Microsoft's Surface needs a reboot: Here's how

Microsoft's Surface needs a reboot: Here's how

Summary: The mobile market needs a third player to keep iOS and Android on its toes, but as it stands Microsoft's Surface tablets don't cut it. But with a few tweaks the platform has a chance of being a serious player.

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How many Surface tablets has Microsoft sold? Other than a select few who pace the corridors at Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, WA., no one is really sure. But that doesn't stop the speculation. In fact, the absence of any figures from Microsoft is fueling speculation that sales have fallen short of expectation.

While I see little point in pulling a specific number out of the air, it's clear from both supply chain chatter and the fact that a major OEM has decided to give Windows RT tablets a wide berth that sales have not been stratospheric.

Many of the problems facing Microsoft's Surface platform are the same problems that are stagnating the entire PC market:

  • PCs are no longer sexy, whether they be desktops, notebooks, or tablets. Product branding -- such as Apple, Android, iOS, and so on -- is what seems to sell, not form factor;

  • Companies that were once helping to drive the massive PC juggernaut forward -- Intel, Dell, HP, et al -- have been sidelined as we move from the era of the PC into the post-PC era;

  • A polarization in how Windows 8 has been received by consumers. Users seem to either love Windows 8 or hate it, with the majority disliking the changes that Microsoft made;

  • By extension, Windows is not seen as sexy. For most, Windows is simply the software that has to boot up before they can fire up a browser;

  • The price tag of a PC -- and the Surface in particular -- is hard for consumers to swallow in the face of cheap tablets such as the Kindle Fire HD.

There are also Surface-specific problems facing the tablet.

  • Surface and Windows RT are new brands that Microsoft has to push into an already crowded market;

  • Windows RT is "Windows" in name only, and doesn't offer the backward-compatibility and legacy support that people associate with the Windows name;

  • Microsoft made it known that Windows RT-powered Surface tablets would be followed later by Windows 8-powered Surface Pro devices that would offer the backward-compatibility and legacy support that Windows is known for, dampening interest in Surface.

Surface is important to Microsoft's Windows 8 strategy because it shows OEMs and consumers alike what Microsoft thinks a Windows tablet should be like. Given that Microsoft has put so much emphasis on touch in Windows 8, it needs a platform that demonstrates the benefits of touch. If Surface fails then it would cast doubt over Microsoft's entire Windows 8 strategy.

What should Microsoft do? It should reboot Surface. Here's how:

  • Alleviate some of the market confusion by renaming Windows RT. Windows Tablet is a name that springs to mind. The "RT" of Windows RT is nebulous and fails to convey anything about the operating system.

  • Shift focus away from Windows RT and onto Windows 8-powered tablets. Unless Microsoft can price Windows RT hardware closer to that of Android, the platform is likely dead in the water. There's not enough value in the platform as it stands to justify the price.

  • Cut the price of Surface hardware. Microsoft still tries to pull in PC-level license fees in a post-PC world. For an emerging platform with no track record, and a patchy app ecosystem, that's possibly too optimistic.

  • Give Surface more of an enterprise focus. To do this Microsoft might need to employ the help of an OEM like Lenovo or Nokia. At present the hardware has a consumer vibe with an enterprise price tag -- a combination that makes it a hard sell to either markets. The success of the iPad with enterprises -- in particular the penetration is has made into Fortune 500 companies -- shows that there is great enthusiasm for the right tablet. Redmond should work on bringing this enterprise tablet to market.

  • Extend the Surface branding to a select number of tablets from other OEMs. This would help give the brand more traction and help it grab market share faster.  

  • Hardware needs an ecosystem. Not just apps, but also tablet-specific services that help to reduce out reliance on desktop/notebook systems. Think iCloud, but for Windows.

I like the Surface hardware, and think that the mobile market needs a third player to keep iOS and Android on its toes. And with a little tweaking, Surface could offer just that. 

Topics: Microsoft Surface, Microsoft, Tablets, Windows, Windows 8

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132 comments
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  • Adrian Kingsley-Hughes needs a Reboot

    The Surface Pro hasn't even come out yet, and the Surface RT has only been in retail stores for a month.
    spaulagain2
    • Where?

      It has? In what stores?
      CarlitosLx
      • ERmmm ....

        Best Buy & Staples in the US. John Lewis in the UK.

        http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/microsoft-surface-tablets-to-be-sold-in-john-lewis-stores-in-the-uk/

        This happened just over a month ago actually!
        bitcrazed
        • I own one!

