Microsoft’s Surface hardware additions show creativity, perseverance

Microsoft’s Surface hardware additions show creativity, perseverance

Summary: Today's Surface generation 2 announcements demonstrate that Microsoft remains firmly committed to the hardware business for tablets and PCs.


Microsoft’s Surface generation 2 announcements today show that they are firmly committed to the hardware business for tablets and PCs, not just Nokia Windows Phones. See my colleague JP Gownder’s blog post for his take on how Microsoft will need to update branding and go-to-market to succeed.

As with the original Xbox bet more than a decade ago, Microsoft will persevere in creating premium, fully controlled hardware and service experiences. This will create more and more contrast with low-end Windows devices from many OEMs. I predict that Microsoft will eventually anoint a handful of OEMs, two to four, as premium providers — which means that Microsoft will have to create a premium Windows label or branding to distinguish these premium hardware offerings from the budget offerings that many buyers will still focus on.

The details of the new Surface devices — better performance, battery life, kickstand, displays, and more — and the range of new accessories — such as dock, battery and backlit keyboard covers, and more — are proof of an expanding hardware ecosystem. The Surface Remix, a musical controller that magnetically clicks in like the TouchCover, is a very creative and novel addition to the possibilities of mobile devices.

But Microsoft’s real strength is the breadth and capacity of the online ecosystem for consumers and enterprises that they’ve built with the Microsoft account, SkyDrive, Office 365, and Azure. This online platform is the foundation for serving the growing “digital self” that online individuals are building.

So we’ll measure the success of Microsoft’s hardware in the context of the uptake of Windows 8.1, the update to Windows 8, and especially the downloads and sales of apps in the Windows Store. And there the jury is out until the fall of 2014, as the market absorbs the significant improvements in Windows 8.1.

So the real question is whether the Surface line, especially the ARM-powered Surface 2 (as opposed to the Intel-powered Surface Pro 2), will give Microsoft a spot in the truly mobile tablet realm. There we expect a long, slow road against the huge tablet ecosystems that Google’s Android and Apple iOS have built up — especially Apple.

Microsoft is still working to get most of the mainstream mobile apps on Windows modern and Windows Phone — and to get individuals to start using them. Microsoft’s Surface products, Windows 8.1 modern, and Windows Phone are very credible platforms for Microsoft and its OEMs — but the best that will do is keep them in the game, scrapping to get developers to recognize and build for this third mobile platform.

Here’s wishing Microsoft luck in an uphill fight for relevance in the mobile-first world we now live in — so that we get interesting, vital competition.

Frank Gillett is a Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research serving CIOs.

Topics: Microsoft Surface, Microsoft

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  • Forrester: do your research

    Microsoft STILL is not distributing these through international channel distributors for regular resellers.

    These will fail (AGAIN!) without resellers being able to sell them.

    Microsoft needs these to be part of "the stack". Regular computer shoppes and IT resellers need to be able to buy these from Microsoft's Authorized Distributors for them to succeed.
    • What makes you think more resellers will help?

      Where is there any indication of unmet demand, at a realistic price, for Surface tablets? While I agree with you that these these will fail, I think it's because no one really wants them, not because they can't get them.
  • How can you tell a true MS puff?

    Any surface article that focuses on the established fact that Surface hardware is good, ignores the other online solutions and presents MS online solutions like they are the only ones that exist, and conveniently gleams over the obvious limitations of an operating system that runs users through hoops across two completely different UI, an install process and an app store, and a sidebar each running autonomously from each other and from which nothing can be accessed and maintained from just one interface.
    • Yeah

      Not only what you said but I can't find anything or how to do most things.
  • What mainstream?

    49 of the top 50 apps are now on WP. The mainstream is largely there now. It's now the second and third tier that they need.
    Johnny Vegas
    • Bottom Shelf Apps

      Sure the apps are there. But 1/2 - 1/4 hearted attempts don't count. Not do the ones that are destined to be abandon-ware.

      MS - Give it up Already.
      • Why? What are you afraid of?

        you seem to be in a real hurry to see MS pull out of this, to not go up against your vendor of choice.

        Why does that bother you so much, I wonder?
        William Farrel
    • I was considering buying a Nokia Lumia 1020.

