Mobile // Mobile Business
Commentary
5/10/2014
09:06 AM
Michael Endler
Michael Endler
Commentary
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

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.

Microsoft's May 20 Surface event in New York reportedly will include not only the long-awaited Surface Mini, which is expected use a Qualcomm processor and run Windows RT, but also at least one additional product that uses an Intel chip.

This expanded Surface family, should it appear, could be precisely what Microsoft's struggling device efforts need to get going. Sure, the Surface Mini alone would be a newsworthy play, but what if, as some have speculated, we also see a larger version of the Surface Pro?

If your first thought is, "Poor, doomed Microsoft, taking a failed idea, and making it bigger," let me explain.

[What will tomorrow's Windows look like? Read Microsoft Windows' Future: 8 Revelations.]

For anything but the lightest tasks, I wouldn't recommend the slow-as-molasses $249 Surface RT unless I wanted to sabotage someone. The Surface Pro is much nicer, but its fixed-position kickstand and poor battery life are deal breakers. I give Microsoft credit for the Power Cover, a keyboard accessory that boosts battery life, but $200? Good grief.

Microsoft's second-generation devices are significantly better, built with top-notch components, faster than their predecessors, and, thanks to a two-step kickstand, surprisingly more versatile. But it's easier than it should be to max out the Surface 2, and with a base price of $449, Microsoft should include a keyboard. The Surface Pro 2, meanwhile, refines the original's strengths but retains its biggest flaw: The device is ideal for only a certain breed of on-the-go user.

Will Microsoft debut a bigger, more powerful Surface Pro?
Will Microsoft debut a bigger, more powerful Surface Pro?

Specifically, if you need a small, light touchscreen device but don't want a pure tablet, and if you need to type but only in limited spurts, a Surface might satisfy your needs. But for almost everyone else, convergence isn't worth the compromise. If you like tablets, iPads and Android tablets offer richer experiences than the Surfaces, which distinguish themselves from other slates mostly by being more like laptops. If you're even a semi-heavy laptop user, you'll want a bigger keyboard and screen than Surfaces provide.

Even Microsoft doesn't know exactly what the Surfaces are. Its Office 365 Personal subscriptions allow you to categorize the Pro as either laptop or tablet. For some -- evidently few -- this flexibility sounds awesome. For the rest of us it's neither fish nor fowl.

That's why an expanded lineup makes sense. Microsoft hinged its original Surface bet on one size, but as the company's continued hardware losses testify, that design doesn't have mass-market appeal. It's fine for Microsoft to include niche products in its offerings, but base an entire product line around them? No, that won't work.

A Surface Mini and a larger Surface Pro would substantially broaden the product family's appeal; convergence would still be there for those who want it, but the line-up would also include a pure tablet play, as well as a performance-oriented machine that genuinely deserves the "Pro" designation.

As for the Surface Mini, don't be surprised if Microsoft offers a high-quality build while still undercutting the $299 non-Retina iPad Mini. Microsoft launched all its previous Surface devices at stubbornly high prices, but that was under retired CEO Steve Ballmer, who seemed determined to compete head-to-head with Apple.

New CEO Satya "Microsoft is an underdog" Nadella is in charge now. With all his talk of holistic strategies, Nadella might position the Surface Mini as a financial loss leader that feeds high-margin properties such as Office 365, and Microsoft Azure.

In a recent interview with Fox Business, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates alluded to such a strategy. Asked about Surface profitability, he remarked,

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

Previous
1 of 2
Next
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
SaneIT
50%
50%
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
50%
50%
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
100%
0%
rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
5/12/2014 | 11:51:44 AM
Re: Bigger????
Do any other tablets pass this test?
mak63
50%
50%
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
100%
0%
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
50%
50%
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
50%
50%
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
50%
50%
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
50%
50%
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
50%
50%
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. 
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
InformationWeek Elite 100
InformationWeek Elite 100
Our data shows these innovators using digital technology in two key areas: providing better products and cutting costs. Almost half of them expect to introduce a new IT-led product this year, and 46% are using technology to make business processes more efficient.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest, Nov. 10, 2014
Just 30% of respondents to our new survey say their companies are very or extremely effective at identifying critical data and analyzing it to make decisions, down from 42% in 2013. What gives?
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
Join us for a roundup of the top stories on InformationWeek.com for the week of November 16, 2014.
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.