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DT Debate: Is the Microsoft Surface too little too late or will it strike while the iron’s hot?

Microsoft surface tablet debate blue screen of deathThis week Microsoft introduced us to the Surface tablet, it’s big effort to take on the iPad. Reactions have been wildly varied, from skeptical to inspired. It’s taken Microsoft long enough to jump into the tablet fray, and that led us to ask writers Jeffrey Van Camp and Andrew counts to ask… 

dt debate question



Jeffrey Van CampMicrosoft is definitely late… more than two years late, if anyone’s counting, but it was also early… about 10 years early, to the party as well. Microsoft needs Windows 8 to succeed and it needs a Windows tablet to exist that people get excited about. Currently, the iPad may be the only tablet a lot of people get excited about. Android hasn’t firmly established itself and newcomers like Barnes & Noble, RIM, and Amazon have been entering the market on a fairly regular basis. I think any device challenging the iPad has an uphill climb, but the tablet market is definitely still in flux and the Surface tablet appears to fill a productivity niche that isn’t being met by most devices.

As long as Microsoft nails this device, it will have a chance.




andrew-coutsI agree — if Microsoft nails this device, it has a good chance at carving out a new sector of the tablet market, one that occupies both a productive and entertainment space. But that’s a big if. Aside from its moves with Xbox, Microsoft has become notorious for screwing up a good thing. And the fact that it unveiled the Surface tablets without revealing many of their important details — namely, price and battery life — shows that there is still plenty of room for Redmond to mess this one up. Do the Surface tablets have potential? Absolutely. Unfortunately for Microsoft, potential is nothing without strong execution — something this once-untouchable technology giant has failed to deliver time and again.

As for being too late, I think not. The iPad clearly has the market in the palm of its hand. But it at least feels as though people are ready for something new, something that isn’t an iPad, that isn’t Apple. Whether or not the Surface is that thing remains to be seen. The kickstand is nifty and seems useful for a variety of reasons. The keyboard is a great touch that I’m sure many other tablet manufacturers are kicking themselves for not creating first. But when customers are faced with the choice of whether to pick up an iPad, a new Ultrabook, or a Surface, I am not yet convinced they’ll choose the latter.




Don’t forget the Zune, which was a great MP3 player, but failed to take off in almost an identical situation (against the iPod). Still, Microsoft surprised us with this tablet and it appears to have all of its ducks in a row. It’s aiming for a market for those who really want it all — something super skinny like the iPad, but able to become a productivity machine as well. Is there room for screwing this up? Absolutely, it is Microsoft, after all, but what is the real risk here? The Surface will have the backing of countless other Windows 8 devices as well. It won’t be the only thing out there. Really, all Microsoft has to do is drum up some interest in Windows 8 and get the ball rolling for its partners. The Surface Tablet is a good way to show partners how to make a good Windows 8 tablet, much like Google has done with the Nexus devices and will do with its own Nexus tablet soon.




If Microsoft’s goal with the Surface is simply to help promote Windows 8, then it’s already a success. From what I’ve seen of that operating system so far, it’s a bit of a Frankenstein, and until I saw the Surface, I wasn’t sure what kind of device would mesh well with Windows 8. Clearly, something that blurs the line between laptop and tablet makes the most sense. And Microsoft has delivered that with Surface.

But if we’re to judge the Surface as a device itself — not just a promotional tool — its chance of percolating through the layers of established competition seem far less certain. As I said before, I like the device. And I think people are ready for something other than an iPad or a cheap Android knock-off. But Google could easily blow the Surface out of the water when it reveals its own Android tablet. And all Apple really needs to do is to make a spiffy clip-on keyboard to render the Surface’s trump card moot.

I want the Surface to succeed — I really do. But there are currently too many variables, many of which lay outside Microsoft’s control, for me to put any serious bet on it surviving more than a year or two on the market before eventually fading away.




Hey, if it lasts two years, I’d call that a success! Hardly anything lasts two years anymore. Except the Xbox, of course. That has lasted forever. Let’s hope Microsoft has figured out how to replicate that success.




Yes, let’s hope….

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