time when it had considerable buzz.
<<   <   Page 2 / 2
Server Market Splitsville
Server Market Splitsville
Just because the server market's in the doldrums doesn't mean innovation has ceased. Far from it -- server technology is enjoying the biggest renaissance since the dawn of x86 systems. But the primary driver is now service providers, not enterprises.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Government, May 2014
Protecting Critical Infrastructure: A New Approach NIST's cyber-security framework gives critical-infrastructure operators a new tool to assess readiness. But will operators put this voluntary framework to work?
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Audio Interviews
Archived Audio Interviews
GE is a leader in combining connected devices and advanced analytics in pursuit of practical goals like less downtime, lower operating costs, and higher throughput. At GIO Power & Water, CIO Jim Fowler is part of the team exploring how to apply these techniques to some of the world's essential infrastructure, from power plants to water treatment systems. Join us, and bring your questions, as we talk about what's ahead.