Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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7/10/2013
02:32 PM
Shane O'Neill
Shane O'Neill
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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."

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Bruce1965
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Bruce1965,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/26/2013 | 2:04:00 PM
re: Microsoft's Surface Experiment Has Fallen Flat
Speaking as a developer, I think MS has shot themselves in the foot this time, at least where SMB are concerned. If I write a custom app in the Metro / Modern UI, there are two ways to get the app onto the device (desktop or tablet): first is to put it up on the Windows Store, for which you have to be licensed at $99 / year (and your app has to be approved/vetted by MS); the second is to side-load, which requires a product key to enable. If you have the VLA with MS and have enterprise edition windows, they give you the product keys. If not, you have to buy them 100 at a time, for about $30 each. As it enables side-loading for the device, it's a one time cost.

For a small business that wants custom development, maybe the $3k isn't such a big deal in additional cost. Making businesses pay to distribute their own in-house apps is not a good way to encourage Metro / Modern developers.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
7/24/2013 | 12:12:54 PM
re: Microsoft's Surface Experiment Has Fallen Flat
Is $900 billion sly? Seems they could have paid a fraction of that to their partners in exchange for improved designs. For instance, why not just give them free Windows 8 licenses for 12 months in exchange for design input?
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
7/23/2013 | 8:21:19 PM
re: Microsoft's Surface Experiment Has Fallen Flat
When you say there are times when you really need your laptop, what is the context? Infrastructure (speed/CPU architecture(apps that it runs)/capacity/ports/etc.) or human interface (i.e. screen size, precision pointer, keyboard)?
I'd argue we're on the precipice where the former context is rapidly disappearing (both because of hardware advances and the cloud) and it's mostly about the latter. If true, we should be able to own fewer devices if someone manages to create a compelling package where carefully crafted and convenient options address the latter. For instance, what if in addition to Internet access, hotels added 22" monitors to your room's desk that supported wireless display standards? What if planes did the same with the entertainment screen on the back of the seat (assuming it's an HD display and at least larger than, say, the screen on an ultra portable and convenient 7" tablet). Another option is similar to Google's glass where VR headgear tech provides a huge screen but unlike glass's single-eye approach and VR headgear's clumsy context switch, the ultimate headgear screen leverages both eyes and is completely immersive. Yet it becomes instantly transparent by detecting certain head and/or eye movements.
We can dream.
Nathan Golia
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Nathan Golia,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/23/2013 | 6:20:21 PM
re: Microsoft's Surface Experiment Has Fallen Flat
Thanks for responding. I have to be honest Gă÷ I am an Apple guy, I like my MacBook and my iPad. But there are times when I'm packing for a conference or something and I think, "Why am I bringing $1500 worth of devices with me?? This is ridiculous!" (computer, tablet, phone, Kindle). The thing is, I would prefer to never have to use my laptop Gă÷ it's big, hot and power-hungry. But there are still certain things I need my laptop for content-creation wise. If it made sense for me to get a Surface, I would Gă÷ but I already have the hardware I have, and the price point and quirks of the Surface don't give me confidence that the EV is any better if I was to experiment with using it instead of both of my other devices. Until there's a clean, well-priced device in the middle of tablets and laptops, we're going to have to muddle through with both.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
7/23/2013 | 1:08:17 AM
re: Microsoft's Surface Experiment Has Fallen Flat
IMO -- you hit the nail on the head. In the 90s, the PC beat the Mac because it was significantly more affordable, could be easily upgraded and offered a wide variety accessories. Regardless of whether you prefer Windows or OSX, price is very important.
While I've read many claim that the Surface isn't really competing with the iPad and therefore a direct price comparison is apples and oranges, only technocrats understand this argument. If a consumer goes to Best Buy and they see an iPad and a Surface, they see two tablets and it's natural to compare them. Given the iPad's huge lead and premium reputation, they are highly puzzled as to why Microsoft's price is substantially more than the iPad.