          ..... and I like it a lot. It is not a device that I only use for consuming content, but it helps a lot in taking notes in meetings and preparation for presentations. Its widescreen is ideal for watching movies, while also it allows you to use two applications at the same. Its battery life is very good.

          I think Microsoft was so shy about selling this product. If they dared displaying in main retail stores, the picture could have been different.
          Wonder.man
          • I agree, we have 3 ...

            the Surface RT is a fantastic school PC which our kids use, and a great ultra portable with all day battery life when I don't want to drag around a 14" + device. I really don't agree with a lot of the points made in this article and with Apple's stock cratering clearly other devices are making inroads, including the Surface and soon to come pro.
            Oknarf
          • AKH is in need of attention

            It seems like this author is looking for a way of getting all the attention. Each of his attempts to discredit the Surface has been very popular amongst readers, creating a debate that just cannot be settled. Points of views on this product are based on opinion and not fact. It is about how much one wants this product to fail and how much others know it is a whole lot better than how it described by hatters.

            The Surface was released only a few months ago, a yet it needs a reboot? The Surface Rt release was one of the worst product release I have seen in my life. It is available only through a very narrow distribution line. It was available only from the Microsoft stores for at least 6 or 7 week and then, a few days before Christmas, it was made available at Best Buy, probably the worst place to sell a product that needs to be introduced by specialists. Here in Canada, it is not sold yet in any store. It should have been all over. Costco, Office Depot (Stapple), FuturShop, Best Buy, Wall-Mart, La Source (Radio Shack) and also smaller computer stores. I still don’t get how this product release could be done so badly.

            The Surface RT is not a PC, no matter what Microsoft claims about it. It’s a tablet 80-90% of the time. If you want to use is it the best possible way then unplug the keyboard and use it as a tablet for consuming medias, read and send emails, browse the Internet, remotely access other computers or servers, load apps and have fun, browse your windows network. And then, when needed, on the road, at school or elsewhere, plug the keyboard back, load your office docs and xls and start editing, printing and sharing. The Surface is also a work tool, but it won’t replace your PC. It is simply like an iPad, based on the Microsoft ecosystem and that can do more on occasion, right out of the box.

            I like it and as soon as a Surface rt II is available, I want one.
            gbouchard99
          • You sure aren't helping your case

            I agree that points of view are based on opinion but clearly your opinion clouds your judgment on this topic. You don't come right out and say it but you claim those that don't like it want it to fail as if they have no legitimate reason what so ever to not like it. I don't like it simply due to the fact I don't like the new interface but I have nothing to gain by wanting it to fail. On the contrary I want it to succeed even if I don't want one simply because it will drive more competition.

            Then you state that other know it is a hole lot better than how it's described by haters. So what you are saying is that the opinion of those that like it is correct while the opinions of those that don't is not because they are just haters? Talk about looking through blinders, only positive opinions are allowed?

            So the launch was a failure because 6 or 7 weeks it was only available through MS retail and online store? Same can be said about the original iPad and it sold 300K the first day and 1 million in the first 4 days. Not claiming the iPad is better, just stating that argument is not backed up by history.

            Probably one of the most telling reasons why it isn't selling so well came from your own words, "...a product that needs to be introduced by specialists." When the average consumer is looking for a tablet they aren't going to go with the one that they need a specialist to explain it to them, they will go with the other options on the market.
            non-biased
          • ....

            The surface if you look at what numbers have been leaked has about 1% in the market and has slowed. There are just a ton of issues that killed it all created by Microsoft for Microsoft and until they decide to listen and also fire ballmer Microsoft is introuble.
            Fletchguy
          • 8 Million Windows 8 Licenses Sold

            Per the article "redmondmag.com/articles/2013/01/08/60-million-windows-8-licenses.aspx", MS is doing quite well. They just need to convince more owners to admit to having bought some.
            Jon.M.Kelley
          • Convince users to admit to having bought some?

            You don't honestly believe that the 60 million licenses sold were to users do you? If they were talking about end users they would have said licenses activated.
            non-biased
          • What does Apple's stock have to do with anything

            Apple's current stock price has absolutely nothing to do with Surface sales or what the publics perception of the Surface RT is. Their stock has been on decline the past couple of months but this is due to all the speculative reports that have nothing to back them up flying around these days.
            non-biased
          • I agree, but Surface Windows 8

            The article is somewhat retarded.

