The Microsoft Surface Tablet: Expert Reaction [updated]

To read CBRs commentary, click here.

To read a quick spec sheet of Microsoft’s Surface Tablets, click here.

Craig Cartier, analyst, Frost and Sullivan

"Microsoft has long pursued a stronger position in the mobile industry, something its past efforts have failed to achieve. Despite several initiatives and partnerships, including the high-profile Nokia partnership announced in early 2011, Microsoft still lacks a strong presence in the mobile sphere. With the PC market stagnating at single-digit growth rates, and the smartphone sales growing rapidly (surpassing the number of PCs sold last year and on track to double PC sales in the next year), this is not a position Microsoft can maintain for long.

"Despite the innovations expected in the recently announced Surface, Microsoft faces an uphill battle in establishing itself in the tablet space," adds Mr. Cartier. "In today’s tablet market, the conversation starts and ends with Apple. Apple was not the first to release a tablet device, but with the 2010 release of the original iPad, they were the first to succeed at a mass-market level, expanding the tablet market from one of tens of thousands to one of tens of millions. Since then, a host of competitors have rushed to the market with "me too" devices, but despite such high profile brands as Samsung and Amazon trying their hand with tablets, Apple remains dominant with a market share over 60 per cent.

"Apple represents the leading edge of technology to many of its customers, and for them, just as important as the hardware and software of the device itself is the feeling it gives them to carry. It is this feeling that inspires legions of the Apple faithful to camp out at Apple stores worldwide in wait of Apple’s latest device.

"It’s difficult to imagine Microsoft inspiring a reaction of the same scale in its customers, at least upon its initial tablet release. With the might (and investment potential) of Microsoft behind its efforts in the tablet space, Microsoft can certainly carve out a niche in the tablet market, but current trends suggest this is not a place they will reach quickly or easily," summarises the Frost & Sullivan analyst.

Jan Dawson, chief telecoms analyst at Ovum

"There are no surprises in the software – the Surface tablet uses the same two desktop and RT versions of Windows 8 we’ve been hearing about. As such, nothing has changed there and it still looks like a huge break with the past on the surface but with a jarring switch back to the old desktop world hidden beneath.

"In theory, it delivers all the benefits of both the tablet-optimized environment and the classic desktop approach and apps, but in reality the versions available to try at the moment are a horrible mishmash of the two worlds that is likely to be confusing for the consumer.

"On the hardware front, what does it say about the tablets Microsoft is seeing from its OEM partners as it gets ready to launch Windows 8, that they felt they needed to launch their own tablet? Either they are not happy with the devices out there, or they are not satisfied with only taking a licence fee from selling Windows based tablets. Either way, it is a huge vote of no confidence in its OEM partners, who should rightly feel slighted. It is rarely a good idea for an OS owner to start competing with its OEM partners, and this does not feel like an exception.

"The device itself looks compelling, but as usual we are left without pricing information, making it impossible to judge for certain what the market impact will be. Windows does have a huge installed base, and to the extent that IT managers see this device in one of its versions as a replacement for the Windows computer it should see some decent desktop adoption. But whether it sees much consumer interest will depend entirely on price and whether Microsoft is able to fix the poor UI experience in Windows 8 and RT."

David McQueen, Informa Telecoms & Media.

"This will put it in direct competition with other OEMs wishing to launch Win8 tablets, but is similar in some ways to when Google launched its own-brand Nexus smartphones to showcase the benefits of Android, albeit that the software was "free". By taking this approach, Microsoft needs to make sure it hits the market running as it is essential the tablet is properly marketed and shows its full potential, if it has any hope of displacing Apple’s iPad in certain segments.

"In terms of market potential, if Microsoft can convince consumers, enterprise and OEM partners alike of its value proposition then it should do well. Specific pricing was not mentioned in the release (although the ARM-based tablet will be cheaper than the Intel version) but this will be vital to market acceptance as will screen size, memory and applications – all of these are important points of differentiation in the tablet space. Surprisingly, the Surface will be larger and heavier than the iPad with a 10.6 inch display, which may not differentiate it enough from the Apple product. However, Microsoft has included a built-in kickstand, the Touch Cover peripheral as a keyboard and trackpad, magnesium casing and a pen accessory to create points of differentiation, although some of these have up until now had varying levels of success in the tablet market.

