Microsoft, it's time to start talking about "Surface v2"

Microsoft, it's time to start talking about "Surface v2"

Summary: Why isn't Microsoft saying anything about "Surface v2"? Probably because they don't want to say the one thing that they should say...

TOPICS: Windows
Surface - New and Improved
Come on version 2!

Although Microsoft has only recently gone public with information that Surface had been a busted flush, Microsoft has known the grisly details for far longer. The information must have come to light quickly from all manner of telemetry and intelligence vectors that what they'd put out there was not looking like it was headed for success.

And yet Microsoft has said nothing about what's happening with "Surface v2". That's odd, right? I think if I'd shipped a "company-saving" product that turned out to be very poor, I think I'd be up there talking up the next version.

What possible reasons could Microsoft have for not talking? What's stopping them from saying "What was wrong with Surface was this, this, and this. What we're doing is this, this, and this."

I suspect a lot of the reticence is down to the fact that everything about this scenario is too complicated to get over in a single message. Just defining what Surface is, because it's tied in to two versions of Windows, a new app development paradigm, an ecosystem, two different classes of markets, is incredibly difficult.

If we just list just some of the factors involved you can see the complexity. And in answering the question "OK, Microsoft -- how is Surface v2 going to fix the disaster that was v1", you'd need to answer all of them. Here's some of the factors:

  • Hardware -- what's good or bad, what needs fixing about the hardware itself?

  • Consumer/enterprise -- trying to mate one thing to two utterly different audiences is probably impossible. Yet that's what they're trying to do. Surface, and Windows has to appeal to an the enterprise market, and the consumer market.

  • Core operating system software -- there's a question about whether the user experience design elements of Windows 8/Windows RT makes for a good tablet operating system?

  • Apps ecosystem -- the apps are general amateurish, and the overall impression of the store (one year on) is one of paucity.

  • Office -- is Office on RT, given that it has no VBA support, good enough for enterprise? It shouldn't be. And consumers don't care about Office. (If you do, and you're a consumer, I'm afraid to say that you're an outlier.)

  • Content ecosystem -- i.e. movies, music, etc. Is what's there actually squaring up to iTunes or Google Play, because I see no evidence is it.

  • Marketing -- building two operating systems with essentially the same name, one of which is actually Windows, one of which just looks like it sometimes, was only some of the problem.

  • Keep or kill Windows RT -- obviously, they're going to keep it.

  • Pricing -- the pricing is better now, but it was too high.

Fixing Surface

The Old Windows desktop acts like a dirty little tentacle that anchors Microsoft in the past from both a technical and philosophical perspective. It sucks and drains the energy from what could be a great product. It stops them from moving into the post-PC era, whilst Apple and Google establish beachhead after beachhead in pristine, profit-rich new lands.

The trick is to cut away the tentacle and allow Microsoft to play in post-PC land on new terms. And to use Surface as a vehicle for doing that. Luckily, it's easy.

It just needs one new message: "Windows for work, Surface for play".

A "Surface v2" just needs to reboot the proposition into one where the enterprise, PC world says in the past. Let's look at the factors now, assuming Surface v2 is "Windows for work, Surface for play":

  • Hardware -- Surface hardware is beautifully executed. A smaller model is needed. Great, easy. Do it in an afternoon.

  • Consumer/enterprise -- consumers love iOS and Android. New Windows with it's Metro-style/Modern/Whatever-its-called UI/UX paradigms is good enough to go toe-to-toe with iOS and Android. It's only Old Windows that's rubbish. (Plus Old Windows will never work on small tablets.)

  • Core operating system software -- generally fine if you keep the user away from the Old Windows desktop.

  • Apps ecosystem -- there aren't enough good apps. But why would there be if no one is buying the devices? So this would need fixing.

  • Office -- ditch it. Consumers don't care. And I don't care about lost revenue -- any loss would be illusory because consumers don't care and wouldn't buy it anyway.