      So, I went on the WP app store to look for the apps I use. That's when I realized WP is still fairly far behind iOS and Android. It's definitely not mainstream. Of the apps I use constantly on my iPad & iPhone, less than half are available for WP, while all of them are available on Android. The top 40 or so most popular apps are present, but according to the reviewers, they are substandard ports from the other platforms. I saw a lot of complaints from people asking those developers to add back the features which are missing in order to bring the WP app up to par with their Android or iOS version of the same application. The number of applications which garnered a rating of 1 to 3 stars is vast in the WP app store. The majority have comments talking about how they crash constantly. This was both enlightening and disconcerting.

      Another problem with the WP8 platform is that there doesn't seem to be any obvious automatic background cloud synchronization between Microsoft's various platforms and devices for consumers. Correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I saw, you seem to need to be using Exchange Server and Outlook to share the same data across all of the Windows devices your family uses. How many families have an Exchange Server set up at home?

      In our household, we have shared contacts, calendars, reminders, and notes. (my iPhone, my iPad, my wife's iPhone, her iPad, my Mac, and our two iPod Touches.) We don't do anything special and they all remain synched at all times. It just happens. We also have iOS apps which let us share grocery lists, our large movie database, and several other things across all of our iOS devices. These apps simply don't have a WP8 version and when I contacted the developers, they said they have no plans to develop WP8 versions. I tried to convince them that WP8 actually has a chance of succeeding, unlike previous versions, but they still said they couldn't justify the investment in developing for WP8.

      So - Microsoft needs to stop spending so much money on dancing ads and start offering developers big incentives to write better apps for WP8 if they want it to succeed. They need to make it brain-dead easy to write stable applications for WP8. Fix the development tools so that they prevent a lot of the programming errors which cause apps to crash. They need to host a ton of development training sessions around the world for free and work to get developers excited. They need to make funds available to help with development costs for small developers. Give developers a free WP8 phone to use for development. In other words, do whatever it takes to get better (and more) applications developed. If they have the applications, people will come.

      I will admit that the WP app store has a LOT more software than the last time I checked it. It's up to just under 200k applications now. The last time I checked, it was about 30k and most of the big names were missing. They've come a long way, but they need to address quality at the same time as quantity.

      In comparison, the iOS app store is approaching 1 million apps available and iOS owners have downloaded something like 15 times as many apps as the size of the entire world population. Android is catching up on the number of apps available, but still lags a lot in total downloads. (For some reason, Android users just don't use as many applications as iOS users.) Still, I'd call both platforms mainstream before I'd stretch the definition to include WP, at this point.

      I actually hope WP8 succeeds in the longer term, but they're still not there and Microsoft needs to devote more resources to making it happen.

      *As a side note, I was also stunned when I saw that the Nokia Lumia 1020 only has 16GB of internal storage while sporting a 41 megapixel camera! Are they nuts? The camera makes you want to take a lot of photos, but you don't have the space for even a medium sized music collection, much less a lot of high resolution photos and video. What were they thinking?
      • You are just lying

        "*As a side note, I was also stunned when I saw that the Nokia Lumia 1020 only has 16GB of internal storage while sporting a 41 megapixel camera! Are they nuts? "
        You could have just searched before lying through your teeth.

        Out of that 29.12GB is available. And you get 7GB of SkyDrive space. You could ask Microsoft at Microsoft Store and they normally give away code for additional 3GB SkyDrive.

        One thing for sure, this just proved that you are liar.
        Ram U
        • So which bit is the lie

          given that you just agreed that everything he said is correct?

          You might not like his summation of the situation, but that does not make him a liar . . . unless you are a whinging 10 year old!
          • Nope, I ddin't agree with him

            His are opinion, I don't have to agree with him and at the same time I don't have to disagree with him, because it is totally a opinion. And rubbing that opinion as the truth using the last paragraph, where he says he gave a look at 1020 is not true. He could have checked at the store, where it tells 32GB, and Nokia specs itself speak. Even if he is doing online shopping at Amazon or something else, they will have it. I am not whining, it is "you" that is whining. You didn't read the complete comment from him and trying to point at me because all I said was he was lying outright, and since your hatred towards Microsoft is making you believe every Microsoft hater here and trying to jump to their support. Now this shows who is 10 years old. Take Care.
            Ram U
      • syncing between devices

        When it comes to calendars / contacts / documents / notes those are all part of SkyDrive/Outlook so those are sync'd and shared across all devices regardless of platform just like Google's offerings. With Windows 8.x devices it also includes apps and settings so when you log into one of your personal devices and authorize the device you can have the same apps/settings on the next device. You are incorrect in the assumption you require exchange for your family.

