Surface 2 -- why didn't Microsoft change anything?

Surface 2 -- why didn't Microsoft change anything?

Summary: Microsoft had the opportunity to reboot Surface yesterday, but for some reason didn't. Perhaps management missed the memo that Surface v1 didn't sell very well...

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TOPICS: Tablets
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Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2
They've had a year to improve on these two, you know...

So I'm a tad confused about Microsoft's Surface 2 announcement yesterday. Did Microsoft actually announce anything new?

I'm sure some of you will say that "yes they did!" then then point that we now have two new Surface devices like more processing horsepower and various other "yadda yadda" improvements. (The kickstand has two possible angles! Haswell!)

However, the problem with Surface is that the proposition is fundamentally broken and needed a complete reboot. That didn't happen.

RT and wrong

My complaints about Surface are mainly around Windows RT. The post-PC era is dependent on simplicity -- simple ideas that are accessible to everyone. Yet with Windows RT Microsoft has managed to build the most confusing proposition that it's possible to build.

Windows RT is a version of Windows that looks like Windows, yet you can't install your own Windows software on it. How is that helpful to anyone?

Windows RT needed to have been killed off. The proper way to go forward with a lightweight OS is to bring the Windows Phone OS onto larger devices in exactly the same way that Apple does with iOS and Google does with Android. This increasingly looks like something Microsoft wants to do, so why postpone the inevitable and roll out a new Windows RT-based device?

(I would guess a point of friction on this would be that no apps would properly support tablet screen sizes. At least the 100,000 Metro-style/Windows Store apps available for Windows 8 and Windows RT are designed for tablet form-factors. Plus with Microsoft buying Nokia, does it make more sense for such things to be Nokia devices, or Surface devices? I'm not sure.)

In the first wave, the Windows RT version of Surface was called "Surface RT", and the full version called "Surface Pro". Now in the second wave it's "Surface 2" and "Surface Pro 2". That's more confusing than it was before!

In fact, it's so confusing that in this piece I'll be using "Surface 2 (RT)" so that we don't get lost.

An unforgivable problem -- seeing as Microsoft has had a year to think about it -- is that Surface 2 (RT) is too big. With the original Surface devices it was understandable that Microsoft didn't see the preference in Consumerland for smaller tablets, especially as no one was really expecting the iPad mini to be popular, or that Google would manage to push Android over the hump so that smaller Android devices worked well. 

Pro

I've fewer complaints about the Pro variant of Surface as this has always been a curious take on a laptop form-factor rather than a tablet per se. Microsoft seems now to be on-side with this approach and pushing the device more as a laptop than anything else, although they remain keen to keep touting the idea that Surface Pro is a "productivity tablet".

I dislike the term "productivity tablet" immensely. It's a confusing term that conflates PC-era thinking into the post-PC era. Post-PC is about our entire digital lives. Some of that "life" will contain the bit where you "work" and where you need to be productive. But creating a post-PC era device that is "productivity first" is totally backwards.

It's no surprise really that Pro variants make more sense than the RT variants. Microsoft's engineers and management understand the PC as an idea better than anyone else on the planet, so of course when they set out to make the best possible one they are likely to end up getting pretty close.

For me though the killer problem with the Pro variant is that I can't use it on my lap. Sure, blame it on "short legs and nerd guts" as a commenter on my piece lamenting Surface's poor lapability did earlier this year, but I'm not going to buy a laptop I can't use on my lap.

Conclusion

My problem is that I look around at both of these devices and think "what's changed?"

I was deeply disappointed by Surface RT last year. I was expecting something that would compete with the iPad, and instead I got something that was unfinished and poorly positioned.

As far as I can tell, the positioning hasn't changed one bit. The only thing that piqued my interest yesterday was the freebie Skype subscription. I can see how that would appeal to the Consumerland customer base, so I guess that does show some sensitivity to the market.

With the Windows 8.1 RT release, things are more polished. But we know that Microsoft had to do an enormous writedown because of poor Surface RT sales. With Surface 2 (RT), there are essentially no changes at all from the proposition last year. Of course, Microsoft can avoid another writedown meltdown simply by not making so many of them.

How about Surface Pro? This I suspect will continue to do OK. The Haswell processor offers important battery life improvements. You can now get more RAM with it. For those who fancy a laptop that's bit unusual and quasi-tablet-ish, you might find it work for you.

Mind you, if I wanted a full Windows tablet, I'd take my colleague James's advice and buy a ThinkPad Tablet 2.

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

Image credit: Microsoft

Topic: Tablets

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97 comments
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  • Windows RT HW & Price + Windows x86 Functionality = Winner

    Unfortunately, Microsoft will never allow that.
    ldo17
    • Baytrail

      then get one of the new Baytrail tablets/hybrids that are coming along.

      I bought a Clovertrail tablet and I am very happy with it. Performance is a little lacking, but it is more than sufficient for 95% of what I do - I still use a more powerful machine for Lightroom, for example.
      wright_is
    • Google may have paid me to shill

      But I'm stepping out here to say that these new Surface tablets are what I was waiting on. I'm getting one and you would be an idiot to stick with your Android garbage.
      Troll Hunter J
  • I agree with the author of this article

    Windows RT made me LOL the first time I read about it. And here they are a year later still flailing in their misery. Good grief... let it go.
    Aaron Greenhill
    • Well, that's the thing

      You've READ about it. How about actually trying it before passing judgement.
      dinomutt
  • Matt,

    "Windows RT is a version of Windows that looks like Windows, yet you can't install your own Windows software on it. How is that helpful to anyone?

    Windows RT needed to have been killed off. The proper way to go forward with a lightweight OS is to bring the Windows Phone OS onto larger devices in exactly the same way that Apple does with iOS and Google does with Android."

