Will Microsoft's Surface be its next Zune?

Will Microsoft's Surface be its next Zune?

Summary: A Canalys research analyst predicts the forthcoming tablet's high price will cause it to flop.

TOPICS: Microsoft, Tablets

Though it has some fervent adherents, Microsoft's Zune platform -- hardware players, music store, etc. -- is best known as the butt of jokes about the company's inability to compete against Apple's iPod/iTunes juggernaut. Is Microsoft headed down the same path with its new Surface tablets, which will have to match up against the widely popular iPad?

The answer is yes, according to Canalys research analyst Tim Coulling, who concludes that "We expect the Surface pads to have a similar impact on the PC industry as Zune did in portable music players." That's a grave prediction, especially considering that public sentiment isn't quite as negative about the Surface's prospects.

Why is Canalys so bearish on Microsoft's tablet? Price. Coulling believes the Surface will be priced too high to get traction in the marketplace, not only against the iPad, but also against smaller, cheaper competitors like the Kindle Fire and the new Google Nexus 7. He claims that the "direct sales approach will prove inadequate."

But it gets worse. The UK-based research firm doesn't think the prospects for Windows 8 slates built by Microsoft's manufacturing partners will fare much better, again thanks to pricing: "Canalys has advised PC vendors to postpone launches of Windows RT pads until Microsoft rethinks the high license fee."

Popular sentiment has been more mixed about the Surface, with the tablet being praised for its industrial design and its optional Touch Case cover with built-in physical keyboard. (In fact, Enderle Group principal analyst Rob Enderle has called Canalys' Zune comparison "snarky.") There's also a sense that enterprises would warm to the familiar Microsoft Windows/Office ecosystem the Surface would provide -- at least those who haven't yet committed to the iPad.

Pricing could be a major issue for the Surface RT, the more consumer-friendly Microsoft tablet. If its starting price is in the $500 range, it may have a tough time gaining traction against the similarly priced latest iPad, not to mention the iPad 2, which starts at $399. While the Surface Windows 8 Pro may cost as much as an Ultrabook, corporations may opt for them as a laptop replacement, making them more immune to pricing concerns.

Do you think the Surface will follow the path of Microsoft Zune? Or do you think the company has done enough with its forthcoming tablets to succeed where it did not in the MP3 player space? Let us know what you think in the Talkback section below. 

[Via InformationWeek]

Topics: Microsoft, Tablets

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • zune

    the reality is that many users do not need the type of hybrid systems that windows 8 will bring to the market. A lot of users will be more than happy with the $100-300 android devices or even ipads. Most users will only purchase these systems to either replace an existing notebook, or because they have some work/academeic software that drives them to it. Things will be like this until web applications become more platform agnostic and give users the type of user experience they've come to expect on portable screens.
    • I agree with you.....over priced anything will kill the sale of the item

      I would love a Mercedes........but as they say "Money dosen't grow on trees" for most of us
      Over and Out
      • I don't want a Mercedes

        They have one of the worst reliable vehicles in the market today. What's the point of paying so much money for a luxury vehicle if it is going to spend more time in a shop than on the street?

        Now ... if I were to spend money .... I would go for a Tesla Roaster ......
    • Price .... that is the key

      And everything we have seen and heard is saying EXPENSIVE.

      Every single MS presentation used the following words: "RT would be priced in line with comparable slates, and the Pro would be priced similar to Ultrabooks"

      Every single (epic failure) "slate" (which is a Win only term) in the market was over $900 and Ultrabooks are in the $1200 range.
      • It's cheaper than an iPad, the Pro version

        Here's the math:

        In order to function while traveling, I need
        1 iPad at about $499
        1 laptop at about $900

        1 Windows Surface Pro at about $900

        See how it is cheaper? The Pro replaces my laptop fully. The iPad is just a consumption device. My current laptop is on its last legs. It'll last until the Surface Pro is released. Then I will replace it. With a Surface Pro. I won't have to buy an iPad too.
        • "The iPad is just a consumption device."

          and with that one line, @terjeb proved that he has never used an iPad.
          • Not true

            No he hasn't, the Surface pro has far more functionality than an iPad, perhaps you need to go and read what the surface actually does/is :)
          • Really?

            How about we wait till it ships before we make these claims. Right now the surface is NOTHING it's keyboards that didn't even work when they announced it! And exactly which surface are you peaking of? Meh!
          • There is fundamentally no difference . . .

            . . . between an iPad, a Surface or any other tablet. Both the iPad and Surface have a touchscreen. the Surface comes with a keyboard any you can buy one for an iPad (which is what I use). They both have apps, including business apps for productivity. The only difference is ports - and ports DO NOT do work.

            Anyone who thinks that an Surface is inherently capable of doing more than an iPad is simply kidding themselves.

            As for the comments about an iPad being a consumption device, I spend my days laughing at such idiot comments. I work on mine all day, every day . . . so much so that I now go several days at a time without turning on my desktop. I am not debating that a tablet is a desktop replacement, because it is not. I am also not debating that a tablet can do all that a desktop can do, because it cannot. What I am debating is that Surface, iPad and other tablets are inherently the same types of devices with similar strengths an limitations. The only difference, largely, being ports . . . and ports do not do work.
          • There is a difference

            Well I would agree with you that to a large extent there are little differences in terms of capability. However, my personal needs include running complicated spreadsheet models, for which there does not seem to be good replacements for in the App Store (or if you know of one I would appreciate it if you could direct me to an app that is able to run VBA within spreadsheets).

