Surface Pro arrives, but are businesses any closer to being ready for tablets?

Surface Pro arrives, but are businesses any closer to being ready for tablets?

Summary: Business has always had a love-hate relationship with the slate – so will anything be different for Microsoft's next assault on the market?


The (eventual) arrival of Surface Pro in more markets should answer a pretty fundamental question — and one  whose answer will have a huge impact on Microsoft's future: do businesses really want tablets?

Microsoft spent two decades trying to build tablets for business and failed. It then had to suffer the agony of seeing Apple come along and swallow the market in one gulp, pretty much breaking the PC market as it did so.

How Apple made that breakthrough was by realising that tablets are really consumer and consumption devices. Apple put very little effort into selling iPads to business and yet,  to bring us full circle, one consequence of the huge success of the iPad has been the gradual infiltration of the device into the enterprise too, usually without the knowledge or sanction of the IT department.

In response, Microsoft has developed the Surface Pro — at least in part — to help head off any threat to Microsoft's business desktop dominance.

If the IT department was asked to invent a tablet, it would come up with something very similar to the Surface Pro: a tablet with a keyboard, pen, Windows and Microsoft Office. That is, a tablet PC.

As such, the Surface Pro should be the real breakthrough tablet for the enterprise — the tipping point that switches the slate from executive toy to genuine business tool.

And yet, while the Surface Pro makes a lot of sense to the IT department, tech execs don't make (all) the buying decisions any more. Thanks to the consumerisation of IT, the choice of what device to use in the office may well be made by the end user, and will increasingly be so in future. And most end users, when it comes to tablets, have been buying iPads.

Yet, perhaps the bigger question is not who will take the business tablet market, but whether there is much of one to speak of.

It's easy to argue that touchscreens and tablets could lead to the most profound changes to the way the office works for a generation. And, while it's clear (thanks to the BYOD phenomenon) that some staff are enthusiasts, I wonder whether the general attitude to slates is one of resistance or apathy.

For the enterprise, the question remains whether there are genuine reasons for opting for tablets beyond the fact that they look pretty in sales meetings, while the qualities that make tablets a hit for consumers are less relevant to business.

What's unclear to me is how big the market for Windows tablets in business will be from now on, especially considering how may iPads are already in place, and whether there is much pent-up demand that hasn't been satisfied by Apple already.

Of course, it could be that many businesses will end up buying Surface Pro as a rearguard action against the infiltration of the iPad in their organisation. Perhaps in this one thing, at least, the interests of the CIO and of Microsoft are aligned.

Topics: Hardware, Microsoft, Tablets, Microsoft Surface

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  • Tablets as consumption device?

    Yes, I know they are, but it cannot truly be said that Apple's assertion "that tablets are really consumer and consumption devices" is correct.

    Where Microsoft went wrong in the past with tablet PC was that the Windows UIs were not conducive to the overall Touch experience. After all, why should people or corporations buy expensive little Windows Touch computers, when they can buy cheaper ones with a trackpad?

    Also let's not forget, the iPad did not start this tablet revolution. Rather it was the iPhone.

    Without question, Microsoft lost the battle of the tablets, but they haven't lost the war yet. However, in the war of the tablets, their foe is not Apple or iOS. Rather, it's Android. If Microsoft is really serious about winning the war, they need to be a loss leader and CUT the Surface Pro price substantially OR upgrade the capabilities of the Surface RT. If not, they will never steer attention away from the Google and Apple who are obviously dictating the direction where tablets computers are going. NEVER.
    • I don't think that Microsoft can cut ...

      ... the price of the Surface any more than Apple can cut the cost of the iPad.

      That said, Windows OEMs can offer bare bones Windows 8 tablets for less than they can notebooks (which are selling around $350). Similarly, they can compete directly with Android with Windows RT at or around Android price-points.

      So yes, both Android and Apple are targets for Microsoft but, I expect that Microsoft will continute to compete with Apple and Apple price-points (against both the iPad @ $499 and the MacBook Air at $999. I expect Windows OEMs to compete with Android at price-points between $199 and $349.
      M Wagner
      • fail

        I'm typing this comment from my MS Surface, which is quite possibly the crappiest tablet on the market.