    I disagree with this completely. Operating systems should NEVER be scaled up. It doesn't do anyone good, as they're always trying to do more, but can't, because of the limitations of running a PHONE OS on a piece of hardware that isn't as limited as a smartphone. Just look at iPad users - They're always trying to use the thing as if it was a laptop replacement, but are hindered by the OS's poor multitasking set, and the inability to add much peripherals. That's not the case with Windows RT.

    Also, who in their right mind is setting out to run kludgy desktop software on touch screen tablets? Consumers certainly aren't. They've left that boat behind in favor of smartphone/tablet apps. Tech pundits should know better. They're the ones constantly complaining that their archaic desktop software can't run on RT, yet fail to realize that this is on purpose. Windows RT is not meant to run desktop software at all, and that's not going to change. If you need desktop software, don't complain that a tablet designed for the consumer space can't run it. iPads don't run Mac software, and Droids don't run Linux software - buy a full featured laptop instead.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • Re: Operating systems should NEVER be scaled up

      And yet Linux scales quite nicely from a tiny device like the Raspberry π, through embedded devices, handhelds, tablets, notebooks and workstations and on up to the world's most powerful supercomputers. No other OS even comes close.
      ldo17
      • You're stretching goal posts.

        When people mention Linux, there's Ubuntu, Mint, Red Hat, Arch, and even DSL.

        The Raspberry Pi may be capable of running a Linux distribution, but ONLY when it's designed for weaker hardware in mind.

        Sure, you could probably run Linux on a toaster, but now you have a serious case of fragmentation.

        If a boy became a singer and his sister became a doctor, you wouldn't call them both a singing doctor, would you?

        They may be from the same family, but they're not the same operating systems.

        What benefits one does not benefit them all.
        ForeverCookie
        • Very good response

          I am going to copy this with your permission ForeverCookie.
          Ram U
        • Re: When people mention Linux, there's Ubuntu, Mint, Red Hat, Arch, and eve

          When people mention Windows, there's Windows Phone 7, Windows Phone 8, Windows RT and Windows Windows.

          The difference is, these are all "Windows" only in name, and have little functionality in common, while all Linux distros can run a lot of the same software. Even Android.

          And even a Raspberry π can run most of the same Debian packages that work on my quad-core i7 workstation.

          What was that about "stretching goal posts", again?
          ldo17
        • Re: but ONLY when it's designed for weaker hardware in mind.

          This is complete nonsense. You do not design the OS for the hardware weakness you know. You design an OS for the APIs you want to make available.

          Any UNIX OS scales from the smallest device to the largest supercomputer cluster. It is the API that defines the OS, not the specific tuning you do to make it run on "small" or "large" hardware.
          Besides, what was "huge" years ago, is already "small" today!
          The smarthphone in your pocket has more processing power and storage than any mainframe from decades ago. It also has much more advanced OS. So... there.

          You fanboys will do better service to your deity if you learn a bit about computers.. and especially operating systems.
          danbi
      • True - and so does Windows but neither iOS or Android is Linux.

        Android is a lame cousins of Linux - and iOS is (if related at all) a distant cousin of FreeBSD.
        M Wagner
    • The S Pen is the HID for this century, like pens have been for centuries.

      So you want a tablet that offers true multi-window, multi-tasking and can utilize both plug in and wireless mice/keyboards? Answer is the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 and 10.1. These and the Samsung ATIV tablet/laptops offer both. I find that with my Note 8.0 that the S Pen negates the need for the old HID devices. It's as natural as using a pencil and paper.
      Microsoft just hasn't learned from the disaster that is/was RT. They have deep pockets though and a static philosophy so they will keep making the same mistakes over and over.
      alfmeister
      • Try using Nokia Lumia 920, 925, 928, 1020

        and you could use any pencil or pen to write. You don't need S-Pen or some pen that need digitizer on the back.

        Happy Trolling.
        Ram U
        • Re: You don't need S-Pen or some pen that need digitizer on the back.

          Funny enough, Microsoft prides themselves to have an active digitizer on the Surface Pro. Why would they be so stupid to increase the BOM and power consumption, if they could do just like the Nokia Lumia whatever and let you use "any pencil or pen to write"?

          Stupid Microsoft ;-)
          danbi
          • Here be a broken record!

            N/T
            martin_js
          • Indeed . . .

            Danbi, I think you've expressed your anti-MS feelings quite thoroughly at this point. Now please, sit on your hands for a while and let some other people talk.

            Thank you.
            dinomutt
    • I don't see people trying to use iPads as traditional PCs

      At least not many, I see people using them more as cameras than trying to make them a laptop replacement.
      But this is my perception, I don't have any data to support my claims.
      AleMartin
      • Using iPads as Traditional PCs

        Whenever I'm in a "coffee place" with free WiFi, I'm amazed at the number of folks who use their iPads as PCs through Citrix receiver. I'm also amazed at how many of them bring their iPads to meetings while working on their desktops through Citrix. Although fingers aren't the best precision pointing devices, I've been genuinely impressed at how productive folks seem to be using Outlook (answering e-mail, adding attachments and scheduling meetings) on an iPad through Citrix. If it was so horrible, I'd expect them to either STOP DOING it or at least yell a few obscenities from time to time when they fat-finger stuff. While I'm sure that happens, it doesn't seem to occur with a frequency that deters them or even seems to upset them.
        robradina@...
        • Then the iPad is meaningless in those scenarios

          The ipad is only productive in your scenario, because it is being used to control the real tool that is located somewhere else. Replace the ipad with any other citrix enabled device and the user would most likely not even care.

          Yet, disrupt the wifi connectin and watch how quickly the productivity comes to a screeching halt and how little the actual iPad itself offers without relying on some remote computer to do everything.
          Emacho