On June 18, 2012, Microsoft held a press conference to announce their intention to release a Microsoft branded tablet this fall called the Microsoft Surface. Microsoft has attempted their own branded hardware before and some of it has been successful. Microsoft has done well with the Xbox and peripherals (keyboards, mice, etc.), and Windows Phone is actually starting to gain traction, too. If you attended TechEd 2012 NA, you saw a huge uptake in Windows Phone devices. They were practically everywhere. Not just in the Expo, but in actual user’s hands. The difference in the number of Windows Phone devices between TechEd 2011 and TechEd 2012 was astounding.
The industry tends to focus more on Microsoft’s failed attempts, such as the Zune and the Kin, and a lot of people are dismissing the fact that Microsoft has unveiled something substantial. Is the Microsoft Surface an “iPad killer” as some might claim? Probably not. But, just as Windows Phone adoption is growing, Microsoft Surface could also see a slow but steady adoption rate.
On personal note, I will definitely be buying one of these. Most of you know that I’m a gadget freak, so it goes without saying that I want one. But, what makes this a better tablet than the other tablets out there? It’s thin. Yes. It’s light. Yes. So far, it sounds like every other tablet out there. But, there are certain features about the Microsoft Surface that show Microsoft has taken the time to identify elements missing from tablets such as the iPad.
First off, Microsoft Surface has a kickstand. Silly, you may think, but how many tablets on the market today require you to purchase additional accessories just to make it function the way you want? In addition to a Windows 8 tablet (Acer Iconia Tab W500), I also have a Motorola Xoom (Android tablet). The cost of accessories I’ve purchased almost meets the actual tablet price if the tablet itself. I have two Xoom docks (one with stereo speakers for streaming audio for Spotify and Netflix), a leather case for travel, a rubber sleeve for better gripping, a travel charger, an extra charger, and a Bluetooth keyboard. Accessories continue to be the mobile device scam.
Secondly, Microsoft Surface has a keyboard. This is huge. Really. The cover of the Microsoft Surface docks with the tablet and provides instant keyboarding, complete with a track mouse pad. No additional accessory to buy here, and, in all appearances and functions, you have a lightweight Windows 8 laptop to carry around with you. The advances of tablet technology over the last couple years and even the last few months, mean you don’t have to sacrifice power and storage for aesthetics. I can see myself utilizing the keyboard anywhere, but particularly in a hotel room and sitting in my airplane seat. Instant gratification, value, and function.
The Microsoft Surface plays to consumers and businesses, but most importantly businesses. There are two versions of the Microsoft Surface coming. One runs Windows 8 Pro on an Intel processor – which will be a bit thicker and heavier and most likely will run a bit hotter. The other tablet runs Windows RT on an ARM processor. But, either will run both business and consumer apps. From a System Center admin standpoint, you could effectively replace any laptop you are using now with the Microsoft Surface and not miss an administration beat. This is also a huge plus for the Microsoft Surface. The more I play with Windows 8, the more I love it, and a tablet with a keyboard and a kickstand, makes Windows 8 even more usable for day-to-day purposes. The only drawback for Windows 8, right now, is the lack of Metro-ized apps in the Microsoft store. All non-Metro apps still run fine, but to get the true value of Windows 8, the apps need Metro versions, otherwise fat fingers tend to close apps instead of minimize or maximize the app window. And, the specs are good for businesses, particularly the supplied ports and configurable memory options.
Click the image to get a full view of the specs:
Apple played to the consumer first, and literally destroyed the business ecosystem. Industry folks started promoting BYOD and blaming IT because they are not ready to support consumer devices in the business landscape. No company should have to consider supporting iPads in the Enterprise. No company. Period. What business needs is a business-oriented unit and, by all appearances, Microsoft is providing that with the Microsoft Surface. Finally, maybe IT once again can do the job they were hired to do and still give end-users something fun and functional to use for everyday business. And, you can bet that IT will be able to manage Microsoft Surface devices using existing management technologies like System Center 2012 without burdening the company and budgets by acquiring and implementing 3rd party BYOD technologies.
OK, so there are some unknown variables. One of the big pieces missing from Microsoft’s announcement is price and battery life. While battery life is important, price is the bigger issue. For the last few months Microsoft employees have been receiving the Samsung Series 7, 11.6” slate device. I saw Brad Anderson pull one from his laptop bag at MMS 2012 and audibly chuckled. At 11.6”, the form factor was crazy. It was like carrying around a tabletop. Who, but Samsung, would think this is a good size? And, the price? On a good day, you might find the Samsung around $1,200 US. A tablet? Over $1,000? That’s nuts. Microsoft needs to do whatever they can to keep the price down. The Acer Iconia Tab W500, I mentioned earlier, is a fantastic unit, and it’s less than $500. That’s a perfect price for anyone. Still, Microsoft is looking to compete with Apple, so I kind of expect the price to fall, maybe, $100 less than the most current iPad, but definitely not in the Samsung range.
I’m looking forward to the Microsoft Surface release and, hopefully, will be one of the first to grab one. If this pans out, I’d be happy to replace my current travel gear. In fact, I’m really hoping for it.
Official Microsoft Surface web page: http://www.microsoft.com/surface/
Microsoft Surface photo gallery: http://www.microsoft.com/surface/en/us/gallery.aspx
Community Group: http://myitforum.com/myitforumwp/groups/microsoft-surface/documents/
Microsoft Surface Spec Sheet: Microsoft Surface Spec Sheet (209.3k)
Discovery News: Microsoft’s Tablet: No Depth Below the Surface
The Microsoft video:
The full keynote: