Mobile // Mobile Devices
News
8/9/2013
05:46 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Microsoft Needs 3 Surface Tablets: 3 Reasons

Microsoft is having trouble selling the Surface tablets it already makes. But here's why adding a third would be a smart move.

10 Ways Microsoft Could Improve Surface Tablets
10 Ways Microsoft Could Improve Surface Tablets
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said Thursday that his company is working with Microsoft on a new Surface RT tablet. Given that earlier reports have indicated Microsoft is also testing devices with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 chip, it's looking increasingly possible that the company will replace its underachieving Surface tablet with not one, but two new products.

Microsoft reported in July that its Surface RT and Surface Pro, which respectively debuted in November and February, had only $853 million in revenue combined. Apple, in contrast, needed only three days last November to sell three million iPads, and it sold 14.6 million in its most recent fiscal quarter.

Given these challenges, it might seem counterintuitive for Microsoft to expand a product line it's already struggling to sell. It might be better to shore up the existing lineup before burning through the extra R&D, factory and advertising money that additional models would entail.

[ Where does Microsoft's struggling tablet fit in? Read Why Schools Could Save Windows RT. ]

Then again, if the current tablets' respective market positions aren't working, a shake-up might be precisely what the Surface brand needs. Here are three reasons Microsoft should make three different Surface tablets.

1. Three tablets would provide an entry point and an upgrade path.

When Microsoft first priced its Surface tablets, it made a colossal miscalculation, assuming that it could simply follow Apple into the high-margin device business. If Microsoft had released a tablet three years ago, perhaps this plan would have worked. But Microsoft was late to the game and Apple has an entrenched user base in the premium market. Consequently, Microsoft needs to follow something more akin to the Android model: produce budget-friendly flagship products that increase adoption and funnel users toward the costlier, more profitable devices. Three Surface models would allow Microsoft to pursue this sort of strategy.

From a components standpoint, a 7-inch Surface RT tablet with a Qualcomm chip shouldn't cost much more to produce than the Nexus 7. If Google can afford to price the Nexus 7 at $199, then Microsoft can certainly aim for similar build quality at a similar price. The Snapdragon chip should provide LTE support, allowing Microsoft to produce an ultra-mobile tablet that better highlights the company's cloud-based assets, such as SkyDrive and Bing apps. Support for Office, including Outlook, meanwhile means the device could be useful not only for content consumption but also as a BYOD companion device.

If the price is right, Microsoft could significantly boost Windows RT adoption, which would in turn lead to increased developer investment in the Modern UI. More developer activity would send benefits rippling across the entire Windows 8 ecosystem.

A second Surface RT model could provide both a bigger, nicer screen and an upgrade path for those who like the smaller RT model but need a device that's more suitable for heavier Microsoft Office tasks. It's hard to know how much demand there is for this sort of device, given that some Atom-based Windows 8 tablets could soon cost as little as $300. Unlike Window RT models, Atom-fueled machines can run desktop apps.

Nevertheless, if Microsoft can boost adoption with a low-cost RT model, it could at least buy itself the flexibility to continue developing larger more, capable RT devices.

The Surface Pro, meanwhile, will eventually gain a Haswell chip, leaving it as a premium model with long battery life and the ability to run x86 apps.

Thanks to Microsoft's cloud investments, the devices should sync well together, which could encourage some users to own multiple Surface tablets, and to use them in tandem.

Previous
1 of 2
Next
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Threaded  |  Newest First  |  Oldest First
Cynique
50%
50%
Cynique,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/10/2013 | 4:41:02 PM
re: Microsoft Needs 3 Surface Tablets: 3 Reasons
MIcrosoft has enjoyed and benefited well from a 30+ year hegemony. They've morphed (as Google is presently doing) from an idealistic business trying to make a change for the better into a greedy capitalistic monster.

I don't mind seeing MS decline as there are a dozen idealistic and REALLY creative young companies ready to fill the void. It's time.
rradina
50%
50%
rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
8/12/2013 | 5:08:46 PM
re: Microsoft Needs 3 Surface Tablets: 3 Reasons
Has Microsoft ever been idealistic? From Bill Gates purchase of DOS to the class action lawsuits stemming from customers paying for Windows even if they didn't order it with a new desktop, hasn't Microsoft ALWAYS followed the money?
Even when they almost "missed" the Internet and had to "innovate" by adding IIS (an HTTP server) to Windows NT, they demanded license fees for every seat that hit the server or a pretty hefty CPU license fee. (In terms of licensing, they viewed HTTP the same as SMB). I believe they used to offer an "Internet Connection" license when businesses used IIS for public sites, but IMO, it's few and far between that MS has given away anything. True, they did give away Internet Explorer but I don't know if anyone can call IE the produt of an idealist. Starting with IE4, Microsoft started offering very alluring but proprietary extensions that to do this day still cause forward compatibility issues and force many corporations to keep older versions of IE on their desktops.
Understand that they operate in a free country and they can create whatever products they desire and charge whatever the market will pay. I have no problem with this. I'm just tossing out the view from the other side since I've never thought of them as idealists.
Regarding Windows XP, if someone purchased it in 2001 and has either kept that same PC or transferred their XP license to more modern hardware, it's hard to argue that it wasn't money well spent. Microsoft has continued to release free security fixes for over a decade. I still don't think that qualifies them as idealists.
AlfieJr
50%
50%
AlfieJr,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/10/2013 | 5:29:48 PM
re: Microsoft Needs 3 Surface Tablets: 3 Reasons
boy ME, you must love fantasy football too.

