Bring on the Pablet: Why I am bullish about Microsoft's Surface

Bring on the Pablet: Why I am bullish about Microsoft's Surface

Summary: Call it a tablet, a PC, a Pablet or a TC: All I can say is so far, the Microsoft Surface is my best hope for something that may make Windows 8 more palatable.


When I participated in one of ZDNet's great debates this week, I found myself in somewhat of an unusual position. Me -- a Microsoft watcher charged with minding the 'Soft -- was on the side of not just defending, but actually cheering on, Microsoft.

This isn't a common, everyday event for me.

The primary topic of our debate was Microsoft's announcement that it plans to sell Microsoft-branded Intel- and ARM-based hardware running the next versions of Windows. The opening statements, rebuttal and closing statements from the "Did Microsoft just throw its users under the bus?" debate -- which I won, by the way (sorry Mr. Perlow) -- is available for your perusal.

Here was the gist of my argument:

Sadly for us consumers who've wanted Windows PCs, the innovative models have been few and far between. Everything looks the same. The trackpads are awful. There are almost no models with matte screens, only glossy. Battery life on most models is... meh. And don't get me started on the crapware preloading that is still going on out there.

Yes, I understand PC sales are down and pressure on OEM margins is up. But the solution isn't to keep churning out me-too machines. If HP decides to take its tablet and go home, I, for one, won't be shedding any tears. And it looks like my ZDNet colleague Ed Bott won't be crying a river, either. Like Bott, I believe the times and the competition have changed in a way that requires new tactics.

Microsoft execs, in introducing the Surface earlier this month, talked about their "pride in craftsmanship" with the coming devices. That should (hopefully) translate into "pride in ownership" with users. I don't think I'm alone in wanting a solidly made, beautiful-looking, distinctive PC and/or tablet. Apple users aren't the only ones willing to pay a fair price for something drool-worthy.

What is going to help sell Windows 8 is *the hardware.* Because Windows 8 works so differently from previous versions of Windows, Microsoft needs different kinds of devices to help sell it. The hardware needs to make the OS more palatable.

Until last week, I didn't think Microsoft's Windows 8 bet would pay off because I hadn't seen any PCs or tablets that could go head-to-head with the iPad or Macbooks. Now I have at least a glimmer of hope that the Surfaces may be those devices.

Yes, there's still a lot we don't know about the coming Surfaces, including battery life, price and even final weight. But one thing I do know is these devices give some credence to a Microsoft claim I've never believed until now: That tablets are PCs. The Windows tablets we've seen to date don't back this claim, in my opinion. But the Microsoft Surfaces just might.

Whether you call these things PCs, tablets, Pablets or TCs -- I want one. At least so far....

Topics: Tablets, Hardware, Laptops, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • So, you think...

    This is Microsoft's answer to Nexus? Or Intel, AMD and nVidias reference boards for new chipsets etc.

    Which is what I have arguing for the last week or so, mainly to a lot of deaf ears.
    • Ummm...

      Nexus was announced AFTER Surface. Sure, it was expected, but still not announced. Most people would be utterly shocked if Surface is priced to be direct competition price-wise with Surface.
      • Nexus has been around...

        for several years as a concept to get OEMs to make better handsets.

        I wasn't limiting the sphere of influence just to tablets, but to technology, where such initiatives as Surface are common place among manufacturers to provide a reference platform to show the industry what is possible and to inspire OEMs to create something better.
        • More like a Fackblet

          I would say
    • Nexus and Droid tablets a loser compared to Surface 8

      The Windows 8 Surface will blow these Droid toys away, and anything iApple because they aren't network devices using AD. Microsoft has created a new game in town.
  • The essence of a good argument or hypothesis is whether.................. is testable or not.

    "That tablets are PCs. The Windows tablets we've seen to date don't back this claim, in my opinion. But the Microsoft Surfaces just might."