        Frequently, the tablet would think that the touch keyboard is not connected even though it is. When that happens, no amount of disconnecting/reconnecting would work. Only a reboot would fix the problem.

        Also frequently, the tablet would think that the micro SD just ejected itself, and then think minutes later that it magically reinserted itself.

        The magnetic power connector is a joke.

        The browser does not run in the background. When I am listening to music at grooveshark, audio would stop when I start using other apps. Hmm, there are hardly any useful apps.

        The desktop mode is a joke. You would need a stylus to make use of those tiny drop down menus. MS is still trying to sell us the tablet pc concept from 10 years ago.

        When I showed the tablet to my wife, she had two things to say:

        - what's up with the sharp edges?

        - what's up with the kiddie interface?

        I'm not surprised that the market has largely ignored this stupid tablet called Surface.

        I had to make a decision, and I decided to to return it.
        Josy Vieira
        • I call FUD on your entire post!

          Enough said!
        • Surface RT I Presume

          If so, such comments do not belong in a blog regarding Surface Pro.

          Intentionally leave off the RT? That would be deceptive. Like deceptive? Get yourself something with Chrome OS.
    • How I think MS should approach businesses

      For touch computing to succeed in business, along with Windows 8, there needs to be great, innovative hardware, and business apps. Two major reasons for the success of Windows 95, was that the OS was released on hardware optimized for it, in addition to Office 95 and other GUI applications. Therefore this trifecta of conditions (touch optimized OS, hardware, and apps) are needed for touch computing to succeed in both the consumer and business markets. Now a major dilemma for Windows 8 in business, is the lack of business apps. Without them, Windows 8 does not make a lot of sense to many power users and businesses. Office 95 went a long way to making people and businesses understand and accept GUI style computing as the decidedly new form of computing over the Command Line Interface back in the day. MS desperately needs to come out with at least full fledged touch based versions of MS Word, Excel, and Outlook (with Lync / Skype integration) with starkly great touch based experiences. I believe among other things, MS should make use of custom soft keyboards where ever they make sense - particularly for users of large touch screen devices. I also believe MS should make live voice communication and messaging, the new norm when using computers and interacting with apps. Great touch based PCs and business apps is how MS needs to storm businesses with Windows 8, and give Windows 8 and RT a distinct advantage over Android and iOS in both the business and consumer markets.
      P. Douglas
    • That is why there is a question of business.

      I think, Microsoft strategy always was to lure business first. That is how they originally won PC war. Apple computer and later MacIntosh or even Commodore Amiga were much better machines at lower cost at the time. Apple was in fact also popular with general public, but it was DOS and later Windows machine that won the war precisely because business wanted IBM. Once you have had WinTel PC at work it was just a matter of time for people to start using it at home. That is why MS Office on tablet is so critical for this strategy. However this is based on the believe that you can actually do effective office work on tablet. I have doubt that business will come to such conclusion. Laptop is much more effective workplace. Tablet might find some use for presentations to customers when away form cubicle, for few sales people frequently on the move. However you can do presentation on any tablet and Android is way cheaper, and Apple a lot cooler.
      • Businesses are going to love touch based PCs

        Actually people prefer using touch screens and physical keyboards, to using mice or trackpads, and keyboards. Also, hybrids and large touch screen PCs, allow users to mix and match input methods, based on their preferences. So touch based PCs do not take away precise input methods from users, they just add another form of input to PCs.

        To a large extent, compelling touch based business apps is the great differentiator MS needs to decidedly win the tablet war. Because the segment of computer users who use computers for work and play is so huge, making available fantastic touch based productivity apps will cause many of these users to upgrade their PCs, which will have huge repercussions in both the business and consumer markets. So MS should not only be concerned about consumer apps (which are important), but it needs to put the pedal to the metal when coming up with business apps in order to re-establish the PC in both the business and consumer markets.
        P. Douglas
  • Yes

    Yes, if your business is inclined with Microsoft products which is most likely. Something like a Surface Pro comes really handy when you're on the go.
  • The market will remain relatively small

    Clearly some usage scenarios can benefit from a tablet with the full Windows environment, but Surface will never take over the tablet market. I find the whole concept muddled. You basically need a surface to use the Surface, at least with the keyboard attached, in which case you might as well buy a high res (touch) screen "ultranetbook" (when they finally hit the market that is).
  • Is Microsoft's Surface Pro a tablet?

