Redmond will be pitching its next-generation Surface technology at the National Retail Federation show in January. Yet again. How can Microsoft executives believe that its Surface 2.0 collaboration technology will fare any better against the iPad now than before?
According to Mary Jo Foley at All About Microsoft, the Surface 2.0 platform, produced by hardware partner Samsung, was supposed to ship in 2011. The production units may be rolled out at the retail show, she said.
Microsoft announced in mid-November that Samsung had begun taking pre-orders for the SUR40, which will ultimately ship in 23 countries. They also acknowledged the list price was $8,900. Earlier this year, Microsoft and Samsung had said to expect the system to be priced around $7,600.
Likely the Surface marketing group in Redmond and a few directors walking the top floors of the Samsung Electronics chaebol in Suwon, Gyeonggi-do, Seoul, must be wearing frowns. Surface in both Versions 1.0 and 2.0 is still mostly a bunch of expensive concept demos.
Surface was a great idea — for Microsoft and Samsung. The concept leveraged Microsoft's input and graphics technology as well as the usual software-side productivity products; and it provided a new market for Samsung's big LCD screens and computers. And here would be a market where margins could still be found, unlike that of commoditized high-definition televisions.
But no, Apple iPad broke the model for multitouch collaboration economics. From its beginnings, the iPad's apps along with iOS provided a rich environment for two or maybe three persons to collaborate. There are many deployments of the iPad in business and enterprise with this very feature in mind.
Certainly, Surface 2.0 can't be said to be exactly what retailers might want during a recession: a large, expensive kiosk that supports collaboration between two or three users. Especially when compared with the iPad, a relatively inexpensive and proven collaboration platform.
At the Microsoft Surface blog, Microsoft reported on several applications demonstrated in the fall, particularly from Dassault Aviation, a military aviation company. Is this the vertical market that Microsoft and Samsung are seeking? It's a market sector known for expensive toys and visuals. (Is it right that the Surface team proudly shows off the results of their collaboration effort in sketches on a whiteboard?)
It appears to the casual observer that for the cost of the Surface boxes, a company could buy a couple of iPads and actually hire staff to show the demo, like at a trade show.
A year and a half ago, I pointed out the basic problems for Microsoft and Surface. Nothing has changed. Too little, too late, and too expensive. In fact, everything is worse with millions of iPads in the wild.
Here’s a guess: Based on the timelines needed for hardware development, tooling and production, Microsoft Surface and the iPad may have been conceived around the same time. Each took a different tack towards collaboration. Why Microsoft took the Pong model we won’t know. With the release of the iPad, Apple’s approach seems obvious. Of course, it ain’t.