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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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BobB481
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BobB481,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/5/2013 | 3:08:34 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Vs. Dell Venue: Tablet Rivals
Make 1000 available,, claim they are selling out . . next, claim a shortage... etc etc.. keeps the idiot consumer panting for it...
Apple does this every release... works wonders..
Political Poop
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Political Poop,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/5/2013 | 4:16:35 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Vs. Dell Venue: Tablet Rivals
They sold out because they gave them away to Delta Airlines. As far as Dell goes, I'll NEVER buy another Dell product again.
dbtinc
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dbtinc,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/6/2013 | 12:52:55 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Vs. Dell Venue: Tablet Rivals
works well for Apple, not so much for MS!
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
10/6/2013 | 5:48:34 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Vs. Dell Venue: Tablet Rivals
Since, as usual, Microsoft refuses to give out hard numbers, which they know, any statements about selling out pre orders must remain under suspicion. I'm surprised at you Endler, haven't you learned anything? Ballmer was touting how well Surface was doing earlier, and those lies came back to bite him. Why would you believe Microsoft now? You really can't give them the benefit of the doubt, because not only have they not earned it, but they have shown that they can't be trusted.

The entry of Dell's new devices is something that we will need to keep track of, because there is nothing yet to show that they will fare any better than any of Dell's earlier offerings.

I certainly wouldn't be talking about Win 8 tablet momentum until we have some proof of it, such as reports of rising use from those companies who report on that. Little else matters.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
10/6/2013 | 5:52:57 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Vs. Dell Venue: Tablet Rivals
Except that Apple makes several million, and still runs out of them, as you do know. Your attempt at a put down fails in their case. Microsoft has been caught lying about Surface sales to the point of almost a $1 billion write off. Ballmer has had his bonus cut because of it, and there is a shareholder suit going on because of it.

It's believed that Surface's poor showing is a major reason why Ballmer has been fired.

Those are facts. You can love them or hate them. You can't change them.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
10/6/2013 | 5:57:59 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Vs. Dell Venue: Tablet Rivals
Guys like you are very amusing. I doubt you've even bought one of Microsoft's losers.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
10/6/2013 | 7:43:40 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Vs. Dell Venue: Tablet Rivals
I probably shouldn't have buried this paragraph on the second page, but the article acknowledges that Microsoft's "nearly sold-out" inventory might not mean much:

"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."

There's plenty of reason to be skeptical of Microsoft's tweet, and (as the end of the article notes) even its recent high-profile deployments, such as Delta. But the issue has shades of gray.

On the issue of whether Dell's tablets are worth paying attention to, for example: I think they warrant consideration because a) they're very competitively priced; b) their specs are much more attractive.

Other indications of rising Windows tablet momentum include recent data from IDC and other research firms; most of them generally agree Windows 8 will not be deployed en mass in the enterprise but feel that Win 8 will nonetheless gain enterprise tablet market share via division or group-level mobile deployments. Most of the analysts also agree that Windows 8 won't displace the iPad's spot in the enterprise, which makes it all a little hazy.

Your skepticism toward Win 8.1's prospects isn't unwarranted. Dell's new machines are attractively priced and the hardware seems nice. But they'll still Windows 8.1. Ditto for Microsoft's new Surfaces. They're both nice (albeit expensive) machines, but they both still run Windows 8.1. I think Windows 8.1 is an improvement, and Microsoft's Surface tablets - with their SkyDrive and Skype ties - point toward the ecosystem of integrated services Microsoft is trying to build. But if buyers truly dislike Windows 8, better prices and new hardware might not help. Microsoft could always surprise us with the final release, but at face value, Windows 8.1 is a targeted and iterative evolution, not a major overhaul.

That's really what this second generation of Windows tablets will provide-- a referendum on the Live Tile UI, if not also on the current appeal of hybrid form factors. The first generation of devices was hampered by poor pricing and clunky hardware. The new generation of devices has these problems figured out, to varying extents. If sales are still lackluster, it'll be hard to blame anything except the OS, and perhaps the brand of convergence it's trying to provide.

My intuition, though, is that sales will trend up. Windows tablets will still get clobbered by Android and iOS devices this year, even if Apple does its competitors a favor by not announcing a Retina iPad Mini until 2014 (per the recent rumor making the rounds online). But it's a big and growing market, and even if Windows tablets are in third place, they can still sell enough units to carve out a role.
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.
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.
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.
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