"Tablets have been finding their way into the enterprise, despite being mainly classed as consumption rather than productivity devices, and it will be interesting to see if a Microsoft tablet changes that perception. If it has the requisite Windows office applications available from launch – across both device types and suitable peripherals to make input easier – at a price point that is competitive, then I do see it displacing notebooks and netbooks in the office. However, there may be a problem with fragmentation owing to ARM-based and Intel-based versions of the same Win8 tablets, and possible differences once other vendors launch products, which may stymie the market in a way that has caused Android to suffer to some extent. However, this may be addressed in future Windows releases that pull together full support for the enterprise and are also optimized for touch and gesture control."

Tony Grace, COO, Virgin Media Business

"Microsoft has always been a favourite for business use and these Surface tablets will usher in the next generation of ‘consumerised’ IT. Marrying consumer and business applications, the desktop application supportive device marks a step-change across business and consumer usage.

"We’re likely to see companies looking again at implementing ‘Bring Your Own Device’ schemes after their initial popularity following the launch of the iPad. These schemes give staff the freedom to choose the kit they want to use, for both work and play.

"Any business that is looking to embrace ‘BYOD’ must ensure they’ve the right policies and processes in place to ensure safe use at all times. Already our research shows 42 per cent of staff are using their own gadgets at work, with one in five (16 per cent) of companies offering ‘BYOD’ schemes. This is set to increase, with a further 20 per cent looking to roll-out similar schemes in the future. Companies will have to keep a watchful eye on this to make sure all devices accessing their networks have been checked and approved by IT teams."

Sarah Rotman Epps, analyst, Forrester

"This product line marks a crucial pivot in Microsoft’s product strategy. It blends the Xbox first-party hardware model with the Windows ecosystem model. It puts the focus on the consumer rather than the enterprise. And it lets Microsoft compete with vertically-integrated Apple on more even ground.

"BUT — and you knew there was a "but" coming — Microsoft will be its own worst enemy in this market. More so than Apple or Google, the worst thing that could happen to Microsoft’s Windows RT tablets is Windows 8 on x86. Selling x86-based tablets in the same retail channels as Windows RT tablets will confuse consumers and sow discontent if consumers buy x86 and think they’re getting something like the iPad. Microsoft and its partners need to articulate a compelling strategy for how they will manage consumer expectations in the channel. Consumers aren’t used to thinking about chipsets. Choice is a key tenet of Windows, but too much choice is overwhelming for consumers. Apple gets this, and limits iPad options to connectivity, storage, and black…or white.

"Like Microsoft’s "Signature" PCs, a Microsoft-designed tablet sets the standard for other OEMs to follow. But Microsoft won’t abandon its profitable Windows licensing model; there’s little risk that the future of Windows is total vertical integration. This is an experiment emboldened by the Xbox success. But in the game console market, Microsoft doesn’t compete against itself.

Michael Gartenberg, Gartner Research (on Twitter)

"The silence from HP, Dell, Acer, Sony, Samsung, Lenovo and others is both deafening and telling at the same time… #blindsided?

"Personally, I’d lean toward ARM version. I don’t care about or want legacy. Surface will matter if the apps one needs are there for Metro.

"Microsoft tossed out their playbook as it wasn’t working. Unfortunately they’re using Apple’s which Apple has perfected.

"Ironically Microsoft mocked Google’s Nexus strategy at the time. Now they emulate it.

"#surface is mildly interesting. The fact that MSFT felt the *need* to create it is utterly fascinating & speaks volumes.

"Interesting that we didn’t hear HP, Dell,Lenovo or any other OEM mentioned once.

"This is a total flip of MSFTs business model of software licensing.

"Can’t argue with MSFTs decision not to solely depend on 3rd parties fo execute their vision. Hardware looks compelling.

"I repeat. No one has ever sold a software license and then competed with their hardware licensees successfully. Apple, Palm & Nokia tried

Jon Milward, Director of Managed and Support Services at Northdoor

"Microsoft has developed Windows 8 (the new PC operating system) to give the same user interaction whether it’s used on a PC, laptop, phone or tablet. Therefore, the new Microsoft Surface tablet equipped with Windows 8 will give business users all the convenience of a tablet and the same level of integration with their business systems as a PC.

"The Surface promises to be a very popular device for the vast majority of businesses, with Microsoft reportedly having a 94% market share in business software because of its Office suite. This increases the tablet’s attractiveness for enterprise as greater integration with existing IT will be easier to address. It’s this convergence of hardware and software that is the key driver behind the BYOD phenomenon where executives and other staff are asking their IT departments "why can’t we also use these devices at work?

