Normally, my gadget addiction compels me to buy new devices as soon as they’re available. So why didn’t I pre-order Microsoft’s Surface with Windows RT tablet? One key reason is that Microsoft hasn’t explained why I should; essentially this is a brand new mobile platform.


Microsoft took enough Surface with Windows RT pre-orders to sell out of one model — the lowest priced model is currently back-ordered for three weeks — but is it a hit? It’s far too early to say, given that few have had hands-on time with the product of course. And I can’t say I’m impressed by a “pre-order sellout” for a brand new product and platform without knowing how many units were produced. Still, it’s likely a good day for Microsoft as there is clearly a market for Surface tablets.

However, I’m starting to wonder who fits in that market.

I thought long and hard about this, mainly because I often buy new gadgets on the first day they are available. Sometimes I even import them early from other countries at a premium price to get my gadget fix. But after thinking it through, I opted not to buy a Surface RT tablet at this point. Why? Because Microsoft hasn’t demonstrated why I should.

Maybe the message is lost on me and not you

Let me step back a second by saying this logic definitely applies to me; it may or may not apply to you. And I’m not suggesting it’s a bad product by any means; that would be premature and irresponsible. I’m simply looking at the message that Microsoft is providing and the timing of the product in today’s market as it applies to competitors and Microsoft’s future. Also, one disclosure: I earned the Microsoft MVP award in Tablet PCs — from Microsoft itself — for several years, starting in 2006. I’ve been a Microsoft Tablet PC fan in the past and had high hopes for the platform, but times have changed.

So what is the message about Windows RT and this new tablet? On the surface — no pun intended — the message I hear is that Microsoft has a consumer-friendly touchscreen tablet that’s priced in the same range as other great devices; namely the iPad. I see some potential issues here. First is the cost. As I noted earlier this week because I don’t see a huge value-add for Windows, I would have liked to see the device priced about $50 to $100 less. I’d pay the same or a premium if there was a reason to. A majority of readers agreed on the cost, at least those who participated in our poll: 58.8 percent said the product was priced too high.

Note that I called this a consumer-friendly tablet. Why? Because in three months, Microsoft will have the Surface Pro running Windows 8, not the Windows RT version on the currently available slate. Surface Pro is more likely to attract enterprises and such because it’s a full-powered machine with no Windows software limitations. And that gets me back to Windows RT; specifically why I don’t think Microsoft has made a good enough case for widespread success.

It’s tough to start a new mobile platform now

Essentially, Windows RT is a brand new mobile platform and IT will face the same challenges as any other new mobile platform. Think of BlackBerry 10, which arrives early next year. Look back at Palm’s webOS system that never built up momentum. Microsoft’s own Windows Phone platform faces the same struggle, even now. For the moment, iOS and Android are the platforms that dominate the mobile space due to widespread adoption and thriving ecosystems with vast amounts of apps, media and services. Remember that Windows RT doesn’t run legacy Windows apps — even though some Microsoft Store reps aren’t explaining this well. If it did, this would be less of a problem.

lots of tabletsComing back to my own decision-making process then, what has Microsoft done to convince me to drop iOS or Android tablets for a Surface RT tablet? Not much, at least not yet. I’ll want to hear more about the app story, just as I did for Android; I didn’t adopt Google’s platform for months after launch until I saw the app market start to thrive, for example. Microsoft Office is one differentiator, of course, but if that’s coming to iOS and Android next year, that advantage quickly goes away for most. And to be honest, Office isn’t enough for me personally to make a switch. Come to think of it, nothing Microsoft has said yet is enough for me to make the move.

Again, I’m not trying to condemn a product I haven’t used; I’m simply looking at the message being sent in comparison to what’s been available for two or more years. And I’ll be attending a Microsoft press event next week where I should get some hands-on time with a Surface RT tablet. Maybe I’ll change my mind, but I’ll surely be asking one key question to Microsoft reps there: What’s the compelling reason for me — or anyone else, for that matter — to choose a Surface RT tablet over a competing iOS or Android slate?

