Ecosystem lock-in may just break the Surface

Ecosystem lock-in may just break the Surface

Summary: The Microsoft Surface tablets look so good I already want one, but with no significant installed Windows Phone base the ecosystem may keep buyers away.


MSFT Surface tablet
I want a Microsoft Surface. The new tablets look well designed and I am looking forward to seeing how Windows 8 integrates with them. Microsoft is hoping a lot of other buyers feel the same way, but there's a lack of Windows Phone owners that may keep prospective customers away.

Both Apple and Google have a decent ecosystem consisting of lots of apps. There are good apps and bad apps, but with so many to choose from you can find a decent solution to just about anything you want to do.

These two big ecosystems may be a big obstacle for the Microsoft Surface tablets when they go on sale. I'm not referring to a lack of Windows 8 apps, although that will be a factor. No, I'm referring to the smartphone app ecosystems that will play a role in tablet buying habits.

Most iPhone and Android phone apps work just fine on the iPad and Android tablets respectively. The iPhone owner who buys an iPad finds he/she already owns lots of good apps for the iPad right out of the box. The ecosystem has taken care of its customers, as a good one should do.

The same is true of the new Android tablet buyer. Odds are she/he has a shiny Android smartphone and has bought/installed lots of apps for it. Like the iPhone owner, most Android smartphone apps work fine on that new tablet. For both platforms there is no extra investment required to get rolling with the new tablet.

That's not going to be the case for prospective Microsoft Surface tablets. Very few of them are Windows Phone owners, and even if they are those apps won't work on either of the Surface tablets (Windows RT/ Windows 8 Pro). After plunking down what Microsoft has led us to believe will be many hundreds of dollars for the sparkling Surface tablet, the new owner will have to buy apps.

Even enthusiasts anxious for a Surface tablet will be affected by this app situation. Odds are most prospective buyers already own either an Android phone or an iPhone; they have already bought into that platform app ecosystem. If the new tablet owner needs lots of apps, that could be quite an additional investment at a time when the buyer is tapped out from the tablet purchase.

I am going to buy a Surface tablet, I am certain. But the prospect of needing a dozen or so Metro apps to get good use out of it bothers me, I must admit. I've already bought heavily into both the Android and iOS ecosystem. The Microsoft tablet will be a third. I may be broke for the foreseeable future.

Topics: Tablets, Android, iOS, Microsoft

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • It isn't quite called out

    When you log into the Google Play store on your shiny new tablet, it knows what apps you've bought there for your phone and they're paid-for and queued for download in the "My Apps" tab if they will (and almost all do) work on the device. You don't have to pay again, you don't have to search for them. I have several Android devices, and this is the way it works on all of them. In-app purchases are the only thing I've found that don't work this way.

    I'm told iOS devices work the same way. So if you have an iPhone, iPad is an easy choice. For Android phone carriers real Android tabs (not things that lack Google Play like Kindle Fire) are a better choice.

    I wouldn't call it lock-in, but it does make the ecosystem "sticky". Lock-in would be more like making sure apps are exclusive to one ecosystem or can't share data with the same app on a different ecosystem to prevent migrations - and that doesn't describe this at all. Your Amazon books are still there in the reader from whatever platform, NetFlix still works wherever you go.
    • Good news for Android users on Windows 8.

      Using Blue Stacks, Windows 8 (x86) machines will be able to run those Android apps, so ecosystem won't be an issue. iOS apps, would be another issue, but I suppose that is the same issue for MacBooks...they don't run iOS apps either.
      • Surface RT

        I'm sure they are working on a Metro version that would work for both x86 and RT.
        • What about performance?

          Tablets do not sport performance demons ;)

          There will be penalty for using android apps on tablets with Win8.
      • We'll have to see..

        It may well come down to how well Blue Stacks can run Android apps. It sounds a lot like Wine on Linux for running Windows Apps, but this time in reverse.

        In other words, your mileage will probably vary.
        • The thing that makes me optimistic

          Is how easy it is to run a Linux virtual environment in Windows. It's extremely simple, so hopefully that ease transfers to Android apps.
        • Bluestacks

          I tried Bluestacks on my 3.5 year old desktop. It runs apps quite well. It does need some work on the user interface. I was unable to update my apps. They did a good job converting finger swipes to mouse control.
        • maybe I've drunk the coolaid

          but I have to figure it should be easier for MSFT to develop an Android emulator than it is and has been for the wine team to develop a Windows emulator because MSFT has access to Android's source code, but the wine team doesn't have access to Windows'. Actually, isn't a Dalvik implementation for Windows [Phone] all that's needed?
          • Dalvik

            Yeah I'm not sure why Microsoft doesn't just develop a Dalvik runtime. Google basically opened the door by winning their Java case against Oracle. Microsoft should just do what they did and clone the API.... either create a Dalvik clone or some sort of .NET implementation like they've done with IronRuby and IronPython. Instant AppStore!!!
      • There is no Google Play in Bluestacks

        That makes it a bit of a rooting and hacking situation and not likely to be very popular.
      • Exactly

        Exactly, but x86 Surface doesn't need the Android apps, there are millions of applications that can run in Windows. Its really Surface RT that needs the apps. I have heard of developers programming for Metro interface, so I am hopeful there will be hundreds available in a very short period of time. If people think that they will be exactly the same as the phone apps they are used to from iOS and Android, they will probably be disappointed.

        In time, I believe that Metro has great potential. A developer considering programming for Windows should consider Metro. A Metro app will run on either Surface tablet AND on all Windows desktop, laptops. It has the ability to hit all platforms.
        • If it plays out like it did for Windows Phone they will be much better.

          The windows phone versions of most ios/android apps are much better than the original versions on those os's. Much nicer looking and much easier to use.
          Johnny Vegas
          • Examples...

            Easy to say but which apps are you talking about?
      • Bluestacks is horrible

        Just an FYI but most apps on bluestacks run like crap. Iis nice idea if you want to play around with it for somthing quick but using it for anything longer than 5 minutes will drive you insane.
  • This was a great post James

    It also highlights why no Windows user should ever buy a Mac and switch to OS X. After all, smartphone and tablet apps only cost a few bucks. Full PC applications cost far more.
    • So you are all for vendor lock-in?

      Your position seems to be that since a person has paid a 'LOT' of money for PC apps, they should keep paying 'LOTS' for more PC apps?
      Can I forward your info to our sales dept? They love customers with that attitude.
      • Pay for apps?

        What a novel idea. My 3.5 year old Windows desktop has zero paid apps. Sure, I do have some software that comes with a piece of hardware like my all in one printer. I get free software from a variety of sources/websites. I weed out all the bad ones and keep the good ones. I have no problem getting done what I need to do.
        • Offtopic.

          Read the comment he was replaying to not only his own.......
      • Few dollars for apps.

        The few bucks you are paying for apps, you can find a free version of the same thing for Windows on the internet.
  • Free Gift for You

    This is easy to fix if it becomes a problem. Put an App Store gift card worth $40 in the box. That doesn't really cost Microsoft $40, but it gives the buyer a head start toward acquiring apps.
    Robert Hahn