"As consumers use things like iPads at home, they are naturally enthralled by the convenience, ease and pleasure of use. There is a big problem here, because the iPad in particular was designed solely as a consumer device and doesn’t integrate fully with other existing systems such as Microsoft Office. So it is intrinsically unsuited as a replacement for a laptop for example. Therefore, while IT departments valiantly manage to set up and deliver some of the business functionality on these mobile devices, they are always fighting a losing battle and adding in extra complexity, cost and risk. A more integrated solution, such as the one that Microsoft aims to offer, makes it easier for businesses to control their IT and thus reduces the security risks posed by using portable devices for enterprise."

David Johnson, analyst, Forrester

"Microsoft’s ability to respond in its modern day Peloponnesian War with Apple, has been hampered by three things:

1. The PC OEM vendors remain one (maybe two!) steps behind Apple in making well-differentiated hardware. To wit: Ultrabooks are just now beginning to match the MacBook Air, and no one else has a Retina Display in their lineups.

2. They haven’t had an operating system for tablets without styli or mice, or that will run longer than a few hours away from a power outlet.

3. The upgrade process for Windows PCs is labor-intensive. IT organizations upgrade operating systems only when Microsoft forces them to, so end users are frustrated. Nearly half of organizations are still on Windows XP 11 years after its release.

Microsoft is about to fix all of that. By moving to an ARM processor (note that the final processor choice has not been announced) and creating Windows RT, they are:

1. Taking control of their own destiny for hardware on the tablet side, and hopefully creating a device that is beautiful, and that featherless bipeds will flock to.

2. Driving a stake in the ground that they’re committed to Metro and a user experience for featherless bipeds and long, flat nails.

3. Giving IT organizations a swift kick in the pants to get on the Windows 8 bus with Windows RT, but also giving them something in return: Manageability.
Here’s what it all means for I&O professionals:

1. Windows RT will be perceived as more "enterprise friendly" because it will offer you the ability to "manage" it (updates, deployment, patching, etc) with Windows Intune or System Center Configuration Manager. We currently believe that only SCCM version 2012 will supported with RT until Microsoft tells us otherwise. No word yet on which other client management vendors are moving to support Windows RT or to what extent Microsoft will enable 3rd party management tools to participate. Note that Apple has been very deliberate in the management functions they expose at the API level for management tools to hook into.

2. Forrester believes that the Metro UI will appeal to the Phalanx of people currently prodding you to let them use an iPad or Android tablet, and it presents new opportunities for line-of-business application developers to create highly personalized, and well-tailored application experiences. Think: point of sale systems that employees can take to the customer, while IT keeps the auditors happy with demonstrated PCI compliance. Of course until the apps appear, it’s anyone’s guess just how appealing RT will be, but I’m a MacBook Air and iPad nut and have been pleased with Windows 8 on a Samsung Series 7 slate. I just wish it didn’t have to have a cooling fan. At least Windows 8 isn’t just more of the same.

3. Don’t expect applications written for Windows 8 on a PC to be compatible with RT on ARM. Besides the implications of a touch interface, applications will need to be compiled for ARM at a minimum.

Windows RT will include Microsoft Office (presumably a touch-enabled version), will be cloud-connected with features like SkyDrive, will likely include security features like device encryption, and allow access to other computers with tools like the Citrix Receiver or perhaps RDS support. With these features, we believe it will appeal to both iPad aficionados and I&O Professionals alike. However the whole strategy hinges on how quickly the apps will become available.

Charles Barratt, Equanet

"The launch of the Windows Surface tablet is a very shrewd move by Microsoft, using the model that Apple has worked so hard to perfect; they manage the build process across the hardware and software. By owning both parts of the model they own the user experience which is vital in ensuring adoption of the device.

"There are many benefits that Windows Surface will bring to the end user such as the ability to print natively, the ability to install applications natively that are non metro applications, the ability to join domains in certain versions and the full integration across the Microsoft stack such as DirectAccess for gaining access to the corporate network, management through SCCM or Windows InTune. From an IT perspective they have a device with a familiar look and feel that will integrate with the rest of their Microsoft architecture.

"From the users’ point of view the device in many ways can and will become a desktop replacement. Using the right docking station and configuration will allow users to work on a familiar look and feel desktop when in the office, with the ability to take the device out with them onto the road and continue to access local applications, those hosted in the office through services such as Citrix and those hosted in a public cloud such as Office365."

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