  • Content ecosystem -- enterprises don't care about this one anyway.

  • Marketing -- one message to one audience rather than a zillion messages to two audiences.

  • Keep or kill Windows RT -- I'll get to that.

  • Pricing -- the market has already defined an expected price, just go with that.

All of that shows that in order to fix Surface with "v2" is simple. It's this message:

"Guys, we got it totally wrong. Surface isn't going to be Windows anymore. It's got Windows inside it, like the Xbox, but it's different. It's this:

  • It's just for consumers -- use Windows at work, Surface at play.

  • It's simple -- we've got rid of the complexity of Windows

  • It's fun -- all the things you want, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, it's all there along with all the other apps you'll ever needed.

  • It's secure -- it's locked down and safe. None of the weird, bloated overhead of Windows.

  • The hardware is sleek and pleasant -- it's not cheap, box-shifting rubbish from our OEMs."


That message, "Windows at work, Surface at play", allows Microsoft to cut away the tentacle that's anchoring them to the past, allowing Apple and Google to colonise more or more of the post-PC landscape as every week goes past.

That approach allows Microsoft to keep investing in Windows RT in a way that's not embarrassing. All they have to do is cleave the market, and they can do that without losing too much face.

"Sorry guys, what we did before was too complex, too muddy. How's this?"

That's a story that anyone can spin.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topic: Windows

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  • Oh Please.

    How about you taking a break from Bad mouthing Windows 8 and Win RT ? :-)
    • What bad mouthing?

      All I heard were suggestions for the next iteration?
      • Clearly you don't pay much attention while reading FenceSitter...

        I only read the first third of the article before stopping, realizing how much of a biased idiot the author is. But in that span he called the Surface both "very poor" (2nd paragraph) and a "disaster" (5th paragraph).

        If ZDNet doesn't start listing the authors in their email blast so I can tell which articles will be worth reading and which ones will provide clicks to idiots who have no ability to think (like Matt Baxter-Reynolds), I'm unsubscribing. But I hate to lose valid articles by authors with the capacity to think beyond marketing such as Ed Bott and Mary Jo Foley.
        • How to fix Windows 8, RT & Surface...

          (1) Buy BlackBerry & rebrand the Surface tablets as "Playbooks"
          (2) Rename Windows RT to "Windows Surface"
          (3) Get rid of the desktop in Windows RT & replace Office with touch-based Office

          So, basically, Windows 8 OS runs on Intel. Windows Surface OS runs on ARM. And the Surface tablets are now called "Playbooks." I know, it sounds confusing, but I actually think it would clarify things in the long run.
          • RT is the future for the masses.

            For the masses, RT is much better then Atom based tablets. Most of poeple do not need to install PC apps on tablets. They just browse, check e-mails, work with office. And RT is perfect for that. RT devices are thinner, cheaper, and with better battery life. And the most important part is, that it is safer for normal users. They do not install any crap on those machines which will make them slow after a year!!! I think this is the biggest benefit of RT. I would recommend it to any person who is not IT geek and just need a device to consume the net.
            RT is the best os, that MS has made, but poeple will need time to find out. Specially, when "IT gurus" will spread that it is already dead. :)
    • How about ...

      ... the ZDNET moderator terminates Owlnet's account.

      • On what grounds?

        I probably disagree with Owlnet very often, but as far as I know, this user hasn't violated the terms of service on this site. Unless being a massive enthusiast for one particular company's products and services suddenly became a gross violation of the TOS--and that might wind up reducing the member pool by about 90% at the absolute least--no rules appear to have been broken.

        That said, I do believe that things have not gone according to plan for Microsoft, and that some reconsideration is in order. To claim otherwise is foolish.
        Third of Five
        • Looks like you have the same selective reading as Owlnet

          ... who regularly get abusive, as well as frequently lying to his back teeth. He's a disruptive troll, who rarely says ANYTHING that adds to the discussion.

