What's really missing from the Surface PC
6/21/2012 11:13 AM EDT
While many of the technical reviewers are still undecided about the potential of Microsoft's new ARM and x86-based tablet/PC hybrid because of the limited specifications provided, there are still several glaring issues that many continue to neglect. Yes, this is a shiny new device with a cool keyboard feature, but it is still just a device. If the industry has learned anything from the success of companies like Apple or Amazon, especially in the tablet segment, the experience is more important than the device and no hardware feature can replace the service or the content.
Not only did Microsoft not announce if a wireless carrier will support the device for mobile services, the company did not even indicate if any of the models would contain a cellular modem for anywhere/anytime access. Some may still argue that a percentage of the population does not require this level of service, which is not even offered on Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet, but with the rather expensive price tags Microsoft has hinted at, many consumers will expect as much or more than competing Apple iPad and ultrabook devices. And as a general rule of thumb, you need to make the device ten times better at the same price or equal at half the price to have a significant impact on the market.
With the Surface PCs using the same technology as many of the competing devices with just a few peripheral and aesthetic additions and hints of comparable pricing, the Surface PCs do not meet these criteria to create a shift in the market. I would also argue that the move to shared data plans by wireless carriers is going to make the support of cellular service a future requirement, not just a “nice to have” feature.
However, the most critical omission is the lack of content, the driver of the two best-selling tablets in the world. In a single quarter, Amazon became the second best-selling tablet in the world for all of 2011 with only a US release. Why? Because like Apple, Amazon has compelling content combined with being one of the most popular e-commerce sites.
The other device OEMs have struggled with an answer to the lack of content. The only answer Microsoft has is the Office software suite. While Office is likely to provide some attraction to consumers looking to use this as computer replacement or productivity device, it will not be a significant driver for the broader consumer market. In addition, the same support for Office has done little to advance Microsoft solutions in the highly-coveted smartphone market. Note that this completely ignores the issue of Microsoft competing with all of the company's OEM partners.
In the era of successful electronic solutions, the shining new device is one of three critical criteria, but one that is waning in the face of stiffer competition. As with all the technology and device providers, it is good to see Microsoft pushing the market to even more usable and competitive solutions. The design of the Surface PC is likely to have an influence on future tablet and ultrabook designs. Unfortunately, it is difficult to take Microsoft's latest efforts in the mobile segment seriously with the information released thus far.