Why did Microsoft build the Surface Go?

Microsoft's new Surface Go isn't just another, cheaper Surface. Microsoft has plans to try to capture a bigger piece of the overall PC/tablet pie with this device.

Video: Microsoft goes after the iPad with low-cost Surface Go

Microsoft is readying a new, low-end Windows 10-based tablet designed to compete with smaller and cheaper iPads: The Surface Go.

Those who have been keeping tabs on Microsoft's hardware strategy likely have one key question about the Surface Go -- Why?

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Credit: Microsoft

Why did Microsoft build this 10-inch, Pentium-based device, given that the company's mission with its Surface products has been to go somewhere its OEM partners have not gone before -- in other words, to create new and previously untapped markets/categories for Windows devices.

After all, there are other Windows-based iPad competitors out there from various PC partners. There are other education-centric Windows 10 devices in market, some starting as low as $189. There are other "firstline-worker" PCs and tablets emerging.

Also: The cheapest Surface is more portable but less powerful CNET | Microsoft Surface Go: What the pros need to know TechRepublic

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So what's unique about the Surface Go?

Microsoft quietly has shifted its goal for Surface hardware from carving out new niches which can be exploited by Microsoft and its OEM partners, to expanding the overall market for Surface. With the Surface Go, Microsoft is looking to attract new, first-time Surface device users. Some of these may be individuals who always wanted a Surface but couldn't afford it until now, with the base-level tablet on its own costing $399. Some may be people who prefer the premium components and experience that Surface brings to the table over what OEMs have delivered.

Surface Go comes preloaded either with Windows 10 Home in S Mode (which can be upgraded for free to full Windows 10 Home) or Windows 10 Pro (which can be downgraded to S Mode). When not in S Mode, it can run Win32 and Store/UWP apps.

I am somewhat surprised that Microsoft isn't launching the Surface Gos preloaded with Microsoft 365 -- its bundle of Windows 10, Office 365 and Intune mobile-device-management service. Microsoft 365 will be an option, as will Windows Autopilot, Microsoft's device provisioning service, for the Surface Go devices. Maybe cost-competitiveness is the reason for just preloading Windows 10 alone. But I would have thought that making the Surface Go one of the first Microsoft 365 devices could have been a reason for Microsoft to bring this to market....

Also: Microsoft 365: A cheat sheet TechRepublic

Speaking of Microsoft 365, Microsoft isn't just targeting schools, and especially third- through sixth-grade users, with these devices. Retail, banking, manufacturing and other vertical businesses are all on Microsoft's radar with Surface Go. The firsline/frontline workers there likely need custom Win32 apps on their devices, and emulation on an ARM processor would probably be a less-than-optimal experience. That is likely one reason the Surface Go is Intel-, not ARM-based for now, anyway.

Microsoft officials said learnings from the company's Surface 3 device were inspirational in devising the Surface Go. One of those lessons, no doubt, was how many people want and need built-in LTE. Microsoft is planning to field some unknown number of configurations of the Go with built-in LTE starting this fall. The company also may be adding an 8GB RAM/256GB SSD storage version (with and without LTE,) to its Surface Go line-up. That version is mentioned in some Microsoft marketing materials, but is omitted in others.

Surface has been a small but decent business for Microsoft over the past couple of years. Moving forward, it feels like Microsoft Surface execs are hoping the Surface Go could become a breakout hit for the company.