Five things that could make a next-gen Surface into a hit product

Five things that could make a next-gen Surface into a hit product

Summary: Can anything save Microsoft's Surface product? Rumors are that a next-gen Surface will be announced in June and our own David Gewirtz speculates on five factors that might give the Surface renewed life.


Yesterday, our sister-site CNET reported that Microsoft is readying a next-generation Surface tablet to be announced in June.

Microsoft needs a next-generation product, because the first generation product hasn't been much of a barn-burner.

Given the existing Surface device's relatively poor success in gaining traction in the market, it might be useful for us to look at five features that — taken together — could raise the product's profile in a second-gen product.

7-inch form factor

The CNET article reported that Microsoft is readying a smaller device. That would be a relatively big step for Windows-based machines (especially desktop-oriented Windows machines), since there are relatively few that run on small displays.

This could actually be a big win for Windows 8 users, because there are many uses of Windows that could benefit from what would essentially be a small, smart flat-panel display.

Beyond the full Windows 8 experience, even the anaemic Windows RT could benefit from a smaller device. Reports are that Apple's iPad mini is outselling the full-sized iPad. I have both an iPad mini and an iPad, I very much prefer the mini because it seems to fit into my work style more conveniently.

And as ZDNet Health blogger Denise Amrich (our resident RN) reported in an interview with two health professionals, a tablet-based Windows 8 may have some unique advantages in healthcare.

The Xbox Arcade library

In The Verge's coverage of a possible new Surface, there's mention of an Xbox Surface. Way back in June of last year, I wildly speculated that Microsoft would announce an Xbox tablet.

That obviously never happened, and it's somewhat unlikely that it will this June either. We'll know more on May 21st, when Microsoft is widely expected to announce the next generation of Xbox, what everyone is calling Xbox 720.

The current-generation Xbox 360 is based on a 64-bit PowerPC architecture, while the original Xbox was based on a Pentium III architecture. Obviously, with the current Surface devices running ARM and Core i5, getting Xbox applications to run on the Surface might be a challenge.

That said, Apple has a history of emulating PowerPC on it's older Intel machines (using the now-discontinued Rosetta emulator), so it's possible to do.

I see two possible courses here: First, while it would be impractical to run the full-experience Xbox console games on a new Surface without a lot of additional hardware (and heat-dissipation improvements), a new Surface could run Xbox Arcade games.

The Xbox Arcade is hugely popular, and might prove to be a very compelling reason for consumers to pick up a Surface. It would almost immediately counter Android and iPad's game-availability advantage.

The second possibility is that Microsoft may announce a move off the PowerPC architecture for Xbox 720, and there may be an opening for lower-powered games to run on Atom or Core i5 in a refreshed Surface. Frankly, I don't think that's the barn-burner move. I think introducing Arcade on the Surface would make for a market winner.

Lighter and more comfortable to hold

One of the failings of the Surface is that it's great on a desk, but it's not quite that comfortable to hold. If ever there was a critical design flaw in a tablet, that's your problem, right there.

ZDNet's James Kendrick reported after 45-days of using his HP Envy x2 (a full Windows 8-based convertable tablet), the tablet part of the Envy is lighter and easier to hold than an iPad — and it's running full Windows 8.

If HP can do it, so can Microsoft. In fact, Microsoft must improve the hold-a-bility of its tablet or it stands almost no chance of widespread acceptance.

Price price price

Speaking of widespread acceptance, there are two relatively hot competitors to the iPad — the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire. Why? The answer is really quite simple: Price.

These are two great devices that were released for $200, a breakthrough price for a tablet. Consumers are very price-sensitive, and if they're going to adopt something widely, Microsoft will need to offer a much less expensive offering or a next-gen Surface just won't stand much chance against its more entrenched (and less expensive) rivals.

Compelling Metro apps

I have asked Windows 8 user after Windows 8 user (and the few Surface users I could find) about what good Metro (uh, Modern UI) apps there are out there. The universal answer: None.

I'm writing this on Windows 8 right now, and I have access to the entire Modern UI Windows store. I tried to find a good text editor, but they all sucked. Not just mediocre, but terrible. So I'm happily using my traditional Windows desktop applications — fine for desktop use, but not a compelling tablet app solution.

Evernote makes nice little tablet apps on the iPad and even on the iPhone, but the Metro app for Windows 8 is pretty much unusable.

I know there are some useful Metro apps being released for verticals, and vertical-market custom software has always been a strength of Microsoft's, but unless Microsoft builds up a stable of really good, best-of-show Modern UI apps, the entire tablet/Start screen/touch model of the Surface will go the way of Microsoft Bob.

But if Microsoft does follow these five pieces of advice, they'll have a winner. And Bob's your uncle.

Topics: Microsoft Surface, Microsoft, Tablets, Windows 8


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • the only thing that can salvage $urface

    is Linux as an OS.
    LlNUX Geek
    • Linux on a tablet is called Android.

      Move along, troll.
      • alsw....I was actually thinking if you buy one you get TWO FREE

        End Of Story
        Over and Out
        • Well, that's what they're having to do to sell many Android tablets

          so it's an idea.

