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5/10/2014
09:06 AM
Michael Endler
Michael Endler
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Microsoft Surface: Why More Is More

Microsoft may debut an expanded lineup of Surface tablets on May 20 -- including a bigger model. This could be just what Microsoft's tablets need to finally succeed.

"[T]he hardware business, you're never going to have the kind of profitability you have in the pure software business." The point? Microsoft leaders know Surfaces will produce lousy margins but believe a device's value isn't confined to its profit; rather, it's defined by lifetime benefits such as app purchases and subscriptions for cloud services. That's the holistic logic Nadella's been advocating.

If the Surface Mini's rumored high-precision stylus is as advanced as alleged, Microsoft might feel bolder about pricing, of course. But if Microsoft truly wants to throw down the gauntlet, it could integrate Windows Phone 8.1's Cortana into the Surface Mini, and thus into the moribund Windows RT operating system. Whatever happens, if Microsoft is serious about making its own tablets, the Mini would be an important step.

A bigger Surface, though less certain to appear, would be important, too. Apple, whose Mac business makes up in profit what it lacks in market share, dominates the market for $1000-plus computing devices. With a 13-inch, high-performance Surface, Microsoft could gain share in this coveted space.

New CEO Satya Nadella has been impressive. But he hasn't yet put his stamp on Microsoft's device strategies.
New CEO Satya Nadella has been impressive. But he hasn't yet put his stamp on Microsoft's device strategies.

Yes, a bigger Surface would be shackled by Windows 8.1, but again, today's Surface Pros are more limited by their design than the operating system. With the recent update, Windows 8.1 is highly usable, and, with a few tweaks it's not that hard to learn if you're coming from an earlier version. The new Start menu can't get here fast enough, but a number of Microsoft's recent changes, such as the new ability to treat Modern and legacy apps similarly on the taskbar, go a surprisingly long way.

The Surface's bigger problem is its performance. When I know I'll need to work while wedged into a subway seat, I bring my Surface Pro because my bulky Lenovo laptop is too big for crammed conditions, and because there's no way I'm going to touch type a full article on an iPad. Likewise, if I'm at an event and need to carry around a camera, I might bring the Surface so I can fit everything in one bag. But in all cases, I'm trading portability for productivity. When I'm not in these specific scenarios, I drop the Surface for a less-compromised machine. This wouldn't necessarily be the case with a slightly bigger model, because Intel's newest low-wattage Core chips should enable Microsoft to boost performance and screen size without adding too much heft.

As always, this sort of speculation comes with a grain of salt. Bloomberg, ZDNet, and other publications with good track records for pre-release Microsoft details say the Mini is coming, with a smaller number reporting that multiple devices will debut on May 20. This speculation about a larger Surface Pro seems to have come out of thin air, although a few Windows commentators with close Microsoft ties, including Paul Thurrott, have joined the conversation.

It's possible Microsoft will use both Qualcomm and Intel chips because it plans to release two versions of the Mini, one with Windows RT and one with Windows 8.1. But even if that's the case, don't be surprised to see a larger device down the road.

It's worth mentioning that Nadella might appear at the Surface event. His predecessor, Steve Ballmer, didn't travel to New York last year to introduce the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, but Nadella is in a different position. He's been impressive so far, quelling investor and customer concerns left over from the Ballmer era. But his praised strategies relate to enterprise services and the cloud, areas firmly within his wheelhouse. He hasn't demonstrated the same skill and vision with hardware, but if he's eager to put his stamp on the Surface line, surprise product announcements aren't a bad way to start.

What do Uber, Bank of America, and Walgreens have to do with your mobile app strategy? Find out in the new Maximizing Mobility issue of InformationWeek Tech Digest.

Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
5/13/2014 | 7:33:16 AM
Re: Surface 2 Pro
@rradina, I have a "maxed out" Surface Pro 2 and I wholeheartedly agree with you.  I held off on buying and had to work hard to convince myself that this was worth the cost.  I don't just use it as a tablet/laptop though, it is my desktop.   I bought a docking station so it sits on my desk displaying my calendar all day while driving a large LCD display full sized keyboard and mouse.  The problem though is that I paid close to what I would have for a well-equipped desktop.  The flexibility is what really sold me though, I can pick up my "desktop" and walk around the building with it and not give up any real functionality.  As a tablet it works great, as a desktop in the dock it works great and as a small laptop it works well but with big hands the keyboard and mouse really leave a lot to be desired.  What I'd really like to see is an IBM style butterfly keyboard so that I can get a larger keyboard to use with it when I have heavier typing to do on the road.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
5/12/2014 | 12:07:09 PM
Surface 2 Pro
1)  If Microsoft wants to sell more Surface 2 Pros, they need to rethink their value.  IMO, it's just too high for what you get.  By the time one adds the necessary stuff to make it a real laptop replacement, the thing costs almost $2K!  IMO -- they'd fly off the shelves if you equipped the entry-level model (at a $999 price point) with a 512GB SSD, 16GB RAM, a few more hours of battery life, a killer camera, better mics, a keyboard and a stylus.  The only upsell should be an add-on but PLUGGABLE cell radio (and no, not pluggable by having a dongle hanging out a USB port!)  I realize that doesn't leave room for higher price points but what good is a product if it continues to lose money?  Make less and be profitable by selling a lot more of ONE MODEL!  Why on earth are there so many models?  Folks say they are trying to copy Apple and yet they seem to be forgetting simplicity sells.  Do I like having options and add-ons?  Of course!  However, it seems the public is confused by such choices and just wants the one device that makes their life easier.  Give it to them.  Let other hardware vendors offer all those other options after you set the bar.  Others can remove features and get cheaper or add more and go higher.  However, others shouldn't be able to give folks MORE for less money.