  1. Value –
    1. Free Office Suite
    2. 32GB storage
    3. XBox Music
    4. A tablet that supports keyboard without bulking up.
    5. expandable storage.
    6. HDMI connectivity
    7. Windows 8 features like Charms and easy sharing, Live Tiles etc.
    Still, These may not mean much to you. In which case, like you said, you are not in the target market for Surface RT.

    1. All valid points to someone who needs such things. However, Android tablets offer many of the same hardware functions for less money, so those reasons aren’t quite compelling.

      1. Please point me to a sub 1.5lb 9+ inch Android tablet that has those features at a lower price.
        1. USB ports(which allow for ethernet connectivity, printer support, charging devices)
        2. HDMI out,
        3 Expandable storage

        So for 499 you would rather buy an iPad that doesn’t have those things? I’m not clear on what tablet you would pick from the article. It would be useful for me as a comparative guide to know what tablets would offer a better value for the long term.

        1. I’d start looking at the Asus Transformer Prime, Toshiba Excite and Acer Iconia Tab to name a few that meet or exceed those hardware needs at the same price or lower.

      2. Simple. Androids/iOS devices are toys used for occasional consumption. They don’t have Office, don’t have Desktop mode, don’t have remote desktop application, don’t have flash, don’t have the revolutionary keyboard which are all essential for both content consumption and content creation! If you don’t think these are good to have things on a tablet, then you are probably not the target customer. There are millions of others who think otherwise and expect tablets to do more than what they do now if they are truly meant to be post-PC devices.

      3. Thanks for pointing to some well specced Android tablets. Two of them do meet those hardware needs at a lower price. And they would involve being absorbed into yet another ecosystem. I see your point: if you’re not invested in the MS system, there’s no real push to consider the RT as an option.

        However, it’s a definite value proposition for me as I am invested in XBox music, I do use and consume office documents for work, and I definitely have a need for compatibility going forward.

        1. Sure thing; I would have provided links for you, but I was out to dinner and wanted to give you a quick list. :) I agree with you – if you’re invested in the Microsoft ecosystem, then Surface is surely a compelling device. I very much was but clearly, I’m not any longer. And that’s part of my fear; others have moved on from that Microsoft ecosystem as well. As I said though, this doesn’t make Surface a bad product, just not a likely product for me. Thanks!

      4. To the guest that talking about the lack of Flash…You do know the RT Tablets Lack Flash as well…right?

      5. Free Office suite is huge for many people. That’s something no other tablet offers. It’s the standard in productivity software. Granted iOS has iWork but Keynote is the only compelling software. Pages & Numbers don’t come close to matching the functionality of Word or Excel.

      6. @Guest, claiming that a pseudo-keyboard makes a tablet a good device for office work is like claiming that a sidecar makes a motorbike a good primary vehicle for a contractor. Hardware is optimised for specific use-cases (and ‘content-creation’ vs. ‘content-consumption’ are far too general to make any sense), with that optimisation becoming more and more precise as technologies mature. Tablets and smartphones are mostly there for ‘augmentation computing’ – adding an informational layer to tasks you would have previously done computer-free. If you want to engage in dedicated computing – the type of tasks that require you to mostly IGNORE the world outside of the screen, rather than being focused on that world, you’d be much better off with a desktop or large laptop.

        The real competition is between the Surface Pro (with Type Cover) and 11″ ultrabooks (and the MBA). The Surface RT is a weird device mixing incompatible paradigms, rather than a straight Android or iOS competitor. Put otherwise, all of the ‘unique’ features listed for the surface are completely common (and better implemented) in ultraportable PCs. If THAT is the use case that you want your device to address for you, what advantages does the Surface RT offer you?

    2. HMMM…
      not 32 GIG… after you deduct the OS.. you only have 14 gig of space

  2. Values?

    1. 32 GB storage
    2. Office 2013 suite
    3. Keyboard that doesn’t add bulk – doubles up as a laptop
    4. Expandable storage
    5. HDMI and USB ports
    6. WinRT features like Charms, Live Tiles etc – ease of use
    7. XBOX music
    8. Thin and light.
    9. $100 cheaper than comparable iPad 32GB Wifi

    If these don’t add value, then as you said, you are not in the target market for this device.