Surface RT is dead as a dodo. simply because no one needs it - at all. if you want a cheap commodity tablet, you get some Android. if you want ecosystem, you get iPad. they both have XBox apps even.

the RT is a total rerun of the Zune flop, except worse - the Zune never saw a $1 billion write-off. pull the plug.

now the Pro does have a definite global niche market - all those die-hard Windows IT guys. there has to be at least a million of them and i'm sure every last one will buy it. most already probably have. after that, well, we'll see.
StevenABaby
50%
50%
StevenABaby,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/11/2013 | 2:36:21 PM
re: Microsoft Needs 3 Surface Tablets: 3 Reasons
I agree
Microsoft gave it their best shot and RT was a 100% total failure while the Pro version got picked up a little, although very little, by IT guys who don't like the idea of supporting a new ecosystem. So I would say RT is going to continue losing money for Microsoft for as many years as they decide to sell it. I don't think there's a lot of promise for Pro either. IT pros will buy the thing, but eventually longer term they'll be transitioning to probably Linux. If MS wants to stay in the game, they ought to be working on a Linux operating system of their own; otherwise, they're going to experience a long drawn out decline into oblivion, sorta like cobal.
TerryB
50%
50%
TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
8/12/2013 | 5:46:11 PM
re: Microsoft Needs 3 Surface Tablets: 3 Reasons
I sometimes wonder if some of you know what an "IT Pro" is and what we do. One clue, we could care less about o/s, only what applications can run on the o/s. An o/s by itself is worthless.
COBOL is still around, running key things like taking care of your money in the banking system, after 50+ years. It runs on servers, not client devices. For business applications on the server side, COBOL still makes more sense than java, regardless how many people actually use it today for such applications.
Gadgety
50%
50%
Gadgety,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/10/2013 | 6:05:18 PM
re: Microsoft Needs 3 Surface Tablets: 3 Reasons
Surface Pro, cool running Haswell with Intel Iris Pro 5200 graphics, 1TB SSD, Thunderbolt, LTE for data instead of just WiFi. That would be a real "Pro" device. Join RT and WP, because what WP should do, RT does. A 6-6.5 inch RT/WP device would be great.
rradina
50%
50%
rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
8/12/2013 | 5:17:48 PM
re: Microsoft Needs 3 Surface Tablets: 3 Reasons
RE: Join RT and WP. Other than the software Microsoft includes with RT(namely office), RT is a subset of Pro. When you say join them, Pro is already everything RT is except for add-on software. Is that what you mean by join (i.e. include free Office in Pro)?
RT is nothing more than a version of Pro that runs on ARM. It's been recompiled and combined with an ARM HAL. IMO, it's Pro's genetic clone that ended up being Dr. Evil's "mini me". Of course RT won't run any x86 software because the ARM architecture doesn't speak x86.
Edwin_Arneson
50%
50%
Edwin_Arneson,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/12/2013 | 9:16:13 PM
re: Microsoft Needs 3 Surface Tablets: 3 Reasons
"WP"==Windows Phone
He's saying Microsoft tablet devices should be running Windows Phone and not Windows or Windows RT. The name is a bit of a problem, though.
rradina
50%
50%
rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
8/13/2013 | 11:48:07 AM
re: Microsoft Needs 3 Surface Tablets: 3 Reasons
Oh... I thought WP meant Windows Pro (WP). Regardless, I thought Windows Phone 8 (WP8) was using the same kernel. Isn't this shift why WP7 devices could not be upgraded to WP8? Isn't it all one OS and one experience as the slogan touts?
Palpatine
50%
50%
Palpatine,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/11/2013 | 1:02:49 PM
re: Microsoft Needs 3 Surface Tablets: 3 Reasons
why it would not work:
1) people does not like tiles, offering it in 3 sizes is not an answer
2) OEM are now competitors to MS (we'r a device company now, nuff said), any hw release from ms will not excite them, if not in order to issue a non ms based counteroffer to kill the competitor
3) fanfare did not work with major version, repeting the same strategy again and again meets the Einstein's definition og Ballmercy.
Laurianne
50%
50%
Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
8/12/2013 | 3:25:48 PM
re: Microsoft Needs 3 Surface Tablets: 3 Reasons
A $200 or $300 Microsoft tablet would change the nature of this whole discussion. An attractive entry-level price point has to be an option at holiday shopping time this year. But match the Nexus price? That's going to be hard for MS.
Somedude8
50%
50%
Somedude8,
User Rank: Ninja
8/12/2013 | 5:28:46 PM
re: Microsoft Needs 3 Surface Tablets: 3 Reasons
In the days leading up the first Surface release, people were PUMPED. Microsoft had the opportunity to make a substantial impact.
However, in simple terms, RT sucks. It was a massive mistake; there should never have been a Windows RT. People were not so stoked. By the time the Surface Pro was released, MS's window was long gone.
The problem isn't the hardware, its RT. Having more RT tablets isn't going to help MS at all.
UberGoober
50%
50%
UberGoober,
User Rank: Strategist
8/12/2013 | 6:01:11 PM
re: Microsoft Needs 3 Surface Tablets: 3 Reasons
So many pointless articles about how M$ could save Surface or save Win8. The bottom line is that people in general just don't like Win8 very much, and for most folks, the pain of using Win8 on a tablet outweighs the (very) few minor advantages over the alternative products. They can't be saved.

