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10/4/2013
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Microsoft Surface Vs. Dell Venue: Tablet Rivals

Microsoft's Surface tablets gain a bit of momentum, but Microsoft faces new competition from Dell and continuing heat from Apple.

Microsoft faces another major dilemma in addition to increased competition: The market for Surface-like devices might not be very big to begin with. The Surface RT's poor sales testify to this possibility, as does the sluggish adoption of Windows 8 in general. But studies from several industry analysts provide additional evidence.

A Forrester study found two-thirds of information workers are interested in using tablets with keyboards but 80% still prefer to use a smartphone, tablet and keyboard in combination. It also found that many tablet users who prefer keyboards are pairing iPads with third party accessories rather than opting for more keyboard-centric Windows 8 devices. A Gartner study concluded employees prefer iOS to the Modern UI so much that they'll continue to bring iPads to work from home even if their employers issue Windows 8 hybrid devices. Another Forrest survey found far fewer users are interested in Windows 8 tablets than relative to a similar survey conducted last year.

The data suggests users are interested in tablets that can handle more productivity tasks but still see computers and tablets as separate tools. It also suggests Windows 8 hasn't persuaded users that convergence is the way forward, and raises doubts about whether Windows 8.1 adds enough to change their minds.

The news isn't all bad for the Surface line, though. For niche users, the Surface tablets will stand above the crowd; cloud-friendly users might be especially interested, given that Microsoft is bundling free Skype Wi-Fi and SkyDrive storage with the devices, for example. Healthy pre-sales might also indicate pent-up demand for the new models; many who considered the original Surface Pro have no doubt been waiting for the Pro 2 and its dramatic battery life improvements. Also, Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi said companies are interested in devices such as the Surfaces because they allow IT to manage one device that provides the utility of two.

Microsoft's recent Surface deployments with Delta Airlines and the London School of Business are likewise encouraging, and proof that Surface devices -- even the original Surface RT -- can fit enterprise needs. Microsoft also announced that its "Apps for Surface" program now includes SAP, news that could encourage more developers to consider Windows RT for line-of-business apps.

But these signs aren't convincing. Without knowing how much presale inventory Microsoft made available, it's premature to characterize the preorders as a triumph. Given how poorly the Surface RT sold, constrained supplies could simply mean Microsoft produced fewer units this time.

Similarly, enterprise interest in two-in-one devices might be increasing, but as the Dell Venue Pro 11 demonstrates, the Surface Pro 2 might not be the best value in this category. It also remains to be seen if IT's wishes mesh with those of end users; if employees keep bringing iPads to work after Windows tablets have been deployed, two-in-one strategies won't count for much.

Although Microsoft's deployments are important -- and according to Belikoff, the first batch of many to come -- they've also reinforced concerns. According to AppleInsider, some Delta pilots fought the Surface 2 "electronic flight bag," for example. The pilots reportedly would have preferred to use iPads, the device with which other airlines, such as American, have saved millions through similar programs of their own.

Modern UI apps from SAP are important, but the Modern UI still lags other tablet ecosystems. Forrester analyst David Johnson said "iPads will still keep their edge in usability and availability of mature apps for some time to come."

The new Surfaces are improved in every way, in short, but that doesn't mean Microsoft is out of the woods yet.

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SortenB116
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SortenB116,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2013 | 11:03:00 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Vs. Dell Venue: Tablet Rivals
You certainly can't compare the base price for the Venue 11 Pro with the Surface 2 Pro. The entry level Venue 11 Pro will come with BayTrail, which is much slower and much less expensive that the i5 processor in the Surface 2 Pro. I also don't think you can list screen size in favor of the Venue if they both have 10.6" screens.

I am more interested in the Venue 8 Pro, but I haven't seen any indication that it has any form of HDMI out, which makes it a lot less useful. There's no value to being able to run Windows desktop applications if you can do so on a large screen with a full size keyboard.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
10/7/2013 | 8:29:33 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Vs. Dell Venue: Tablet Rivals
True, Windows software is much more deeply woven into business infrastructure. But the article wasn't really about Windows devices being usurped by iOS devices, per se-- it was about Microsoft's Surface tablets specifically.

On that subject, Apple claims that more than 80% of tablets activated in the enterprise are iPads, and everything I've heard from research analysts supports this. So if the Surface is going to gain ground, it either needs to take some enterprise share away from iPads (in which case a "tablet with iOS" vs. "tablet with Windows 8.1" conversation becomes relevant) or it needs to replace retiring PCs and laptops (in which case the point isn't Surface vs. iPad so much as Surface's hardware convergence vs. other notebook options, such as clamshell Utrabooks, other convertible form factors such as the Lenovo Helix or the Dell Venue, etc.). In most scenarios, in other words, Microsoft is selling to potentially slim fractions of the market: the people who want a premium tablet but don't want an iPad; the people willing to pay top dollar for a portable, all-in-one convergence device; the people whose data revolves more around Microsoft's ecosystem of apps and integrated services than around Apple or Google's; etc.. That was the point of the article-- that the Surface tablets are much improved but still basically target niches that make breakout success questionable.