            Windows 8 is not Surface. Get it Adrian? Surface is a tablet that runs Windows RT, and soon Windows 8. There are lots of tablets from several manufacturers, with many more coming. So the entire premise of this thinly-veiled Microsoft-bashing article is just stupid and wrong.

            Secondly, about your statement: "Users seem to either love Windows 8 or hate it, with the majority disliking the changes that Microsoft made".

            Where on Earth did you come up with that moronic factoid? Did you personally survey all Windows users and discover that the "majority" dislike the changes, or did you simply invent it based on your own personal biases (or the circle of friends you keep)? I think we know the answer to that one.

            Windows 8 is simply fantastic, from my personal experience. I use it on my primary desktop, my primary laptop, and on a Surface tablet. In all environments it works great. There is no confusion of different "modes", because on non-touch devices (like my desktop), the Start Screen is only visible about 1% of the time when I need to launch something. But on my tablet, it's visible all the time, and the desktop is almost never seen. Which is perfect for the tablet.

            Wise up Adrian.
            Speednet
          • Can't edit, grrrr

            My headline is supposed to say, "I agree, but Surface (not equal to) Windows 8". I guess the text editor interpreted the "not equal to" sign as an attempt insert an HTML tag, and deleted it.

            It would be nice if I could edit my comment, but this does not appear to be capable.
            Speednet
        • I envy them

          I envy those who's local best buy has a few Surface RT devices. I've been dying to try the OS and hardware, but I've never had the chance (the best buys here don't seem to have any).

          I live in Nebraska (Omaha, a somewhat biggish city I suppose).
          icyrock
          • Microsoft Office?

            @icyrock, there's a Microsoft Office in Omaha, have you tried seeing if you can view one there? I'm sure there would be someone more than willing to show it off.

            http://www.microsoft.com/about/companyinformation/usaoffices/northcentral/en/us/omaha.aspx
            Michael Moore
      • Here

        JB Hifi in Australia, Pitt St. Mall store.

        First place I've seen them in the wild
        Knersis
    • MS is smarter than you Adrian...

      they really are. Nice article though -- you got my 'click'
      Nole Mercy
      • If Microsoft is so smart...

        Then how did they miss the whole mobile thing? It's not like we weren't all screaming at them "Mobile is coming!"
        symbolset
        • But, they didn't miss the whole mobile thing...

          Remember that, mobile existed before iPads, and before iPhones.

          What we have now is a market with devices which are smaller, rendering them as "more mobile", and easy to carry almost anywhere.

          Also remember that, the newer and more mobile market only started a few years ago, which means that, there still is a lot of room for newer players and for some of those to rise to the top, making the "older" players go back to trailing. There is no such thing as a mature and locked-in market when the market is barely getting started. When competitors can bring to market, more or less the same devices, with a lot of the same features, and with software which is basically the same (although with different UIs), then, there is no guarantee that the "original" "innovators" will remain on top. Remember the game systems of the 90s, and of the early 2000s, and who the main players were? It was thought that MS with its XBox was entering a market in which it had no chance, and that people had already committed themselves and got themselves locked into those boxes that were in the market before the XBox. Fast forward a few years, and, arguably, the XBox is now the premier gaming system. Same thing could easily be accomplished with the "newer" mobile systems coming to market now. iPads are becoming stale, and 700,000 apps is just a marketing tool, and not a real deterrent to the new entrants into the field. Most people only need a few additional apps to complement what was already included with their new purchases, but, the most important apps will be included in an apps ecosystem, even if the ecosystem includes "only" 100,000 or below.
          adornoe
          • o que no, they didn't missed at all

            in fact, they were the top dog for a while. As soon they assimilate Palm I knew Palm was dead (received the well known Microsoft Kiss of Death). They flooded the market, in their newly acquired pole position with buggy, poorly conceived line of products.

            The rest of the strategy was clear: when you get close to 30% market share in mobile, and control desktop, you just have to wait, market share will just grow.

            But it was the exact opposite that happened, thanks to S. Jobs. we can say Apple got the whole mobile thing right. And, in the process, annihilated WM (Palm was already dead). Suddenly, end users understood what a modern mobile device is. No more stylus to reach a tiny sub menu in a miniature of Windows, with start menu included...

            The rest is history, consumers spoke.
            theo_durcan