            I think the distinction to be made here is that there are power user features such as full Excel functionality which, to the best of my knowledge, there is no alternative available on iOS. The comments which you have read prior may not have made such distinctions explicit.

            For most of my requirements, I do agree that I can rely on my iPad and there are some days which my PC just lies idle. However, like I mentioned, I do have to go back to the PC from time to time. Therein lies the value proposition to be made to users like me, that there is a full desktop OS which can run Excel (as far as we know anyway) on the Surface Pro. I may be splitting hairs here with using such a small demographic with specific use cases such as mine as an example, but I think your argument is as overly broad as the argument you seek to criticise.
            Darren Low
          • I tend to agree with you as well

            I think that to a large extent you are not only talking that differences in personal needs (and I most definitely agree with that) but also integration with different eco-systems. I still believe that there is too much emphasis on individual devices rather than the integrated eco-systems.

            Your point about VBA is absolutely valid. If a person is going to do Windows development work, it would be a strange move to chose anything other than a Windows environment. But, as you note, that is about personal needs.

            For many tied-in to Windows environments, it would seem that the Surface is going to be an excellent option. I just wish a few of the nitwits on here would put aside their fanboi-ism, just for a few moments :-)
          • Why settle for just one?

            Yup fanboys, particularly those who follow tech, tend to be fairly rabid. Try not to take offence and bring yourself down to their level; reason and the internet mix as well as water and oil, as we all know.

            But even then, participation in one ecosystem does not preclude participation in another (so long as you can afford it :P)
            Darren Low
          • But the cost is equal to an Ultrabook.

            To get that functionality. The lower priced version will not run desktop Apps
            Jumpin Jack Flash
          • Its called x86/ 64 bit

            The intel cpu in the surface pro allows anyone to use 30 years worth of programs. Remember them PROGRAMS . These are what came before the Buzz word APPS .

            Lets look at the ipad .

            Can I use my work programs ? No

            Can I use a real copy of photo shop ? No

            Can I use a real copy of Avid ? No

            Can I play Batman Arkam Asylum or Diablo 3 ? No

            Can I do all these on my surface pro ? Yes
          • Can I . . .

            Let's look at the Surface (and please note the correctly placed apostrophe):

            Can I use iWorks? No

            Can I use GarageBand? No

            and so on . . .

            Can I do all of these on an iPad? Yes

            You set-up a blatantly biased test and then try to use that to justify a difference. You will fool a couple, but not many.

            But putting that aside, how do you know for certain that all of those apps will run on a Surface, and that each will perform to a satisfactory level for you - especially GIVEN THAT YOU HAVE NOT EVEN TOUCHED A SURFACE YET! How do you know that the frames rates for the games will sufficient? The Surface might well be a good device, but in real terms, it does not yet exist. When you own one, when you have tried and test each and every one of those apps, when you can then say that each works to your requirements, then you can come back and tell me about the virtues of a Surface. Until then, all you have is speculation and fanboi-glee and quite bluntly that is not EVIDENCE.
          • Either way, both are compromises

            @Habiloso: The applications that he has listed are cross platform though. For the purposes of illustration about device capability, fine, Microsoft products may never run Garage Band and the iWorks suite. That said, Microsoft has plainly stated that there will be legacy support in the Surface Pro, and I choose to take for granted that Microsoft is not blatantly lying to my face (which if you think about it, its not an entirely unreasonable assumption).

            At the end of the day, this isn't an apple to apple comparison (no pun intended). The iPad was designed with some capabilities in mind, the Surface with a different set. Inevitably, there will be some use cases where the iPad is superior, some where the Surface will be superior.

            Both of you are deluded if you think either the iPad or the Surface are no compromise devices. Its about whether you can live with the compromises posed by either device. Apparently @Habilso is willing to live with the set of compromises posed by the iPad, and @gljvd with the Surface's purported compromises (use of "purported" is to address @Habilso point that short of an announcement, the Surface is vapourware at this point).
            Darren Low
          • Valid points

            Yep, agree with what you said. All technology is a compromise. BTW, I am not deluded, just trying to counter someone with an little too much fanboi-ism for a device that does not yet exist in the markets. I expect that the Surface will be a very good device. And I have no problem with people being excited by it. However, I do have a problem with those who seek to make themselves feel better about their tech choices by making others feel bad about their alternative choices. If someone needs to feel good about choosing a Surface by making an iPad user feel bad (or vice versa), then they need to seek counselling. That's really quite mentally sick . . . but ZDNet and other fora seem to be filled with those types.
          • Some people are just insecure

            Heh it was not so long ago that I was one of those trolls who felt a need to validate my own choice. Helps to have sampled all the different platforms and what they have to offier though. Maturity of thought isn't something that comes naturally to everyone. The anonymity of the internet doesn't help either.
            Darren Low
          • Did you just say iWorks? LMAO.

            Even on my Mac, I use MS Office as does everyone. But there is no MS Office for iPad. And let's not compare any programs for Mac with Windows. Windows Powers ALL business machines. 98%+. So all of that software...(including normal versions of Flash / Air, Java etc) is able to run on a Windows 8 PRO surface. Not the worthless Windows RT surface...no one will be buying that one.... it is the other one that matters. The Pro one....and the price is definitely the key. It needs to be fast and sell for $500 or less. Or this will FLOP.
          • In the mid-1970s

            I was a cadet electrical engineer (writing programs for computer controlled test equipment in HPL on a HP 9825) and so I know the history of Intel based cpus because I was working with those. And i also know the history of many other cpus . . . Intel 8008, Zilog Z80, Signetics 2650, Motorola 6800, National SC/MP and so on. But thanks, anyway, for the history lesson.