Microsoft’s Surface Brings Needed Competition To The Tablet Wars
If there really is a tablet war, Apple has already won it—at least for now. But with Microsoft’s Surface, the skirmish begins again and perhaps there is hope for others (see the figure). I have nothing against Apple, as it deserved to win the battle simply because it’s better than all of its competitors. Other tablet vendors tried to duplicate the iPad, but without much success. A few came close like Motorola, Samsung, and HP.
I hope the Surface will bring about some renewed thinking in the tablet space. You can’t just have a “me-too” product and succeed against Apple, which makes exceptional products with great marketing. The term “top gun” doesn’t even do it justice. If you’re going to compete with Apple, you really need something better, different, and special or forget it. I believe Microsoft has met those requirements with the Surface. Now if it can only get the loyal support of a rabid group of customers, it can do well.
Under The Surface
Microsoft is offering two models. One features an ARM processor and Windows RT OS, a spinoff for tablets. The other has an Intel x86 processor and regular Windows 8 OS. That’s really different from Apple’s iPad selection. The ARM/RT version probably was designed to compete with the iPad, while the x86 is an entirely new category somewhere between a tablet and an ultrabook PC.
Both run versions of Word, Power Point, Excel, and OneNote. Also, both models boast a 10.6-in. touchscreen with a 16:9 aspect ratio, unlike Apple’s 9.7-in. 4:3 screen. Their unique screen cover drops down to become a full-size touch keyboard. A pop-out kickstand holds the tablet up so you get the feel of a laptop.
The RT version uses an ARM-based processor. I have heard that the unit will use an Nvidia processor. However, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon and TI’s processors are rumored to be sources. It also features a MicroSD slot, a full-size USB 2.0 port (hooray!), and a microHDMI video output connector. The larger Surface Pro model is expected to have a full USB 3.0 port, a Mini DisplayPort, and a MicroSDXC slot. Both have front and rear cameras.
The big mystery has to do with wireless. The initial specs say 2x2 multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO), but that could apply to either cellular or Wi-Fi. My guess is that the initial units will be Wi-Fi enabled, and cellular units with maybe Long-Term Evolution (LTE) will be forthcoming.
Another mystery is pricing. The Surface models will be “competitively priced.” We will have to wait until this fall when Windows 8 is released before we can buy a Surface. Once that happens, buyers will be rooting for the apps providers to give them some apps to match Apple’s popular products. Microsoft will apparently sell the apps through a Microsoft Windows store-only Web site like Apple’s iTunes and Apple store.
Microsoft is adopting the “enclosed garden” approach to the Surface where vertical integration puts hardware, software, and support under one roof. It seems to work well for Apple, and I haven’t heard many complaints.
Anyway, Microsoft must have gotten tired of waiting for other computer manufacturers to offer a Windows 8 product. We eventually will see some Windows 8 laptops and ultrabooks from Dell, Acer, HP, Lenovo, and others in the near future. Yet I suspect that all of those companies were reluctant to produce a tablet based on their own disastrous attempts in this Apple-dominated marketplace.
I wonder if Microsoft will also produce its own smart phone. It’s possible, but unlikely. Partners such as Nokia, HTC, Samsung, and Huawei can build Windows Mobile phones. Microsoft already ticked off its laptop suppliers with the Surface, so I doubt it will produce a smart phone. Microsoft did the right thing by showing the laptop and ultrabook companies what can be done with the new touch Windows 8.
By the way, happy birthday to the iPhone, which turns five years old on June 29. With more than 200 million sold, it’s the bestselling smart phone on the market, and it’s expected to keep its title.
I wish Microsoft well with the Surface. Now we can wait to see what RIM, Samsung, and Google/Motorola Mobility have in store for us with their next tablets. A rumored Google/Asustek tablet similar to the Amazon Kindle Fire is expected this week or next. The Surface, iPad, and Fire are tough acts to follow.
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