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.