I’m just now catching up on the news about the new Microsoft Surface. Reactions seem mixed, tilting slightly positive or at least hopeful. People seem to want to believe Microsoft can pull this off and that’s understandable — competition is good, and right now, the iPad has no competition. My hunch is that whatever tablet Google announces shortly will be more of a Kindle Fire competitor than an iPad competitor. This Surface is a full-on iPad competitor.
On the surface — see what I did there? — the thing seems compelling. It’s a tablet that runs Windows, and Office, and has a keyboard. There’s no denying that the keyboard/cover hybrid is a smart thing to try.
Two years ago, I think this thing would have been pretty competitive. Today? Color me very skeptical.
First of all, for everything Microsoft did show off yesterday they left out some of the most important details. Namely, the price and the release date. Microsoft is once again late to this game. Every day wasted is a day further behind — and a further day closer to the next iPad.
This Surface doesn’t have to just match the price of the iPad, it has to be cheaper. Again, they’re playing catchup. Apple’s margins on the iPad are worse than their other products, but still good. There is some room to undercut them, but that’s assuming Microsoft is able to negotiate the same killer deals that Apple has on components. And this is one of their first forays into hardware. And it is their first foray into hardware of this kind.
Also, undercutting Apple here also means undercutting their own OEM partners. Those guys must already be pissed off at the prospect of this device. And getting into a price war with Microsoft will only piss them off even more. Maybe this drives more of them to Android in the tablet space.
Microsoft’s PR line on this is laughable:
Contributing to an Expanded Ecosystem
One of the strengths of Windows is its extensive ecosystem of software and hardware partners, delivering selection and choice that makes a customer’s Windows experience uniquely their own. This continues with Surface. Microsoft is delivering a unique contribution to an already strong and growing ecosystem of functional and stylish devices delivered by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to bring the experience of Windows to consumers and businesses around the globe.
Right. Nothing has changed. Nothing at all. These are not the droids you’re looking for.
There are about 16 ways this can turn into a disaster for Microsoft. Their entire business model the past few decades has been built upon software licensing. Now their model is hardware sales mixed with software licensing. With the purchase of Motorola, the big fear in the mobile industry is that Google will make this jump as well. With Microsoft now actually doing it, it’s a bajillion times worse. At least Android is free (sort of — coincidentally, most OEMs pay Microsoft to use it). Windows is not free. OEMs will be paying Microsoft to directly compete with — wait for it — Microsoft.
Cluster, meet fuck.
Personally, I’m fine with Microsoft jumping into the hardware game. I’m an Apple guy, I’m all about the union of hardware and software. Say what you want about Apple, there’s a reason they smoke all the OEMs in the PC, phone, and tablet fields when it comes to overall quality. By doing their own hardware, Microsoft has the opportunity to also deliver on quality.
And a number of people have remarked about how good this new Surface looks. I don’t know, I look at it and still see the same mistakes that other OEMs that aren’t Apple make. It looks like a big Playbook. Dark. Lots of ports. Blocky. Vents.
Then you add the keyboard and it looks like… a goddamn PC.
While, again, I think the keyboard thing is a smart thing to try to sell units, I have a feeling that in the long run, it will be a burden. It’s not as bad as the hardware keyboards on smartphones — which, remember, everyone insisted at one point Apple would have to add to the iPhone — which took up valuable screen real estate. But it’s in many ways a literal chain to the past.
Does typing on software keyboards suck? Compared to physical keyboards, yes. But the idea should be to reinvent the method of input (see: Siri, for example), not tack on an old one. It’s a crutch. It’s baggage. The only way to move forward is to throw it away.
Just take another look at the new Surface. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Again, it looks like a goddamn PC. It’s a keyboard and a screen. Sure, it’s thinner — great, Microsoft has made a more portable laptop that you can’t actually use on your lap. Nothing in that gallery even suggests it’s a touchscreen device. How weird is that?
To top it all off, there are major branding issues. The press release simply calls it the “Surface”. It’s a regurgitated brand from something not really related (and, let’s face it, a failed product), but whatever. The real problem is with “Surface for Windows RT” and “Surface for Windows 8 Pro”. These sounds like fake names I came up with while drunk last night. But they’re real. I double-checked.
What are there differences? There’s quite a few actually. The biggest is that one works on ARM chips (RT) and one works on Intel chips (8 Pro). But they’re also different sizes, different weights, have different displays, different inputs, different release dates, and run different OSes — and thus, different apps.
Cluster, meet double fuck.
Starting from nothing, the app situation on these devices was already going to be a sad story. This bifurcation of the line is a recipe for disaster.
But hey, at least Surface for Windows 8 Pro comes with a pen. To quote a guy I once met, “If you see a stylus, they blew it.”