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9/24/2013
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Michael Endler
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Microsoft Surface: 10 Best And Worst Changes

Microsoft's new Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2 tablets deliver some cool new features, but not all changes impress.
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Despite the fanfare with which Microsoft launched its original Surface tablets, consumers and enterprises have responded with indifference. Undiscouraged, Microsoft doubled down Monday by announcing the Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2, updates that offer faster processors, better screens, refined hardware designs and 200 GB of free storage, among a variety of other enticements.

Some analysts were unimpressed by the new devices, but others were cautiously optimistic, noting that although some of the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2's respective enhancements are iterative, they address many of the first devices' most glaring gripes. Still, many have been hesitant to characterize the new devices as a clear victory for Microsoft--and given the odds the tablets face, it's easy to see why.

Separate studies by research firms Gartner and Forrester indicate many people are interested in tablets that can be used more like laptops, but this interest has done little for the original Surface and Surface Pro. Poor sales forced Microsoft not only to significantly discount the original devices, but also to take a $900 million write-down related to unsold inventory. That the new Surfaces' pricing hews closer to the original prices than to the discounts doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

Neither does the performance of Windows 8 tablets in general. Research firm IDC calculated in August that Windows 8 and Windows RT slates account for a measly 4% of the rapidly-growing market. The products have been on the market for less than a year, which somewhat explains their low share. But Microsoft and its OEM partners spent a fortune advertising the devices; given that Windows tablets have struggled while shipments of iPads and Android slates are soaring past those of PCs, it's no surprise that some Microsoft investors and customers have been critical of the company's "devices and services" game plan.

Still, IDC noted Windows tablets are making progress. Earlier this month, Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi told InformationWeek that laptop-tablet hybrids such as the Surface Pro could become more popular with enterprise customers in 2014. In an interview this week, Milanesi elaborated that the Surface Pro 2's $899 base price won't necessarily deter businesses, who like that hybrids allow them to deploy a single device in place of two.

Surface director Cyril Belikoff told InformationWeek on Monday that the Surface 2 could succeed in the enterprise as a line-of-business device while the Surface Pro 2 is more of a do-it-all device that puts top-flight PC power in a sleek, portable size. In a blog post published after the products debuted, Forrester analyst JP Gownder affirmed the Pro 2's multifaceted appeal, noting that the newly-introduced Surface Docking Station allows the Surface Pro 2 to serve as a desktop replacement.

Last week, Microsoft execs told an audience of financial analysts that it remains committed to its core business products but will continue to make its own hardware, and to target consumers. Microsoft VP Panos Panay made similar remarks when he introduced the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, referencing future generations of Surface devices that are already under development.

Are the new devices the first step on Microsoft's path back to the top of the personal computing world? Check out the rest of our slideshow to find out.

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Greg MacSweeney
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Greg MacSweeney,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/8/2013 | 10:35:27 AM
re: Microsoft Surface: 10 Best And Worst Changes
How that I have a Surface Pro, I can see its value as a desktop replacement. It's pretty nice with the keyboard. As a pure tablet though? I'm still trying to figure that one out. My kids seem to like it as a tablet. When one of them is on the iPad, the other one grabs the surface without missing a beat.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
9/27/2013 | 9:16:36 PM
re: Microsoft Surface: 10 Best And Worst Changes
I agree that some reports have been unfairly harsh on the Surface Pro 2 in particular. I think the Surface 2 is a decent update as well, though I can't fathom what Microsoft is thinking pricing it at $449 sans keyboard. Whereas some headlines said analysts were unimpressed, my impression was more that they're cautiously optimistic. And the Microsoft folk seemed pretty confident at the event in New York. They've got a few months of sales data from the ongoing Surface discounts, so maybe they know something we don't.

