What is Microsoft’s plan for the Surface line of tablets?

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I was talking to a group of tech enthusiasts the other day and I asked the following question.

“What is Microsoft’s plan for the Surface line of tablets?”

Seems like an easy enough and somewhat ridiculous question doesn’t it?

Redmond had a plan and they secretly built a line of premium tablet devices that are now trying to create a new form factor – laptop/tablet replacement.

But why?

Let me explain.

You see, it’s not at all clear that Microsoft built the Surface to dominate the marketplace. On the chessboard, that would mean Redmond would be pissing off a whole lot of competitors and that would bring a set of problems that Microsoft doesn’t really need right now.

I remember writing about the fact that Steve Ballmer said as much even though it seemed somewhat asinine and irresponsible at the time.

On the other hand, it’s not at all clear that Microsoft is building these devices primarily as a reference point for OEM’s. A flagship device that would inspire OEM’s to build similar devices and raise their quality standards.

If that was true, it would be tremendously wasteful, irresponsible to shareholders and pretty ineffective at the end of the day ( it ain’t workin).

The question then is, is there a clear rationale and strategy behind these tablets or is this just an attempt to have a complete ecosystem and prove that Microsoft can indeed build hardware?

My concern is that the answer is Microsoft are trying to split the hair in half. They want to sell enough units to be profitable but not enough to piss off OEM’s. In addition, they are primarily worried about raising the bar for Windows related hardware and would like OEM’s to follow suit.

If that is true then it means that the Surface line is not really destined for true success. If true, it means that the Surface brand is in essence a hybrid experiment/vanity play by the worlds largest software maker.

That would be depressing.

Maybe I missed something so I’ll ask you the audience, what is Microsoft’s plan for the Surface line of tablets?

Use the comments below…

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I am the CEO of Learn About The Web Inc. (http://www.learnabouttheweb.com ). Learn About The Web™ is an online business education platform dedicated to providing universities and businesses with the tools required to credibly teach online business. I teach and discuss online business companies (including Microsoft) frequently. I also own and monetize several technology related online properties like Eye On Windows (http://www.eyeonwindows.com ), Windows 9 Update (http://www.windows9update.com ) and PeopleSoft Planet (http://www.peoplesoft-planet.com ).

35 Comments

    • My perception agrees with yours on the price. The reality, though, is that it is not over-priced related to comparable devices. It is in the same neighborhood as the MacBook Air line, and similarly-equipped laptops / hybrids from Dell, Lenovo, Toshiba, and others. In fact, it’s actually cheaper than some of those options, while providing greater power and versatility.

      I’m curious what Microsoft needs to do to overcome the seemingly-false perception that it “costs too much”.

        • Your comment illustrates one of the serious issues Microsoft has to address.
          It’s like suggesting that Schwinn bicycles own the transportation market in a debate over whether Porsche or Mercedes makes better cars, or like interjecting a report that shows most people drink more water than anything else when the discussion is about what the best red wine is.

          The Surface Pro 3 does not compete with Android. Android does not compete with the Surface Pro 3. Android owns a dominant stake of the smartphone market, and to a lesser extent the tablet or overall mobile device market. The Surface Pro 3 is NOT a mobile device that runs Windows. It is a Windows PC that also functions as a mobile device.

  1. I don’t know if that’s true. I think they are trying to do the best that they can. It’s just hard to sell a tablet for $1700.

    • It’s not a tablet.

      That is the challenge for Microsoft–to get people to stop saying “Should I get an iPad, a Galaxy Tab, or a Surface Pro 3?” Instead, the question is “Should I get a MacBook Air, a Lenovo Yoga, or a Surface Pro 3?”

  2. penultimateName on

    I think the reason is similar to owning Nokia Mobility. Microsoft has to be concerned there might be a big move to Android. If it were to happen then Microsoft has a catalog of devices to rebuild a compelling product line for consumers. With a split product line of products Microsoft can show manufactures a path to profitability and success by emphasizing the Windows line of products over Android. In other words this is not to show how to build a better tablet. It is to show how to be profitable and for Microsoft an insurance policy.

      • penultimateName on

        I think we are too quick to rush to judgement. No one ever said Apple should drop the Mac line despite the low market share. Now it contributes to the overall ecosystem even with its low market share. Give Microsoft another year or two before passing judgment. I believe the pieces are now in place. Microsoft just needs to execute the plan. Windows 9 with the combined OS across devices also needs to be in place.

  3. All valid points, but think that they became tired of waiting for everyone else to try and copy the Ipad that they decided they had to lead the horse to water and build a high quality tablet/laptop that is serious about utilizing the next generation of software they are producing. They needed something to get the true value of windows 8 and soon 9 in the market and up to this point no one had anything close. I have been a tablet user for many years and I have to say that I made a move from Asus to the Surface Pro 3 and have not looked back!! Great marketing on Microsoft’s part.

  4. The line of reasoning you are pointing out, entered my mind when the Pro 3 first his the media. My thought was … Oh hell, now what are “They” going to do (laptops, notebooks, tablets, mfts)? I still feel that way.

  5. Trouble with Surface is that the Surface isn’t tablet or laptop. The battery life is poor. No hardware upgrades like larger hard drive or more memory. If you want to play a movie, you have to stream it or add Ext-DVD player. Who wants to pay over $100 for keyboard when Wally world sells one for $10.00. Apple has not to worry about Surface taking over the tablet world.