    I ask because most ZDNet bloggers, including Ed Bott, have compared the Surface Pro to Apple's Macbook Air (rather than comparing it to the iPad).
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Tablet PC

      I think Microsoft refers to Surface as a 'Tablet PC' which I think says a lot about how it sees this whole area.
      • Tablet PCs have been around for just over 10 years now

        Prior to Windows 8 and Microsoft's Surface Pro, and going all the way back to early Windows XP, tablet PCs have been confined to a niche. It should be interesting to see if the Surface Pro, along with similar devices from Microsoft's OEMs, can break out of the niche category.

        P.S. With regard to flagging my above post:

        Here's a link to Ed Bott's comparison of Microsoft's Surface Pro with Apple's Macbook Air:
        "... Apple would have been scrutinized carefully over its 11.6-inch MacBook Air 128, which has specs that are reasonably similar to the Surface Pro 128. They’re both ultraportable devices that run full-strength operating systems. Both use similar CPUs, offer similar amounts of RAM, and advertise 128 GB of storage. The Surface Pro has touch capabilities and can be used as a tablet, but at its heart it is a full-strength PC designed for extreme mobility."

        And no mention of Apple's iPad.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
        • Yes but 10 years ago ...

          ... the technology was not there. Tablet PCs were very expensive and Windows XP was not touch oriented. Those early tablet PCs cost upwards of $3000 while traditional notebooks were $1500.

          Today notebook PCs cost $350 and up and and tablets cost $200 and up. This is due almost entirely to advancements in hardware. Hardware ALWAYS leads software.
          M Wagner
          • People always forget this

            When people says that Microsoft constantly failed with tablets (or slate) in the past they forget to mention the cost of a tablet and/or touch laptop back then, how heavy it was and how poor was the battery life.

            A 3000$ 10-15 lbs monster that ran for one or two hours on the battery, using the "not designed for touch" XP Tablet Edition.

            They were novelties, work in progress. Today's technology is something else. Price is there, the weight is there, the battery life is there and the operating systems are there. That's why tablets work today and did not before.
          • RE" When people says that Microsoft constantly failed with tablets"

            Who said that Microsoft failed with tablets? I said that, prior to Windows 8 and the Surface Pro, tablet PCs were a niche market. Is a niche market a failure in your eyes? Some companies and products do quite well in niche markets.

            Getting back to 'tablets', how many of those that have purchased a Microsoft Surface Pro declined to purchase an optional keyboard and use the device exclusively as a tablet? 'Cuz according to the review at Ars Technica, the Microsoft Surface Pro doesn't cut it as a tablet:

            Rabid Howler Monkey
          • Re: Is a niche market a failure in your eyes?

            It's a failure based on Microsoft's own well-publicized criteria. Bill Gates himself said, at that (in)famous 2001 Comdex keynote, that in five years time, tablets would be the most popular form of computing in America.

            The world is definitely heading that way, about a decade late, and with the Microsoft name conspicuously absent from the dominant products...
          • Re: how heavy it was and how poor was the battery life

            Funny: sounds just like Windows 8 tablets today.
          • For Arguments Sake

            Let's call the older, pre-iPad days, device something other than a tablet. I believe most of them were laptops with a screen that swiveled covering the keyboard. Not fitting today's definition of a tablet.

            Given their lack of market share, maybe they best be forgotten.

            Bringing these old devices in to this discussion is akin to being a Grammar Nazi. Nobody likes a Grammar Nazi.
    • Surface Pro is a All-in-One Hybrid

      It is:
      1. Ultrabook with Windows 8 Pro - TypeCover/TouchCover make it ultrabook.
      2. Hybrid - Tablet and when you put TypeCover/TouchCover it is laptop
      3. Slate - 10 point Touch Capacitive Screen and Modern UI Apps.
      4. Tablet PC - Touch Screen with Wacom digitizer and Stylus support.
      5. Laptop - Full blown Desktop and so you could run legacy Windows apps.
      Ram U