But if the article implies that employee preference for iOS means iOS is somehow pushing Windows out of the enterprise, then, no, that's not what I meant. Microsoft, as you point out, is still way more "business" than Apple, even with Apple recently making a few overtures to the enterprise and Microsoft spending more effort wooing consumers. Windows software will be crucial to the world's businesses for some time to come. But iOS isn't irrelevant to the enterprise, or to Microsoft's Modern UI and Surface plans.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
10/7/2013 | 6:15:34 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Vs. Dell Venue: Tablet Rivals
I'm not sure I agree. IMO -- we're already converged. Citrix access to desktop applications is the green-screen terminal emulator of 25 years ago. Tablets will use Citrix for years to come and that will bridge the gap. The writing is on the wall for the classic desktop GUI just as it was for green screens (even Microsoft knows it -- that's why they created the modern UI).

It took years for the green screen crowd to to stop slamming desktops as "toys". How familiar does that sound to the comments here that criticize tablets as "toys" because they cannot "create content" (whatever the heck that means.)

I actually think Microsoft has some interesting converged technology. However, unless the new Surface models or the OEMs quickly gain a lot of traction in the coming year, it.....won't.....matter. Android and iOS have momentum and a huge lead in the native application space.

If convergence is viewed as the Superbowl, it's the fourth quarter with 8 minutes remaining. Microsoft has the ball but it's down by 14 points (two possessions). If they go three and out or fumble instead of scoring quickly, the other team has a great running game and they know how to eat the clock. Microsoft might get the ball back and they might even score again but it isn't going to be enough to win. Football isn't a "best of" series. It's one game and Microsoft needs to score quickly with their new products, gain momentum, get their "D" fired up and get the ball back to have a chance in OT.
TerryB
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TerryB,
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10/7/2013 | 5:47:46 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Vs. Dell Venue: Tablet Rivals
"employees" use iOS at work? Really? Besides outside sales people, upper mgmt and the few people who have jobs creating media content, who uses an Apple at work? I'm still waiting on that list of Top 10 ERP applications which run on iOS. And don't bother me with business apps that run in browser, then it doesn't matter what your o/s is.
Apple iOS is still very much a consumer device, excepting stuff like your car dealer walking around with e-forms on his iPad or buying a coffee at Starbucks with your iPhone. That is not "business" in the sense of running a real company. When someone is running a manufacturing company that makes real products with Apple servers and client devices, let's have this discussion then. Oh wait, Apple doesn't make servers, I guess we'll be waiting awhile for that dialog, like forever.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
10/7/2013 | 4:53:25 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Vs. Dell Venue: Tablet Rivals
"employees prefer iOS to the Modern UI" there you have it in a nut shell. Microsoft's touch UI is not as intuitive as iOS or Android thus the poor acceptance as Microsoft and Dell fight with others for the slim segment of the market willing to buy windows 8 tablets. Only corporate honchos can justify the cost of the learning curve their employee's will encounter as was done at Delta which hasn't made a sound business decision since the late 1980s.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
10/7/2013 | 4:23:59 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Vs. Dell Venue: Tablet Rivals
You might have a point that convergence is inevitable, but I think Windows 8 is relevant to when and how. Convergence is going to happen, but the question is whether Microsoft has it figured out. Microsoft had a tablet before Apple, but Microsoft didn't figure out how to strike that market with the right features at the right time. That didn't stop tablets from becoming popular, and even if Windows 8.1 flounders, those struggled probably won't stop convergence. But those struggles could inform the shape convergence finally takes in the mass market, just as Windows 8.1 will set positive precedents if it performs well.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
10/7/2013 | 1:15:53 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Vs. Dell Venue: Tablet Rivals
"It also suggests Windows 8 hasn't persuaded users that convergence is the way forward, and raises doubts about whether Windows 8.1 adds enough to change their minds."

Convergence is inevitable and it has nothing to do with Windows 8. Folks are buying keyboards for their tablets and they want no more than two devices that do it all (a tablet and a phone.) Laptops replaced desktops several years ago. Using tablets like laptops will cause them to replace laptops. Resistance is futile for the same reason folks ditched desktops for laptops.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
10/6/2013 | 8:27:24 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Vs. Dell Venue: Tablet Rivals
Agreed, as the article says at the end. Large-capacity Surface Pros and even discounted Surface RTs have sold out in the past, but neither meant much in the end.
SmailB826
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SmailB826,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/6/2013 | 8:07:41 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Vs. Dell Venue: Tablet Rivals
If you only make 20 of them then selling out your inventory is not real an achievement, is it? With no numbers this statement of sold-out is less than worthless.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
10/6/2013 | 7:55:35 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Vs. Dell Venue: Tablet Rivals
Yeah, I don't think there's any way to compare Apple having limited supplies of, say, the iPhone 5S and Microsoft having limited supplies earlier this year of the original Surface Pro. I mean, Microsoft could astonish everyone in the next couple weeks by announcing an incredible number of presales-- but none of the MIcrosoft's past "sold out" devices have been anything like Apple's, so I wouldn't count on it.

Still, if Microsoft has any promising data, I think they should hold onto it for the moment. It's likely that Apple will announce an new iPad and new MacBook Pros just a couple days before Microsoft launches Windows 8.1 and its new Surfaces. Apple, in other words, is poised to steal Microsoft's thunder, at least in the mass market. If Microsoft has some great stats to share, it'll need them to steal some thunder back. If all Microsoft can do is point to the number of Windows 8.1 activations (which are inevitable, since it's free to existing Win 8 customers), you'll know it's falling flat.
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