  3. You made your own case about why this is silly to write about at all. No one actually has one. It’s a Seinfeld post.

    1. Jeff, if you take another look at the post, you’ll note it has far less to do with the actual device and everything to do with the consumer mindset and Microsoft’s message as to why you should buy one.

  4. Lots of M$ fanboys here
    1. 32GB storage so….? It’s not as if Android tablets or iPads don’t come with this capacity. Besides, many tablets have a microSD slot, so total internal storage is a non-issue.
    2. Which is not a real Office 2013 suite, since it’s not an x86 program
    3. Touch cover you mean? That’s going to flop… it’s more like typing on glass than a real keyboard. MS should have bundled the type cover by default
    4. Lots of Android tablets have microSD slots, nothing new here
    5. Lots of Android tablets have a display out, although I will admit that USB ports are rare, but they do exist on a few Android tablet models.
    6. Erm ok… whatever
    7. Not useful if you don’t need that service. Why should I be forced to get xbox music and pay a higher price? Sure it’s free, but it’s probably factored into the price of the device
    8. All tablets are thin and light, what’s new?
    9. $100 cheaper than an overpriced iPad? Maybe for MS fanboys it’s a good deal. You can get an ASUS Transformer (running Tegra 3) with Dock for $500 btw, and a 10″ Android slate for $300-400.

    1. Really? Who says “M$” in 2012?

    2. Actually the Office in Windows RT is real Office but designed to run on ARM. If you compare Office for RT vs Office for x86, you’ll see Office for RT has at least 90% of the functionality of Office for x86. The only difference is, is that it lacks specific features for enterprise / corporate customers. If you’re a home user or student, you won’t notice a difference.

  5. But is has a kickstand! A kickstand!!! And you can look as cool as Steve Sinofsky when you use it as a skateboard.

    1. Nokia N800 would shed a tear! :(

  6. There seems to be a trend in successful tablets resulting from software/hardware integration and fine tuning. Both Apple and Google have created hardware for their software and this is the same case for the Surface. Besides games which maybe considered true apps, most other apps are simply UIs to services offered through a browser. Maybe its a bit too retro going back to using a browser but if the apps aren’t there its not quite the end of the world yet. Whilst it is pricier than I’d hoped for, the built for Windows, included Office and USB port opened my wallet.

    1. This device is not that pricey compared to its competition. It’s true the apps on the app store are not there in quantity or quality YET, but they will come. In the mean time you have Office, Mail, Calendar, Xbox Music & Video, Skype to get you started.

      1. Johnny Tremaine Thursday, October 18, 2012

        It also has a ton to do with brand image, as far as how these things will sell.

        If a 20-something or a Soccer Mom is shopping the Best Buy aisles for a tablet, what is the incentive to purchase a Win8 tablet/Surface vs. an iPad?

        The price won’t be much different. If the only differentiators are Office and Xbox Music (formerly Zune), this whole effort is in trouble.

  7. My Android tablet is going on Ebay when I get the Surface. As a consumption device, it’s ok. But try to do any content creation and it’s like eating soup with chopsticks. You cannot seriously compare a phone operating system like Android to a PC operating system.
    Heck, even Walt Mossberg likes Win 8 on tablets.

  8. User interface if Andoid is inconsistent, and suboptimal. Android is just not refined enough for my taste.

  9. Are you blind, deaf and dumb? The clear message all along from Microsoft is productivity.

    1. Productivity may not be enough was the point…. especially when plenty of folks are productive today on mobile devices that don’t run Windows.

      1. @Kevin C. Tofel – That’s what people claim but I’ve yet to meet one person that is “productive” on an iPad or Android tablet. Sorry but it just doesn’t cut it. I have used the tablet from the BUILD event last year. Granted it’s running full W8 (not RT) but I can do anything I want on my tablet. I’m not restricted to silly “apps”. I can run full Visual Studios and be truly productive. You cannot do these things with other tablets.

