Ecosystem lock-in may just break the Surface

The Microsoft Surface tablets look so good I already want one, but with no significant installed Windows Phone base the ecosystem may keep buyers away.

MSFT Surface tablet

I want a Microsoft Surface. The new tablets look well designed and I am looking forward to seeing how Windows 8 integrates with them. Microsoft is hoping a lot of other buyers feel the same way, but there's a lack of Windows Phone owners that may keep prospective customers away.

Both Apple and Google have a decent ecosystem consisting of lots of apps. There are good apps and bad apps, but with so many to choose from you can find a decent solution to just about anything you want to do.

These two big ecosystems may be a big obstacle for the Microsoft Surface tablets when they go on sale. I'm not referring to a lack of Windows 8 apps, although that will be a factor. No, I'm referring to the smartphone app ecosystems that will play a role in tablet buying habits.

Most iPhone and Android phone apps work just fine on the iPad and Android tablets respectively. The iPhone owner who buys an iPad finds he/she already owns lots of good apps for the iPad right out of the box. The ecosystem has taken care of its customers, as a good one should do.

The same is true of the new Android tablet buyer. Odds are she/he has a shiny Android smartphone and has bought/installed lots of apps for it. Like the iPhone owner, most Android smartphone apps work fine on that new tablet. For both platforms there is no extra investment required to get rolling with the new tablet.

That's not going to be the case for prospective Microsoft Surface tablets. Very few of them are Windows Phone owners, and even if they are those apps won't work on either of the Surface tablets (Windows RT/ Windows 8 Pro). After plunking down what Microsoft has led us to believe will be many hundreds of dollars for the sparkling Surface tablet, the new owner will have to buy apps.

Even enthusiasts anxious for a Surface tablet will be affected by this app situation. Odds are most prospective buyers already own either an Android phone or an iPhone; they have already bought into that platform app ecosystem. If the new tablet owner needs lots of apps, that could be quite an additional investment at a time when the buyer is tapped out from the tablet purchase.

I am going to buy a Surface tablet, I am certain. But the prospect of needing a dozen or so Metro apps to get good use out of it bothers me, I must admit. I've already bought heavily into both the Android and iOS ecosystem. The Microsoft tablet will be a third. I may be broke for the foreseeable future.