M$ clearly believes that if they don't make inroads into the mobile device market, they are doomed, but Win8 is a colossal failure and it just isn't going to work for them. Frankly, I can't imagine anything, including a super-cool gee-whiz replacement operating system, that would let them make a significant dent in the Apple/Android duopoly; there's just too much momentum there. There is absolutely no way short of giving devices away that Microsoft can entice people into buying Win8 tablets or phones in significant numbers.

Frankly, I'd pay $200 for a Nexus7 before I'd pay $100 for a similarly spec'ed Win8 tablet. I don't think I'm alone on that.
rradina
50%
50%
rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
8/13/2013 | 12:01:32 PM
re: Microsoft Needs 3 Surface Tablets: 3 Reasons
The key problem with the Windows 8 modern app world is crappy apps. It's kind of like when Java introduced a whole bunch of character-mode interface folks to GUIs. If you recall, Java AWT/Swing allowed the creation of some really, really BAD GUI apps. I believe it's possible to make great Windows modern apps but right now, experienced touch developers don't seem to be focused on Windows. That leaves us with predominantly inexperienced touch developers and crappy apps. That's a huge problem for Microsoft.

Of course, IMO, even Microsoft's own modern apps aren't great. Take the mail app. When you create a new message, the right side of the screen shows what appears to be some sort of template but it doesn't give you any clue as to the fact that you are to touch(click) the "Subject" part of the template and start typing or touch(click) the "body" area of the template and start typing. It looks like a sheet of paper with no obvious input areas or shadings to provide hints as to what the hell do I do with this? Plus the TO, CC and BCC areas are on the left side of a split screen. This is a complete departure from how Outlook presents information and accepts input.

After a while you get used to it but this is from a company that has a long history of GUI standards regarding placement of buttons, tool bars, menus, accelerator keys and default operations when ENTER is pressed. It's like some creative nut job fired all the pragmatic people and went wild. Of course it doesn't HAVE to be this way. Modern is fully capable of offering input boxes of various shadings that would immediately make the mail app more intuitive.

Windows problem is the apps and in Stevie's own sweat-slinging/spit-spraying/foot pounding words, "Developers, developers, developers."
jqb
50%
50%
jqb,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/13/2013 | 3:51:03 AM
re: Microsoft Needs 3 Surface Tablets: 3 Reasons
If M$FT can't sell one model, how will they sell 3 models of more or less the same junk.
I live near the Oak Brook, IL mall which has both an Apple and Microsoft store.
Guess which one is always crowded, and which is not?

If this was a soccer league, M$FT would be relegated.
Shane M. O'Neill
50%
50%
Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
8/13/2013 | 1:44:19 PM
re: Microsoft Needs 3 Surface Tablets: 3 Reasons
I don't see how any good can come of a smaller Surface RT tablet, even if it's priced at $200 or even less. It will head into even more competitive terrain dominated by established players like the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire HD and iPad Mini. If the people didn't like the Windows 8 tile-based UI big they won't like it small either.
Tom Murphy
50%
50%
Tom Murphy,
User Rank: Author
8/13/2013 | 4:11:28 PM
re: Microsoft Needs 3 Surface Tablets: 3 Reasons
As someone who spent an hour in the Microsoft store the other day, I think it's wrong to dismiss RT "sucks" despite its obvious limitations. The problem for me as a consumer was price. The Surface RT is a good little machine for people who don't need to run a wide array of applications. For example, it's fine for a journalist on the road or a student in a classroom. The big problem for me was price -- it should be considerably cheaper (it's currently on sale for $359, including Office for students). I think Redmond would sell a ton of these at $250. It might not make much money at that price, but it would gain a following.
Building A Mobile Business Mindset
Building A Mobile Business Mindset
Among 688 respondents, 46% have deployed mobile apps, with an additional 24% planning to in the next year. Soon all apps will look like mobile apps and it's past time for those with no plans to get cracking.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Government Tech Digest Oct. 27, 2014
To meet obligations -- and avoid accusations of cover-up and incompetence -- federal agencies must get serious about digitizing records.
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 October 26, 2014 and for the incredible Friday Afternoon Conversation that runs beside the program.
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.