 

2)  Whatever you build, it has to be rock friggin' solid.  I've heard there have been firmware upgrades and various software glitches requiring updates.  It should just work without a lot of patching and fooling around.  Come on Microsoft!  Make one model with predicatable hardware and make sure the firmware and device drivers are rock solid.  No excuses.  I have a Win 8.1 tablet that still suffers from the same classic firmware glitches and driver problems that have always plagued the Windows world.  I realize that isn't all Microsoft's fault since they are only as good as the hardware vendor's hardware design, component quality, firmware and device drivers.  However, IF YOU MAKE THE WHOLE THING, this excuse is no longer allowed.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
5/12/2014 | 11:51:44 AM
Re: Bigger????
Do any other tablets pass this test?
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
5/12/2014 | 2:24:36 AM
mini?
I don't like to write negative comments, just for the sake of of it. Nonetheless, call it mini it's going too far, don't you think? How about call the small tablet itsy-bitsy and the larger jumbo?

 
unmeshk
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unmeshk,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/11/2014 | 1:50:28 PM
Try before you complain!
 

Most of the negative comments in this article are misinformed or unwarranted. Surface Pro 2 is a really good device and most people who have used it like theirs.

I prefer it over an iPad, since it's basically the tablet with the best compute and memory specs out there, and it has the flexibility to convert into a laptop. iPad was an innovation when it came out, but is no match to Surface on compute capability or versatility. Check the specs.

I use my Surface for work and can even code on it, while my kid can remove the keyboard and play games - really cool. Windows 8.1 has some oddities, but so does OSX.

Reviewers need to shed their iGlasses and look at devices objectively.

 

 
DouglasG778
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DouglasG778,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/11/2014 | 10:43:59 AM
Competative edge or unfair advantage?
The ultimate laptop killer, a 14" Surface Pro with high res, windows 8.1, office 365, Intel chip, 6 gigs ram,  and a detachable key board with additional battery.   Give me the ability to plug it into a dock so I can run two displays and plug in the power at the same time, add WiGig and now it's the ultra portable laptop/desktop killer.  The tech is all there and I suspect many (I certainly) would gladly pay for such a competitive advantage.
Larryw4csc
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Larryw4csc,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/10/2014 | 7:42:48 PM
Re: Bigger????
I wanted the Pro, loaded, I really did.  But, alas, my disappointment was total.  It couldn't pass the "Restaurant Test".  This test is to play a medium-level avi movie in a crowded restaurant at FULL VOLUME.  If the people at the tables around me call in the manager to bitch about all the noise from the tablet, it passes!  The Surface Pro failed, miserably!  We couldn't even hear the movie at OUR TABLE, much less a table away!  Anything priced at over $1200 better damned well have BOSE-class speakers and a STEREO AUDIO AMPLIFIER way too loud to listen to at full volume!

 

What were they thinking??

 
C DavidB235
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C DavidB235,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/10/2014 | 4:57:44 PM
Re: We gave up on you, Microsoft -- when will you give up on us?
Lorin

Wow - so sorry about you love life. Realy hope life gets better for you soon.
anon6167839637
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anon6167839637,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/10/2014 | 3:34:55 PM
Yawn
"Microsoft may debut an expanded lineup of Surface tablets on May 20 -- including a bigger model."

 

Why so we can see that garbage of a UI even better.
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Ninja
5/10/2014 | 2:38:49 PM
Re: RIP MICROSOFT
It's interesting: Microsoft has long let hardware partners make the products for its software. Now, we might be seeing why. The company is weak in designing hardware. Sure, I know that they have used contract manufacturers to make the Surface happen. But they also did the same with the Xbox and that worked out. 

What's so different about tablets? It's a totally different form factor. At least the Xbox was like a desktop computer, not a revolutionary type of product. I think that Microsoft will figure about the Surface at some point. But with competitors like Samsung and Motorola, it's unlikely that they are going to be able to make up ground anytime soon. 
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