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On The Surface

Taking on the iPad! Many have tried, almost all have failed. But now there’s a new sheriff in town and it seems this one wants to take no prisoners. On the ‘surface’, it seems that this is an all-new Microsoft that is ready to break free from old conventions and blaze an all-new path.

brunch Updated: Jul 02, 2012 11:27 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times
Rajiv Makhni,Microsoft,OEM Dominatrix

Microsoft may well be writing a new chapter in history, with its new Tablet
Taking on the iPad! Many have tried, almost all have failed. But now there’s a new sheriff in town and it seems this one wants to take no prisoners. On the ‘surface’, it seems that this is an all-new Microsoft that is ready to break free from old conventions and blaze an all-new path. It’s announced the Microsoft Surface Tablet (in fact two versions, but more on that later) and rather than rely on hardware partners, Microsoft wants to do it all with its own branded device. This isn’t the Microsoft we know – the safe player, the software-only giant, the OEM Dominatrix and the ‘make money from each licence’ expert.
This is the Microsoft that is willing to break from history and forge a new path. And seems to have just one thing as its target: to unseat the very dominant Apple iPad.

Nifty features: The magnetic digital ink stylus sticks to the side eliminating chances of losing it

But isn’t Microsoft disastrous with Hardware?

Well, it’s not that they don’t play in the hardware market. They have a lot of accessories out there. From keyboards to the mouse and web cams. But it has never been successful with consumer-level devices. After disastrous adventures with the Kin phone, the ill-fated Tablet PC and the never-released Courier – Microsoft isn’t coming in with any great legacy of success.

But this time, there seems to be a perfectly planned strategy in place. Microsoft can’t wait for hardware partners to deliver the perfect Tablet. Thus it comes in with its own branded Tablet, shows the potential as well as great sales, others bite the bullet and come up with their own versions and bang – Windows Tablets becomes a force to reckon with. Microsoft really couldn’t afford to wait any longer as the Apple juggernaut rolls on and takes the entire Tablet market.

Why is Microsoft going through so much trouble?

This one’s pretty easy. Microsoft has realised that this is a whole new world of tech. For years, software was King of the Hill and generated far higher margins and profits while hardware was the poor cousin that struggled to make any serious money. This has flipped. Today, Apple commands a premium for its hardware as do many other phone, Ultrabook and Tablet makers.

Microsoft may not be able to garner the same levels of margins per software licence till it can prove demand for these devices. It needs to be able to make money off hardware and software or it may become irrelevant in the long run. Thus the Surface.

What’s different with the Surface?

A lot actually. This is a pretty sweet device that seems to incorporate all the critical as well as most dream features. First, the really amazing stuff. A very thin, very nice looking, brightly coloured smart cover with a built in 3-mm pressure-sensitive keyboard that is actually useable. Then there’s the incredibly well thought out kick stand that merges right back into the body of the device.

Another innovation is the digital ink stylus – it’s magnetic and sticks to the side, eliminating chances of losing it. Add to this a very thin and light form factor, a fast processor, MicroSD, USB 2.0, Micro HD video connectors, front and rear HD cameras, up to 128GB storage, 10.6 inch HD screen and the fact that there will be two versions. One for the normal ‘iPadish’ type of person and a Pro version for those who need a Tablet to also be a serious business machine.


How much is this going to cost me?

This may be the new Microsoft – but some old habits die hard. The Microsoft Surface announcement was done in old Microsoft style with many important details being omitted. The price is unknown as is the exact date you can get your hands on it. Some other things that weren’t specified were battery life, what level of wireless as well as broadband connectivity it’ll come with and even the HD screen resolution wasn’t spelt out.

This is typical of Microsoft software releases – they come up with a huge pre-announcement for a software that may take a whole year to deliver. The idea was to hit the competition sales as everyone would then wait for the Microsoft version. Old school shenanigans like these don’t work anymore.

Can the Microsoft Surface really hurt the Apple iPad?
That’s a tough one. In a word – yes! If it gets a few things right. First the pricing. If the RT version is about $100 lower than the iPad, then this could get things started. And if the Pro version is about $799 then it could get a lot of people interested. This could be a replacement for carrying around an Ultrabook AND a Tablet.

Microsoft has thrown in quite a bit of innovation and features into the Surface which will attract a lot of customers. Then there’s the whole comfort of being within the very familiar environment of Windows. This matters to a lot of business and enterprise customers. Microsoft also needs to get the Surface out in the hands of customers very quickly.

Google may come out with their own branded Tablet, rumours of an iPad Mini are becoming stronger, Amazon’s next generation of the Kindle Fire is apparently a top- dog device and Samsung and Asus are getting aggressive in the Tablet world. Microsoft can’t sit around on the Surface. It’s good to see Microsoft make a comeback. For some time now, the incredible giant that dominated the world of computing has been made to look like a plodding, directionless fat blimp. With the Surface, Microsoft may well be writing a new chapter in history. At least, that’s what it looks like on the Surface.

From HT Brunch, July 1

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First Published: Jun 29, 2012 16:35 IST