High Hopes for Microsoft Surface Tablet

Microsoft’s announcement today of their upcoming Surface Tablet was a breath of fresh air. Not that I think it poses any significant threat for the iPad or Android in the foreseeable future, but I am encouraged to see Microsoft flexing its creative muscles. It’s certainly the first time in a long while that I’ve been interested since the Courier concept lured then left me hanging a while back. I thought the addition of the soft keyboard into the magnetic cover was clever. Kudos too for having the built-in kickstand. Microsoft seems to be paying attention to how folks have been using their tablets. While the iPad has not, and likely will not ever, replace my Macbook Air/Pro, I can imagine that the Surface tablet has a strong chance of displacing my Windows laptop. In fairness, perhaps that is because the level of my computing on Windows these days is far less demanding, but there you have it.

While this initial move will likely irk Microsoft’s partners in the near-term, I hope they see it as the positive wake up call and challenge to start innovating in the tablet space that I think Microsoft intends it to be. I don’t anticipate Microsoft will seriously get into the tablet hardware business and risk alienating its partners permanently, but I think this poses a great model for Microsoft. On occasion, the release of step-changes in technology and novel, innovative concepts might be the shot in the arm its partners and potential Developers need to inspire them.

Ultimately, Surface Tablet’s success will depend on that partner and Developer ecosystem. Microsoft must focus on creating great, easy to use technology that captures the imagination of its partners and Developers to create new things. After all, while Apple products might come in sexy packages they’d be nothing more than baubles without the apps that run on them. Google seems to get this by offering features on its Android open OS that allow its Developers to do clever and interesting things that push the platform forward. Sorry Apple fan-boys, but Android did have voice commands, wireless syncing, tabbed browsing, and a better email client first. Counter…sorry Droid-heads, Apple did do it better. Microsoft cannot simply offer features and tech that are table stakes on the other tablets. They’ll have to push it further and offer things you cannot currently do on iOS or Android.

A few things I think Microsoft has going for it:

  • Its multi-touch (Surface) and gesture-based (Kinect) interactive tech is superior to anything Apple has; hate if you want, but it’s true; whether they can translate that tech to a tablet format is the big question
  • Its strong and loyal XBOX following; Apple and Android don’t have anything close to this; whether those gamers want to play on a tablet device where casual gaming might be more attractive is left to be seen
  • Its relationship and position in corporate environments; Apple and Google haven’t yet showed serious interest in catering to the enterprise market and with RIM missing the mark with Playbook–*sigh* my Playbook is collecting dust at home–there’s a chance here for Microsoft to build a platform that will help drive serious productivity apps for companies (not to mention a boon for SysAdmins and Ops Managers)

All in all, I am happy for any addition to the market that provides choice and keeps the other players innovating. Strange turn of events when Microsoft was slammed for its virtual monopoly just a decade ago, yet here we are staring at a similar scenario with Apple now occupying that space and we’re looking to Microsoft to create choice.

2 Comments on "High Hopes for Microsoft Surface Tablet"

  • Robert says

    hey Sergio! solid review, if i would have known that you had your own website i would have been following it for a while now

    i like the magnetic keyboard. i have been against the idea of really owning a tablet because i didn’t like the idea of not having a physical keyboard to type on.

    looks like the new tablet is going to be running the new windows 8, have you got the chance to try it out yet? i ran the consumer preview on my laptop for a while before my laptop crashed and burned, and the boot speed was ridiculously quick and the metro theme was nice looking but it took a lot of getting used to not to mention it really was weird not having a start button or control panel or windows explorer.

    have you seen the xbox glass concept yet? i’m excited about it like i was excited when i first saw the previews for the project natal

    • serge says

      I haven’t really been playing with Windows 8, but I am looking forward to seeing what Windows Phone 8 has to offer. I don’t game much, so I’m not sure that I’ll be an early adopter of XBOX SmartGlass. I’m not yet convinced that XBOX–or Apple TV, Mac Mini, or Google TV for that matter–are compelling enough for me to have them take over my living room as my home theater hub. Much of that has to do with the fact that the video formats are not yet open the way Apple pushed the music industry forward, so sharing my content across platforms is not yet possible. That means that if I want to watch content bought in iTunes, via Amazon, and XBOX I have to use different mechanisms to watch different content. But if anyone is going to have a shot to push the movie and TV industry forward toward an unlocked standard, it’ll be Apple. I’m not entirely sold on a pure glass device as a remote control. I’ve been an early adopter of such systems and I miss the tactile feel of the remote (which is why I like Logitech’s Harmony line as it gives me the best of both worlds). It will be interesting to see how MSFT implements SmartGlass as a second-screen to complement your primary TV viewing habits.

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