Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Last night, Microsoft held an event that had the tech world buzzing through the weekend. Most industry watchers knew a tablet was in the works, but beyond that there wasn’t much firm data. Since Apple, Google and Facebook have been the companies making the most waves in tech recently, there was a sense of surprise that Microsoft had been able to generate so much interest.
There was indeed a tablet at the center of all this interest: the new Microsoft Surface
. Steve Ballmer said that the Surface “embodies hardware and software working together,” so Microsoft seems to be heading down the trail that Apple has blazed. After the new device was shown, Microsoft had a couple of surprises.
First was a cover that has a keyboard built in. Actually, there were two keyboard covers: one with actual keys and a slimmer capacitive touch version. The keyboard itself is not highly revolutionary, but it is an additional step toward full integration. With a built-in keyboard, the target competition of the Surface is not the iPad as much as it is the MacBook Air (and other ultrabooks as well, which likely has several OEMs re-evaluating their plans).
The second surprise was that separate tablets will be available running Windows 8 Pro and Windows RT (the version of Windows 8 that has been coded to run on the ARM architecture). There has been plenty of speculation on how these two versions of Windows 8 will play out in the marketplace, and having separate tablets seems to add some confusion into the picture. Comparing again to Apple, limiting the number of SKUs would appear to be a more consumer-friendly strategy.
But the consumer market may not be exactly where Microsoft has their sights set. The Redmond giant has had a major advantage as new devices and cloud software have been hitting the market in recent years: their install base. Although that base has eroded somewhat, there are still a huge number of companies who run on Microsoft systems, partly because the company has an established history of enterprise support. This install base is certainly in place in the consumer world as well, so the Surface may be a very attractive option for those who are still entrenched in a Windows ecosystem at home, work or both.
Immediate reaction on Twitter seemed to be mixed but slanted toward the positive. Critics point out Microsoft’s recent hardware failures, such as the Kin
and the Zune
. But Microsoft also has a major consumer hit on their hands with the Xbox and Kinect
, and they are rapidly building cloud abilities with SkyDrive
. Other downsides include the multiple hardware builds and the fact that Microsoft was not able to announce price or schedule, but I believe the Surface will make an impact. Most tablets that have been introduced in response to the iPad have felt rushed to market, while Microsoft appears to have taken their time and crafted a device that fits with their strategy and appeals to the huge base of Windows users.
What do you think? Will the Surface be a viable alternative in offices where Windows and MS Office are still prominent? Give us your thoughts below or look into CompTIA’s communities
, where companies have a chance to discuss issues like this that are affecting the future of IT.