There's a ton of buzz about Microsoft's Monday announcement of Surface, a tablet PC to compete with the iPad and the legions of Android tablets on the market. While it looks promising, there's still a lot unanswered questions and it's probably too late to catch the momentum of the iPad and the App Store.
There's a lot of things to like about Surface:
- Magnesium case
- Touch Cover keyboard with accelerometers for detecting finger force
- Type Cover keyboard for a more tactile typing experience
- 2x2 MIMO antenna for better WiFi reception and speed
- 5-pin magnetic charging connector (beating Apple at its own game?)
- Lots of ports (microSD/SDXC, USB 2.0/3.0, Micro HDMI/Mini DisplayPort)
- Full HD display (on the Pro model)
- Full desktop-class OS and applications (on the Pro model)
But what about the questions:
Price: Surface RT will be priced similarly to competitive ARM tablets -- presumably 32GB for $600 and 64GB for $700. It can't be more, because iPad will win on price. I'm guessing that Microsoft comes in at $100 less at 32/$500 and 64/$600. But that's just a guess.
According to Microsoft Surface Pro will be priced similarly to Ultrabooks which probably means breaching the $1000 price point. And if you're paying Ultrabook money, why not buy an Ultrabook?
Availability: Surface RT will ship when Windows ships, presumably for the 2012 holiday shopping season, Surface Pro three months later in early 2013. We think.
Surface isn't going to catch the iPad and the App Store. Apple has a two-and-a-half year head start on Microsoft and a dominant position in the tablet market. There are over 170,000 native iPad apps (and over 550,000 total apps) in the App Store. Apple has 73 percent of the tablet market. These are huge numbers and a tough mountain to climb at this late stage.
If Google and Amazon can't catch the iPad, how can Microsoft expect to?
Obviously Microsoft doesn't expect to catch up to Apple right away, it's launching Surface to have a horse in the tablet race and to chip away at Apple's dominance. Surface will probably end up hurting Google and Amazon more than it will hurt Apple.
While it won't appeal to users that want selection (of apps) and simplicity, Surface definitely will appeal to a couple of market segments:
- Windows administrators that require full Windows manageability and domain control
- Business/corporate users with locked-down networks and policies
- Windows application users looking for portability
- Heavy Microsoft Office users
I'm guessing that we'll never see that mythical version of Microsoft Office for iOS that was leaked back in February. Microsoft's would be wise to keep mobile Office as its trump card. Need Word, Excel and PowerPoint? Get a Surface!
But even withholding Office for iOS can't stop the iOS juggernaut, there are a ton of equivalent productivity apps on the App Store, including Apple's own iWork suite, which read and write Office file formats. If anything, Surface will probably make the next generation iPad even better, hopefully the additional tablet competition from Redmond will force Apple to step up its game.