Looking Beneath the Surface

Initial thoughts on the Microsoft Surface tablets, announced yesterday (read up at The Verge.) Warning: There are some generalisations ahead but I think they are ones we can all live with… #perksofnotbeingafulltimejourno

MARKET

Firstly: you aren’t going to buy a surface alongside your iPad – until it needs upgrading. I’ve long thought Apple is running to a 2 year product cycle (if you’re on iPhone 3G, you’d upgrade to the 4/ if iPhone 3GS, it’s the 4S) but there’s a catch with this; it’s largely perpetuated by the next Apple release, not those from external vendors.

I think it’s fair to say, if you just bought a The New iPad, you likely aren’t in the market for this.
If you have an iPad 2 (released March 2011, you’d have to be pretty unhappy with it to be upgrading again. And ask how many iPad owners feel that’s the case – out of the millions, I’m sure it’s a minority.

So that leaves iPad 1 – early adopters. How many of those who weren’t happy with their tablet will have already jumped to Samsung Tabs or Playbooks by now? Were they really holding out for a tablet that included the full Windows experience?

Time will tell.

But the other side of market here is price.

PRICE

Although unannounced at yesterday’s conference, if MS can squeeze the Windows RT edition of the tablet (running on ARM and with just the Metro interface, no full edition of Win 8) out at a cheaper price point, perhaps the combo of familiarity and accessibility could turn the heads of those who haven’t previously taken the tablet leap.

Kindle pricing has made its products widespread on the average tube carriage or aeroplane. But it hasn’t buoyed the more expensive Kindle Fire (still not available in UK) as Amazon might have hoped.

With the iPad 2 already out there at £299, Microsoft will have to work hard to get a product of competitive quality out there at a point where price is a true differentiator – and strategically, they may be sticking to the braver route of taking Apple head on over ten years or so.

After all, look at the Xbox. Generation one built a foot hold, Gen two has given Sony a run for its money in the same way that company disrupted the previous market leaders.

APPS

And where would this discussion be without mentioning the app ecosystem these days. Unless you go for the higher end model, which features the full Windows 8 experience behind the scenes, you’re tied to the Windows Marketplace. I dread to think how many apps I have backlogged in my iTunes account that I would immediately lose access to if I jumped ship to another vendor’s platform. Many other people must be on the same boat.

METRO

If there’s one thing going for the machine, I think it’s the Metro interface. For the first time since picking up my first iOS device, Metro presented a clear and distinct design vision made for the mobile experience. It’s not without its quirks and room for improvement but if they can tick the other boxes, there’s no better ambassador to the public than a fine interface like this.

The last note should also consider the tech involved in this – Microsoft’s previous Surface project (now renamed “PixelSense“) has been officially going since 2008 and has prototypes being demoed long before the original iPhone. They also may have stacked the Zune project but the hardware in the Xbox has shown they can make a machine like this work.

The tablet industry is young but, as with the smartphone market, things are levelling out after another ridiculous Apple head start. Microsoft has proved it can work hard in a market to move from being underdog to leader. If you look at the original Xbox, launched in 2002, it took ten years to make that leap – no doubt it will be interesting to take another look at this same market in 2022…

Update:

My colleague Sam Golden spotted this in the search results – perhaps a clue on pricing but tricky to find where that metadata is coming from and finish the sentence…

- Max Tatton-Brown

June 19th, 2012

  • Sean Fleming

    Great piece Max.  I like your analysis of where we iPad owners are on the Apple upgrade roadmap.  🙂

  • http://MaxTB.com Max Tatton-Brown

    Cheers Sean, I need to write it up properly soon anyway since it’s something I’m always bringing up as the antidote to the “OH, THE iPHONE 4S DOESNT EVEN LOOK ANY DIFFERENT” talk that inevitably accompanies each release.

    I suspect it’s also the idea behind the move to “The New” in the product titles – presumably next iPhone will simply be The New iPhone.