          While zdnet encourages idiot fanbois of all persuasions, owlnet is in a class of his own.

          Mind you, he turns even the most loyal Microsoft fan into a Microsoft hater eventually, so he can't be all bad. ;-)
          • I Like his posts

            ... he just need to be more careful before calling someone stupid.
            It's irrelevant if people posting are paid or not, really don't understand the reason why that fact seems to annoy so many.
            Not agreeing it's normal, being polite is healthy.
            Just my off topic..
    • Not going to happen.

      Until Microsoft fixes this junk. After they acknowledge that surface is just for play they need to take Metro UI out of Windows 8 so the rest of us can get back to work.
      • Agree with Grumpy

        Metro only made reasonable sense on tablets and phones. It never made any sense on the desktop. They should have put WP8 (leaner and more responsive) on both tablets and phones, and left the desktop alone. One size does not fit all.
    • Why?

      Myth Buster's proved you could polish a turd, but it was still a turd.........
    • The surface for play stuff would totally ignore the huge enterprise tablet

      market. That wouldn't be a good idea. I think they should drop ARM/RT though. The new low power intel chips make for a much better device.
      Johnny Vegas
      • drop ARM/RT

        That would be bad idea for Microsoft.

        WinRT is their chance to leave the legacy Windows junk behind. They didn't design good v1 runtime, but might be v3 will be ok.
      • Enterprise tablet is easy

        Have 2 versions:
        Windows 8.1 Enterprise = volume license without all the "surface for play" junk.
        Windows 8.1 Standard = option at install(or first boot) for play(home)/mixed mode/business(Pro).
        Everyone happy!
        • Won't work

          Not on the ARM processor and not at the price point. Just can't have Pro with full Office and a Core I7 for under $500.........Pro if more a competitor for Macbook Air, RT for Ipad..........Ipad won't be caught.....they could compete with various companies but not directly with Google..........for now, stick with what you know.......Surface Pro less the start screen............
    • Article a load of crap

      Obviously a fanboi of the Metro/Modern UI. Get a clue, the real world has been rejecting Windows 8 BECAUSE of Metro. It just is not a good UI for a desktop or laptop (especially if said items do not have touch enabled screens. It just doesn't work for people trying to do real world work and who need multiple apps open and visible at the same time). With that said, I have tried a Windows 8 RT tablet and did find Metro quite usable on it (but then, it's more of a consumer-oriented product that can do some real-world work if you have web-enabled apps). As far as Office is concerned, maybe not the average user care but I happen to be one of those consumers that has been using Office for 20 years at least. I've tried the alternatives but always come back to Office. So for me, taking away office would be a strike against a Surface tablet (in fact, with the rumors of v.2 of Win RT having Outlook, I'm holding out to purchase a Win RT tablet since it would do 95% of everything I want to do with a tablet).
    • So bad mouthing is OK only if it's NOT about microsoft products?

      Your own daily bad mouthing of Google, Android and Apple in this forum is perfectly OK?

      I see.
  • Agreed for the most part

    Surface RT (Windows RT) should have never been released with the Desktop. I agree it is rubbish on touch hardware if you do not have a mouse or a keyboard attached.

    The Surface Pro can have it because most people who buy it, buy it specifically for the desktop for the most part.

    Office is moving to metro so the desktop really needs to die.

    Price is fine as it is currently.

    Build quality was top notch, but it could be thinner and with Hazwell in the Pro version we should see decent performance and battery life.

    They should go for larger storage options because Windows takes up a lot of that. And advertise them with their free storage not total storage.

    And make them available worldwide.
    Dreyer Smit
    • Win RT desktop is not rubbish.

      There are lot of users who love the DESKTOP and a full blown File Explorer. Also Outlook is a really big deal for many. If you don't like the DESKTOP, simply don't go there. There is nothing wrong in having flexibility and choice. Compared to Surface RT, ipad and android tabs are rubbish beyond words