  6. I purchased a Surface Pro 2 for my son for Christmas. He is so satisfied with it he hasn’t even touched his other computers since. He has put all of the important things on it he needs on it for the work he does. It is lightning fast and the battery time is amazing. The fine pointed pen is a dream for drawing or writing or just pointing. Ugh to the old style capacitive touch pens! A customer came in one day…..also had a Surface Pro 2, and told my son all about how he uses his. He has ditched all of his other computers and this is now his go to work tool and lots of entertainment options as well. Well built, very cool keyboard that snaps on….solid all the way around and a true workhorse! I want one now….

  7. Damian Vansen on

    I think Microsoft’s plan is to: (1) make MONEY by copying Apple’s example of producing their own hardware (tablet and phones) that sells their software (apps) because it has been SO financially successful for Apple. Microsoft is not alone in this regard as this done by HP and Google as well. (2) to stay RELEVANT as every tech company is doing it. i.e. peer pressure. If you don’t get on board, you might fall overboard and sink. (3) to make a high quality tablet that best shows the capability of their latest software that competes with the sexiness of Apple. This was done by Google as well with the Nexus range to counter the cheap poorly designed tablets running old versions of Android. Microsoft has succeedeed in this regard as the surface is by FAR the best Windows tablet. Key in this regard is its embrace of the keyboard which MS does better than anyone (4) counter the failure of OEMs to sell their products. Windows tablets have been a hard sell as OEMs simply don’t seem that interested in it. If Microsoft doesn’t step and an aggressively push it then possibly may have faded away.

  8. To me the Surface is a real game changer, but unfortunately it won’t have great market penetration because it is a couple of steps too far into the future for the average consumer. It is not a bad thing if MS uses its market power to produce a device that shows their capability without the need for it to be a profitable cost centre. Whilst not a “loss leader”, it is not unusual for manufacturers to have a product whose sole purpose is to attract early adopters to the brand – away from the competition. In MS’s case it is up to the third party manufacturers to follow on and make the profits from the later adopters as the Windows universe grows. Personally, I am an Industrial Designer with some big computers. I replaced my laptops with a Surface Pro 2 and it is AWESOME!! I run the business admin from it and take it on the road for presentations with the unique advantage that I can run a full blown CAD system on it and Keyshot renderer. There is nothing quite like it, and I think with ongoing development the world will come to this type of product.

  9. I will buy a Surface 3 and my last purchased PC was a Mac. I’m not sure I understand the pricing issue. Is there one? Where I live, they (maaaacs, so sick of new apple head) don’t come cheaper than USD 1250,-. Checked this morning.

    If you are a traveling guy (for work) like myself and you want access to a variety of programs and you like the new form factor of a Tablet, then Surface is imo the best choice. Sure, the rest of the windows hardware out there may come cheaper. That’s the story of my purchases in any case. Choose what is not the cheapest, but what appeals and justify it in non-metrick terms 😉

    I love the Surface form factor, and since I equally love the Windows 8.x (and WP 8.x on my Lumia 930) I see no other option. Thankfully I can stream video and music on any windows device, and I get java, javascript, html 5, and whatever else iPads don’t support. Just need to do online banking from time to time. Office? Don’t get me started. It is and has always been a joke on Mac (and Linux). iWorks? No it doesn’t!

  10. Microsoft are just still playing catch up to Apple and Google but as usual since Bill handed over the tiller its too little too late and not quite as good as other options. As a tablet I would not like to carry that thing around.

  11. Yerachmiel Altman on

    I think that Microsoft has to pay off is old hardware division as how long could you b be happy designing keyboards and Mickey Mouse?

    I think the ICE box was far”cooler” in ability beyond ‘ standard’ bit out was a virtual CPU.. I’d easy love a surface III with ergo keyboard and 32 G ram.

    They’re pushing the envelope to have a single box to do it all, short of a one computer for work and home.

    Next you’ll need a server at home to get the extra missing disk and CPU cycles(Home Server 2.0 anyone) and ask apps in the cloud(your ask to young to remember Woodstock but this would have been the device for the sixties)

  12. Moira Whitlock on

    I think that Microsoft wants a Windows version of the popular iPad, but since the Pro version can run full Windows 8, then it can do everything a laptop and desktop can do, but be as mobile as an iPad. So, it could be better than an iPad.

  13. What I like about the Surface- small, lite weight, works pretty well, does better on finding internet than my big laptop, does more with less memory, fantastic touch, we did add a keyboard, that works well also, needs at least 1 more usb port, love the mini card slot, add space super easy, works well with fast mini sd card. nice graphics, wife & I are 70ish. so for us it does everything my laptop did – better with less. annoying power plug, we bought used an very happy with.

  14. I can honestly say I’ve had every version of the Surface. I got the Surface RT the day it came out but began to get that “RT” flu where I feel like I really need full Windows. I sold it and got the Surface Pro. That was more like it… Eventually sold it and got a SP2 and my wife the Surface 2. Time went on and she needed more power, so sold her S2 and picked up the original SP when it went on sale at Best Buy. Finally, my work decided to get me the Core i7, 512GB SP3 and I sold my Wife’s SP and she has the 64GB SP3. These machines rock… especially the screen.

  15. Alejandro Zapata on

    I think the surface idea should follow the nexus model. Awesome hardware, decent price. They’re meant to show what wimdows can do without pisssing off OEM’s

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