    Yes indeed, they just might. We need of course to wait until we can get one of those devices in our hands but I am also, initially, optimistic that MS may actually know what they are doing here as far as the tablet as a full-song-with-choruses pc is concerned.
  • MS has a potential winner around the corner

    MS surface is sounding to be a clear winner in all those Android and BlackBerry tablets that currently flood the consumer and business markets. It will give a stiff competition to Apple's iPad. Must say Microsoft's entry into the tablet market with their own branded hardware is a great thing for all of us.

    - Sara
    • Post PC world...

      Until the iPad came along, most non tech people (90% of the population) had little choice how to do email, browse the internet, access Facebook, play games, watch video, except by buying a PC. These are the tasks that majority of people use a computer for.

      With a multi touch tablet, the consumer market has a choice. Most non tech people are content consumers with little content creation. Unless you are creating documents or heavy graphics, an iPad is the perfect tool - simple and effective.

      MS Surface is for content creators, there is no advantage for an average user to get a Surface tablet. The consumer ecosystem belongs to Apple and Android...
  • Spinning off the Surface Group

    What I think might be great, is if MS spins off the surface group into a separate company, where MS has great influence on the board, and let the group produce leading hardware for the Windows ecosystem. MS would be able to depend on the group to produce leading hardware for years to come, and the arrangement wouldn't stir up that much discontent among its partners. The above would also allow the surface group to produce great products freely, and consumers won't have to wonder why MS seems hesitant about making and distributing surface products.
    P. Douglas
    • One other thing ...

      MS could allow the surface group to use the MS brand for 2 or so years, to help give its products a boost.
      P. Douglas
  • Ships in 3 months but no demos!

    Can someone direct me to a video of Win RT in action? I only seem to be able to find videos of people sliding the start screen from left to right or browsing the web, i.e. no indication of how the touch UI actually works in applications. I am also interested to see how a touch UI initially set up for a portrait phone translates to a landscape tablet device. Also how do notifications work in Win RT? The start screen looks pretty, but it doesn't look that great at displaying new information efficiently, so am I correct in assuming there is something else that does this?

    When I have seen applications actually available and working (I've not even seen Office!?), on a real product that costs less than the iPad or the rumoured Amazon 10 inch tablet, well thats when I might be bullish. Until then I really don't understand how anybody could be bullish about this vapourware announcement.
    • Hubris

      Google with the Nexux 7 release, just wiped the floor then whipped it out from under MS. You can't upstage anything with an unfinished product and hype that vanishes overnight.
      Google copied Apple's successful product release template and got it right. Demos, hands on, devices given to developers, plans for ecosystem = justified hype.
      MS copies Apple's template but offers virtually nothing real except a couple of non working concept keyboards - no working tablets or OS, no software, no prices, no detailed specs and a roped-off, 'hands off' demo area along side a presentation product crash. How much more could you get wrong?
      Hence the regular 'I am confident in the Surface roadmap' fluff pieces which will be trickled out until some product emerges or until the next 'promise'.
      The IT world has changed but MS carries on in the same old way. It's not working.
      • yeah.... uh.. no.

        The only thing Google just wipe the floor of is drool, not Microsoft.

        Sorry, but the Nexus 7 isn't impressive, and Google doesn't really impress me much either. It's a low priced, low end, throwaway device that actually depends on Google's cloud for any real functionality.

        Thanks, but no thanks.
  • Tablets are PCs

    Tablets are more personal computers, than that box sitting on/under your desk. Holding and touching something is always more personal experience...

    Whether Microsoft has got it right with the Surface.. Only time will tell, but one thing is apparent: with the integrated stand and the keyboard in the cover they send the message that "we are not sure if this thing will work while you hold it in your hands and use it with the touch of your fingers.. only".

    This is an awful message and clear lack of confidence Microsoft themselves have in this product.

    From another perspective.. why would you want to develop beautiful productivity apps that work with touch, when you "always" have a keyboard and mouse (trackpad)? Developers will just not invest in touch technology for their new applications.