I'd argue that even if the Surface Pro was price the same as the iPad Microsoft would have trouble explaining their greater value to common consumers. A "Pro" model (kill RT) needs to be priced substantially less than the iPad with more memory, more storage and a better screen. Then it might sell.
Tablets are becoming the entry-level computing device of choice and with the exception of Apple (which has always charged a premium for their products), they will sell if they are priced likewise.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
7/23/2013 | 12:53:50 AM
re: Microsoft's Surface Experiment Has Fallen Flat
Curious... lots of folks with iPads use them to write documents that are later transferred to a formal word processor on a desktop platform. Several years ago I sat three rows behind my boss on a flight. I watched as he effortlessly wrote annual performance reviews on his iPad. (I was too far to see what he was typing but he told me that's what he was doing.) Later he transferred them to Word and had I not watched what he did, I would have never known.
Although we don't necessarily have to compromise like that with the Surface, if there isn't room for the keyboard accessory, why are we forced to use Office on the desktop? Why couldn't we capture the majority of typing with the One Note Metro app using the on-screen keyboard?
The current Office UI for OSX would likewise suck on an iPad but since it isn't an option, folks cannot complain about how bad it is. It's kind of like having a nice in-ground pool in your back yard and endlessly complaining about having to visit the public pool because you don't have a diving board. Although your pool could have a diving board, it doesn't due to liability fears and insurance issues.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
7/18/2013 | 4:49:54 PM
re: Microsoft's Surface Experiment Has Fallen Flat
I've yet to see anyone mention the 800 lb gorilla in the Microsoft enterprise world: Active Directory. Good luck bringing your Android or iPad to work and connecting to domain so you can actually do anything but play Angry Birds. At our company, if you are not in AD internet group, you don't even get internet access.
I bought a Pro to R&D with and use for travel for people who have desktops, not laptops. To connect remotely at our company, you must use Cisco VPN client to tunnel in. You can then use Remote Desktop to connect to your machine at work and get anything done. You can do offline work with Office, if needed.
I personally liked it, mixed reviews from some others who have tried it. The single biggest complaint/observation is whether it's any better than a Win 8 Ultrabook for essentially the same price. And unless you throw the Tablet side of Pro into the argument (my 9 year old daughter loved playing with it during recent vacation), you'd be hard pressed to make a case it is better than an Ultrabook.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
7/18/2013 | 8:01:41 AM
re: Microsoft's Surface Experiment Has Fallen Flat
Tossed aside your iPad. Not believable. These are two very different beasts. The Pro has so many usability problems that at times, it's hardly usable at all. I'd love to see you using Word or Excell on it. Good luck!
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
7/18/2013 | 7:57:50 AM
re: Microsoft's Surface Experiment Has Fallen Flat
Well, ok. But you really need to be correct in your comparisons. Implying that the Pro is more highly spec'd, isn't really correct when you consider that it needs to be to just keep up.

There is really the question as to whether all that older Windows software is all that useful on the tiny screen Pro. I well remember all of the difficulty in trying to use software on the 13-15" compatibles with a stylus. It's just much worse on these 10.6" models. Microsoft knows this by now, which is why we have the Modern UI, and those apps.
anon2932416024
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anon2932416024,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/14/2013 | 5:33:38 PM
re: Microsoft's Surface Experiment Has Fallen Flat
Wow the authors missed the boat entirely on this one. Surfarce Pro is quickly building a rabid following and moving up the Amazon charts. Which is no mean feat for one of the most expensive tablets out there competing in rankings against cheapies like the kindle fire. I tossed aside my iPad to use this on a regular basis since I can create real work content instead of just consume it, it's a full desktop on a tablet and I'm banging the table for this product, RT sucked but the Pro is absolutely the right idea and a winner that will only get better. Get your head out of the sand author and see what real people who buy it are saying http://www.amazon.com/Microsof...
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