All that said, the media was happily bashing Apple in the days leading up to the iPhone launch. More than a few reports declared that Steve Jobs's spirit had finally departed Cupertino, leaving behind Tim Cook and his Microsoft-like desire to protect Apple's established strengths. Then reviewers got a look at iOS 7, and at the new hardware. Suddenly, the tune changed. A few people still aren't impressed, but by and large, the word for Apple has been overwhelmingly positive since the products actually hit the market. Apple, in other words, was also subject to some media bashing-- but it managed to change the narrative by releasing a product that got people excited.

That's what Microsoft needs to do now. They seem confident that once people have the devices, they'll see that the Surface line can hold it's own. Can Microsoft change the narrative too? I'll be as eager as anyone to spend more time with the new device, and to find out just how far the upgrades go.
dhodde770
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dhodde770,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/27/2013 | 8:49:54 PM
re: Microsoft Surface: 10 Best And Worst Changes
How can you expect a product to really take off when the market bashes it from day one just because it doesn't have an Apple logo on it? The media is very influential these days, and people pay attention, even if the media is wrong. so as a result, nobody bought. Unfortunate, too. I've used a Surface, and with a few tweaks (refreshed Windows 8.1, keyboard improvements, etc.) that seem to now be addressed I think it's a compelling bridge device. Not a great laptop, maybe not the best tablet, but if I can get 'pretty darn good' in one compact device, works for me every time.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
9/27/2013 | 7:16:18 PM
re: Microsoft Surface: 10 Best And Worst Changes
The Surface Pro 2 will make better progress for those enterprises willing to make the training investment which means most will still pass on any Windows 8 devices until Microsoft lowers the leaning curve. Surface 2 (RT) is a dead turkey with or without Office.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
9/27/2013 | 7:10:28 PM
re: Microsoft Surface: 10 Best And Worst Changes
Don't hold your breath...
midmachine
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midmachine,
User Rank: Strategist
9/27/2013 | 5:20:42 PM
re: Microsoft Surface: 10 Best And Worst Changes
Yup, everyone still wants to bring their own toys to use to "consume" after they are done "creating".
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
9/27/2013 | 4:49:26 PM
re: Microsoft Surface: 10 Best And Worst Changes
Apple is making iphone cases now. ipad cases seem logical soon. I agree re BYOD iPads -- they won't go away.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
9/26/2013 | 8:11:53 PM
re: Microsoft Surface: 10 Best And Worst Changes
As far as I know, Microsoft has no program to help current Surface users upgrade. That said, it allows users to recycle devices of all kinds in exchange for store credit-- so if your Surface is in good shape, you might be able to lower the upgrade cost. See here: http://www.microsoftstore.com/...
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
9/26/2013 | 5:24:48 PM
re: Microsoft Surface: 10 Best And Worst Changes
Good question. The Surface Pro competes as much with the MacBook Air as with the iPad, at least from a BYOD perspective. The Haswell MacBook Airs get battery life that's equal to, if not a bit better, than what it looks like the Surface Pro will get with the Power Cover.

But the iPads are a different story. They get around 10 hours of battery life, or a bit less according to numerous online accounts. I guess Apple might not feel much urgency since their battery life is just good enough to competitive, and since the Surface Pro still needs an accessory to get what they deliver out-of-box. But maybe the new iPads will offer improvements. Apple hasn't shown much interest in iPad keyboards, with or without batteries, even though there's a decent market. They seem content to let third parties like Logitech do it for now. But with the recent push toward iWork, I wonder if they'll shift tactics, especially if either of the new Surface tablets gains a meaningful user base.

Speaking of which, I'm not sure of the new Surfaces for consumers, as they're pretty pricey. But I think Microsoft will make inroads in the enterprise. Here's the question, though: If companies deploy Surface Pro 2s, will it stop BYOD users from bringing in their iPads? At least one study - by Gartner's Mark Cotner - said "no, it won't."
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
9/26/2013 | 4:58:51 PM
re: Microsoft Surface: 10 Best And Worst Changes
The power cover, an interesting battery life trick, makes me wonder why Apple has not rolled out something similar.
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