      2. Kevin, as you can see from the replies so far, you’re out there in the cold. Drop those toys boy, repel the hate, stop whining about a good thing and be realistic.

        1. Sales will determine if I’m “out in the cold” ;)

      3. @Bobby – Kevin is speaking about the WinRT tablet, which is no more or less productive than an Android or iOS device, except it’s version of Office is 90% feature compatible with the desktop version. If you take Android or iOS tablets and couple them with a keyboard and whichever document suite, you are close to the same productivity levels. So, why would I take a chance on a new, immature WinRT tablet and ecosystem when I can get a mature system instead? What’s the compelling reason? Office alone will do it for some people, but not for many, including me.

        Windows 8 tablets are a different story. However, if they are pricey and have crappy battery life, then why not just get an Ultrabook? That will be their primary competition, and it will be stiff competition.

        1. Yup, you’ve summed it up quite nicely. Thanks!

      4. @ Kevin,

        You miss the most important product point – the introduction of an ARM based device that can have an entire appsystem created for itself much like iPad did for itself. And you should not include the Android devices here since Android has no tablet marketshare and app development/usage share outside of the limited influence of Amazon tablets that are Amazon specific.

        In short, wait for Microsoft to start slow on the ARM front – both Surface RT and WinRT OEM tablets – while it attempts to ready an army of developers to create a mountain of apps. Microsoft also has //build slated for Oct 29 – Nov 1 if you note it.

        So the most important seling point of Microsoft’s Surface RT tablet will be known not when it is out but when commoditization causes Surface RT/Win RT tablets to be priced at $199 or $299 excluding the keyboard. My prediction is that Surface RT 2/WinRT tablets will start at $199 without the keyboard by middle of next year. That will be the real breaker for iPad’s margins.

        Microsoft is clearly aiming at the enterprise tablet market with the Surface Pro/Win8 Pro OEM tablets. And they will be priced relative to the Ultrabook laptops which should have touchscreens attached in mass production by Oct 2013 which in turn will make them pricier in relation to the Surface Pro/Win8 tablet. So Surface tablets are supposed to be prefered to Ultrabooks for one reason – Ultrabooks do not have touch yet and if they have it, then they are costlier. Witness the low penetration rate of only 10 million Ultrabooks this year since Intel did not reduce its CPU prices and Microsoft did not reduce its software license costs. Expect the same to continue with the final result being the death of the low-cost Intel PC due to touchscreen costs and lack of Ultrabook commoditization by end of 2013 and importantly lack of Microsoft support.

        So the whole exercise of Surface RT is to reduce prices in the consumer tablet market while Microsoft keeps the iPad 2/3/4 etc out of the enterprise market, replacing it with its own Surface Pro/HP/DELL/Lenovo Win8 tablets.

        Essentially Microsoft is happy to have a smaller consumer marketshare but wants to keep the enterprise marketshare divided only among itself and the 3 or 4 other OEMs. No Google Nexus there. No Apple iPad there in the enterprise. Looking at it another way, the very fact that all or most consumer Windows low-end PC purchases will be Surface RT 2/3/etc tablets should create a new profitable consumer hardware division at Microsoft. This is also the reason why Acer is angry with Microsoft. It is their low-end PC lunch that iPad has started to eat and which Microsoft wants to share in though they were partners and still are partners on paper.

  10. The corner stone for windows tablet is its ability to create data with help of office and its tools, something that is a total miss from popular iphad. Its not right to think that a huge line indicates future market growth. Given its enormous presence with windows and office market, MS will grab a good share of tablet market much like kindle brethren.

    1. If you primarily want to “create data with help of Office and its tools”, why would you (or anyone else with similar needs) want a tablet in the first place? What advantage would the tablet form-factor give you that would not be exceeded by an ultrabook?

      1. Johnny Tremaine Thursday, October 18, 2012

        Yep, if you’re *really* into Office and productivity, for a similar price you can buy a low end Windows laptop probably running Windows 8.

        Why buy a Surface tablet running a cut down version of Win8-Kinda-Sorta?


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