        There is certainly a break in the sync between WP8 and Windows 8 when it comes to third party applications but not first party applications such as the Office Suite, email/calendar contacts /notes.

        I don't think app quantity is good measurement for the health of an app store. I do think there are still a few applications that are real necessities that WP and W8 are missing but those application developers will only come when more people adopt the platform, the question is whether or not enough will.

        The development tools on W8 and WP8 are some of the best in the industry and have a long history so I don't think the buggy apps are a result of tooling but rather a lack of skill and/or test framework use on the developers part. The nice thing about Visual Studio is you can pick your poison on the platforms be it C#, C++ or HTML/JavaScript. Microsoft does host a ton of developer conferences around the world, check out look under TechEd events. You can also checkout Microsoft virtual academy which is free and has tons of courses on development, in addition there is also

        The Lumia 1020 has 32 GB of internal storage.

        You are also incorrect on background sync for WP8, it uses your Hotmail/outlook account both are consumer not corporate accounts. All docs, photos, videos, apps, etc are backed up here automatically (of course you can control that).

        I hope I've helped clear up some of your misunderstandings. There is a ton of information on Windows and that can give you a much deeper explanation of how each platform works and what apps are available.
        • re: syncing between devices

          relwolf- thank you for saying everything I would've! Everything that I want synced between my Windows 8 desktop, laptop and tablet are automatically synced as soon as I wake any of those devices- it's simple to just use sleep mode and almost never have to login to my Microsoft account. Oh, I forgot- my Windows phone auto-syncs as well, no matter where I am. Plus the 37 gb free SkyDrive storage (since I use, of course, Office 2013). As for "jumping through hoops", people who say those things merely show their own low IQ. My 75 year old mother bought a Windows 8 laptop a few months ago and didn't even have to call me to learn how to use it, it's actually that simple! After she told me she'd purchased it, I did go and uninstall a bunch of third party crapware the oem added and showed her a few shortcuts, but she already knew how to use it out of the box, including installing her printer... BTW, she absolutely loves it!
          But, I guess some people are just going to be either liars or stupid; or both...
      • What were they thinking...

        My question is, what kind of drug are you on? Oh, I forgot- you're always a dishonest troll... What's wrong, don't you have a life outside of lying and disparaging things you don't like? Because I'm pretty sure you're not really as stupid as all of your comments make you seem. Right?
      • Thousands of apps...Big Deal!

        Many of us just use a few apps and don't care about all those games that would be more suitable for a PC and for kids. We just want basic apps like utilities, maps, GPS, and productivity type apps. The rest are just for bragging rights and how many are actually used on a regular basis anyway? Sure, they are nice to try if you have nothing else to do but most are downloaded, tried, and deleted in a short time. Personally I can't stand trying to watch videos or a movie on a phone's screen. Even on a tablet and when in route no Internet (unless one can afford high MB fees) and it's just not enjoyable on a small screen. So it's back to the Kindle app most of the time.
      • Another ignorant Apple fan

        Check the fact, Skydrive and Microsoft Cloud is way superior to any of the iCloud offerings. Not only everything gets synced automatically via Skydrive/Hotmail/Live/Outlook but you get full Office integration, OneNote, 7GB (25GB if early adopter).

        Not to forget, the family safety and child account protect is just superior to anything in the market. Even the RT tablets support multiple accounts (try that on iPad), and child account has full web filter, timing, application restrictions free and out of the box.

        As Apple fan, you are ignorant and have no clue what other platforms offer. I own the 1020, and will not trade it with any iPhone for sure
        • Re: Microsoft Cloud is way superior to any...

          Does it include free Microsoft fanboy T-shirt?

          Microsoft wants to be all of everyone. Spreading too thin. Never good idea.
  • Nice to hear from the Microsoft Marketing Department

    Picking up puff pieces from marketing departments is what small town newspapers do to fill column inches. What's ZDnet's excuse for reprinting this piece of drivel?
  • "Microsoft’s Surface hardware additions show creativity, perseverance"

    Well.....perseverance, anyway.
  • It must be nice to be able to double down on huge financial failures

    And have a big enough cash horde to call it a long term strategy instead of being fired