          End of story
          William Farrel
          • This is what

            Microsoft, aka "me too" could do to improve market share, too.
      • Linux Ultra Deluxe

        I'd say Android is an "Ultra Deluxe" version of Linux. They kept the kernel but redid everything that made 99% of computer users hate Linux for decades. Android is Linux reborn. It's what Linux should have been long ago. Unlike Linux, Android is appealing to a wide audience. It's disparaging to even call Android "Linux," in my opinion.
        • Agreed

          Similarly, Apple's Mac OS X is based on Unix but it is nothing like any other Unix environment that I have used in the enterprise. shouldn't Unix fans be touting Unix superiority due to the Mac OS X?
          Burger Meister
        • Well if you don't mind

          I would prefer GNU/Linux over Android any day. Android is a invasion of privacy with a malware problem. The fact that most of the apps are using some Java rippoff says it all, utter garbage.
          • You forget one important fact

            While Linux is pretty much STABLE, Android is unstable and very sluggish.
          • Very sluggish

            This has been an fact for Windows at some time.
            Should we draw the conclusion that all of Windows is very sluggish?
  • Price

    I disagree on the size. The point of Windows is productivity. Smaller screen real estae at twice the price of an Android 7" tablet further underscores Win 8's inferiority or lack of value and differentiation.
    Achieving Laptop level productivity, minus the size and weight, plus instant ON/Off, reliability and battery life, are what will make a Surface Tablet successful. $199 is owned by Android and it has more momentum behind it with more apps and a more loyal following. Take away productivity, you have a Tiles base operating system with less features.
    • I agree 100%, if they want to hit big they have to find their own souls

      and bring something new! everything was suggested here except xbox games -which seems a pretty good idea- was brought by others at least one year ago! they can't beat Google at its own game, they have to attack where their adversary is weak like games or enterprise software!
      • Enterprise software

        Microsoft does not sell any enterprise software. They create the environment for others to build it. The enterprises, that is.

        But enterprises do not sell this software to end users, or to other enterprises. So this is why it does not matter for the success of Surface.

        Also,these enterprises have learned it the hard way, that relying only on Microsoft is risky, so any new software they build, they would make multi-platform. In view of this, the Surface will be just as good as any other tablet. Just make it good tablet and it will stick... after some time, not immediately.
    • The productivity bugaboo

      "You can only be productive in Windows". This is a real laugher. But even if it were true...

      Apparently most of us aren't buying devices to be productive with. Apparently a lot of people were buying PCs because we wanted to do certain things, and PCs let us do them in a limited way. But now there are tablets and phones that let us do them in a way that is more engaging and complete. So the people who didn't need the whole PC now have a different choice that better suits their desires.

      Not everybody needs Photoshop and Office. The fraction of the people who do will not go wanting - but the fallout is that the companies that rely on everybody buying PCs are going to turn cannibal quite quickly as they were already on a starvation diet.

      BTW: The price point for 7" Android tabs this Christmas isn't going to be $200. It's going to $100. $250 is going to get you a nice quad-core HD Android fondleslab. Microsoft has no hope of producing any sort of Windows that can even run on hardware that inexpensive - even if they gave it away.
      • Blue collar workers may not

        except from Blue Collar Workers everybody needs office
        Laurin Krystyn
        • in what world do you live in that everyone needs Office?

          There are way more tablet/mobile users getting by swimmingly without it than with.

          Android folks have great GoogleDocs integration and iOS folks have iWork, but honestly the amounts of work getting done in traditional Office apps lowers every year. PaaS, Salesfore, AWS, etc lead us to a work where there is much less driven Excel and Powerpoint than live dashboards and forecasting tools (Tableau).

          It is an app world out there.
          • I love this

            I love how you just said, "There are way more tablet/mobile users getting by swimmingly without it than with".

            Are you sh!!ting me!! You must not work in any building in a city enviorment. Floor after floor of office using people.

            No IT department in their right mind would allow the outsourcing of their companies documents. To think you could believe that there are more people using any of the so called "production" apps on their tablets or phoes is amazing.

            So becuase YOU eat crap and poop hamburgers, does everyone else?
          • Re: So becuase YOU eat crap and poop hamburgers,

            Can you imagine for a moment, that not all enterprises are full of people working in cubicles, slaved to their Windows desktop?

            Do you honestly believe that if one day that desktops get changed overnight with Linux desktops running LibreOffice - anyone will notice, or care? Saves are slaves and they use whatever tools are provided. No free will, no choice!

            This is the world where Microsoft prospers. They produce tools for slaves. Now, imagine the world is bigger, way bigger than that and is already using new tools. Microsoft not only has no clue, but those who live there, do remember the slavery time and associate their slavery with.. you guessed it, Microsoft software.

            So why you think anyone wants to remember t
            Hey we're once slaves? :)
          • we're not all in your industry

            office is still the standard in mine (academia)
    • If they can do a $200

      7" Surface tablet with full blown windows and the Xbox Arcade I think it will be a major hit! Let's not forget that Windows 8 can do SO MUCH MORE than a cracker jacks toy from the Android & IOS world. Need a text editor for Windows 8? Why not use Office 365 or 2013? I'm sorry but modern Tablet UIs will never be amazing for Documents or spreadsheets touch just doesn't work as well but you can get by from the desktop with a good stylus.