On the Surface

On the Surface

Posted Saturday December 1, 2012 at 10:42:04 pm in Technology

The Surface. Just the mere sound of it can elicit all kinds of reactions from people:

  • Surface, isn't that like an iPad? 
  • What's that click, click about?
  • I heard that's it "meh"
  • SURFACE SUCKS!
  • I think the Surface is perfect

....and so on. The interesting thing is that Microsoft is being talked about as if they were Apple  for once. Instead of Microsoft's major headlines being about Office or Visual Studio, their most recent headlines have all been about the Surface, Windows 8, and XBox. Yes, 2 out of the 3 biggies are hardware  products. And Microsoft is trending in that direction.

Think about it for a second.

When Surface was first discussed, it was originally talked about as if it would merely be a reference design for PC manufacturers to follow. Essentially Microsoft was calling out the PC manufacturers: do better than the same ole or we'll build our own stuff. You know what I think is funny? I think it was intentional. I think Microsoft knew that the PC manufacturers would drop the ball leaving them with the ability to say, "I told you so!"

Look at it right now. Microsoft is already blaming PC manufacturers for not having enough touch designs out on the market for Windows 8. They've already hyped the upgrades (40 million in ~30 days). It appears consumers
want the operating system, but on what hardware remains to be seen. Dell, Sony, and Acer devices sold very well over the Black Friday holiday, but we haven't yet heard about the Surface.

So, yeah. About the Surface. There were talks the production run would be limited: 2-5 million devices. We still don't know how many were ordered vs. how many were produced. We do know that Microsoft called for production to be cut in half, so it can't be selling as well as they'd like. But the fact that they're calling for additional production means they're still in the game of producing and selling Surfaces. Oh...and let's not forget the Surface Pro.

The Surface Pro comes out in January and will be targeted to power users/corporations. It's essentially a slightly thicker Surface RT but with an i5 processor and running full Windows 8 instead of RT. That means lower battery life. It also means it has the ability to run all of your applications: desktop, Modern UI...everything in between. It comes with USB 3.0 and a much higher resolution (1920x1080). It also means a heftier price tag: starting at $899.

The idea of the Surface Pro is that it's an ultrabook by its guts, but a tablet by its construction. It can play nicely with all of your devices (mice, keyboards, printers, etc.) as well as Microsoft's Touch/Type Covers. I think the Surface Pro really can be the jack of all trades (and even a master of some). Picture the following scenarios:

  • Laying on the couch with the Surface in tablet mode
  • Laying on the bed with the Surface in tablet mode
  • On a plane compiling an application in Visual Studio with the Surface in "laptop" mode w/ the Touch/ or Type Cover
  • At a desk typing a quick document with the Surface in "laptop" mode
  • At a desk with the mini Display Port hooked up to a large monitor with Bluetooth keyboard and mice hooked up
  • Showing your portfolio to people standing up in tablet mode

....all of those scenarios are possible with the Surface Pro. They're also possible with the Surface RT, but without all the great desktop apps or higher resolution. It's up to you the consumer to decide what you want and what you can afford.

It's also up to Microsoft to properly market the RT and Pro devices to the appropriate audiences.

But wait, there's more. There are talks that Microsoft is not only working on the next Surface (that's been known for a few months)...but also additional form factors. Yes, the same company that said they're *just* creating the Surface
as a reference device is (alleged to) making additional form factors. And it's the right thing to do for Microsoft.

Microsoft is looking to take the success of their accessories and XBox hardware to tablets...and even laptops (supposedly). It appears Microsoft wants to take on some of the same business model as Apple. The difference between Microsoft and Apple, of course...is that Microsoft *was* a software company. It has now turned into a full fledged machine: hardware, software, services, etc.

Instead of talking about how large Microsoft is I want to touch on the Surface strategy. If the rumours are true, there are eventually going to be the following Surface models in the family:

  • Surface "Mini" (8.6")
  • Surface RT (10.6")
  • Surface RT 2 (10.6")
  • Surface Pro (10.6")
  • Surface Pro 2 (11.6")
  • Surface Book (14.6")

For the record, the talk of the next RT is that it could be just an 8.6" device. But I think they'll have the 8.6" device as well as the second iteration of the RT selling at the same time. It's possible that they won't, but that's what I think. Microsoft said they went with 10.6" because it was the perfect size and gave the users the ability to run apps side by side. If the resolution is smaller, Windows 8 can still run, but without the side by side apps in the Modern UI. They'll also probably nix Office on it to keep the price lower. 

Anyways, the rumour is that there's a smaller Surface coming out, a slightly larger Surface Pro, and a Surface Book. The Book is intriguing...especially because of the screen size. 14.6"? Definitely a laptop. And because of W8, definitely a touchscreen.

So, they'll be covering the following markets w/ the Surface:

  • The small, inexpensive tablet market (Mini) 
  • The medium, inexpensive tablet market (RT)
  • The large, expensive tablet market (Pro)
  • The touchscreen laptop market (Book)

...but that's not all, apparently. If the other rumours are true, Microsoft will be creating a handheld XBox with Surface branding. Yes, an XBox Surface. Apparently it's a 7" handheld tablet. While on the XBox talk, there's also the new XBox coming in Q4 of 2013 and the XBox TV coming out in Q1/Q2 TV.

If all (or even most) of the above is true, the laundry list of hardware attached to the XBox and Surface names would be the following:

  • Surface "Mini" (8.6")
  • Surface RT (10.6")
  • Surface RT 2 (10.6")
  • Surface Pro (10.6")
  • Surface Pro 2 (11.6")
  • Surface Book (14.6")
  • XBox Surface (7")
  • XBox TV
  • XBox 360
  • XBox
  • Kinect

...yeah, Microsoft is also a hardware company. And this doesn't even include Microsoft's Hardware Group.

The question is whether or not this will work. Microsoft's Stores are expanding, and I really think that the more products for users to try...the better. See: Apple's Stores. But, instead of focusing on their manufacturers's products, they can now showcase their entire line. That is a very powerful trump card in Microsoft's hand.

It's amazing what the difference of a year makes. Microsoft is quickly changing into a company that is actually "cool". They're not there yet, but if they continue down this path...they will be.

The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer’s view