    Why bother then?
    • Because Touchy

      Is a really bad way to do work, if your work requires you to quickly and accurately enter text or numbers (programming, writing, using a spreadsheet, etc.). Touch screens are simply not up to the task. Work will be done for the foreseeable future on keyboards. Beautiful productivity apps are exactly that; beautiful on the screen. Their usability is limited to on the fly, light, quick and dirty scenarios.
    • One size fits al...most

      Where did the idea come from that a device should be -only- touch or -only- keyboard+mouse? By that logic, phones should be -only- voice operated... no touch, no keyboard.
    • Sold me by surprise

      As a desktop guy Iwas inno way sold on Windows 8. Dissapointed to be more accurate.

      However this caught me by surprise and if Microsoft implements this without any major snafus I am sold.

      I've heard the criticism before (from MAC prople) that a keyboard is a sign that the touch interface is less than useful. Well in most cases for what I need to do it is less than usefull and that includes the iPad.

      In my opinion including the keyboard is astroke of genius. I can own a device that allows me to work in the way that I am used to, while taking me by the hand and allowing me to work with some of the advantages that are provided by a tablet with a touch interface.

      I have been a Microsoft cheerleader up until Windows 8 but I also have a company issued iPhone that I find very useful for what it does. However I ccan't stray so far as to get an iPad without a USB port or keyboard or the applications that I currently use. The surface could change all of that - given there are useful applications and enough processing power. This remains to be seen, but in any case it has caused me to put my ultrabook research on hold and to pause for a while to see what transpires.

      The lack of confidence sound bite just doesn't cut it for me.
  • Pretty telling

    I think it speaks volumes that this whole piece is pretty much dedicated to Windows Surface and not much of a hint to Windows Phone 8. The debate was, if I'm not mistaken, the two. The reality is that the only thing announced on Windows Phone 8 that is potentially usable due to hardware on virtually all Windows Phone 7.5 devices is the new start screen. Other websites were all over a couple of slip ups (in my eyes, they were at least) this weekend where key WP people made indications that they can't speak about what else is coming with 7.8 and that there are more features coming (in respective order of when I read the articles). So the reality is that we don't have enough information to actually debate if current WP users were thrown under a bus... you can't add hardware dependent-features when the hardware isn't there so anyone that cries foul over those Windows Phone 8 features has the odd phone with one of the features (ie Lumia 610 actually has an NFC chip).

    As far as the Windows Surface announcement- while I am totally with you Mary Jo, I think the reality ZDNet has shown us is that the people that want this device, and in a bigger picture Microsoft, to fail are the ones writing article after article about how a device we still have lots of questions about is going to do on a global stage. There is not a single living or man-made "thing" in the world that can tell anyone right now how successful or unsuccessful anything will ever be. The reality is, if Microsoft were to some how price this (RT version) at $199 (I would also be shocked if it was) would there even be any speculation to its success given that kind of price tag in the tablet market (and a 10.4" screen no less)? What about if it was priced at $299? $399 like the entry iPad 2 or $499 like the entry iPad gen 3 or $599 like some rumors suggestion?

    People that think the Surface will be vaporware, I have a question for you. Would you let the most important (if only because it's the newest) product launch (aka Windows 8/RT) in company history be decided by partners that are more interested in maximizing profits than putting out unique device with a competitive price tag? This is Darwinism at its finest- Microsoft cannot afford to depend on the same vendors that clearly did wonders for Android-based tablets. This is the advantage of releasing your product later... you can see who is most successful and work them. Well, when the only "successful" people are the ones that build it themselves (iPad, Kindle Fire, Nook), that lets Microsoft know they cannot sit this one out. It tells the OEMs that make Android-based tablets, "We saw what you did with our competitions product and we don't like it." It tells OEMs that will be only doing Windows-based tablets, "You see the competition? Are you going to compete on price or some unique feature that is actually worthy enough of the market leader's price tag? If it competes on neither, don't bother."
  • I agree - good new hardware is going to be needed for the software

    Microsoft needed to make its own hardware to best sell Windows 8, and it already has me interested.
    D.J. 43
  • Multiple Uses

    danbi,people use computers for multiple functions and use it to write or create art that requires use of multiple functions. yes there are apps but sometimes it's nice to fly and use all types of attachments for a presentation or arguments that require quick interchanges fast access to multiplex system would be nice.