So, the Microsoft Surface.
There are some reasons to be very excited about Microsoft’s jump into the tablet wars. There are also reasons to shelve whatever optimism you have about the product. It’s apparent that Microsoft is taking a few pages out of the Apple playbook. My beef: it isn’t taking enough of them.
Look at yesterday’s event. For the number of great products Microsoft has put out over the years, not one event has experienced the buildup and excitement that Apple generates, particularly because Microsoft never tries. For Apple, a product unveil is a well-orchestrated affair. It’s drama. It’s watching an elaborate magic trick and feeling legitimate excitement during the prestige. Microsoft launches… not so much.
But Redmond shook things up this time around. It added some mystery to the event. It intrigued. It had the tech press abuzz in a way it hasn’t been able to achieve for a long time. And when it pulled the curtain away and showed off the Surface, a lot of people liked what they saw. And, from what I’ve seen, without specs to go off of or any kind of feel for the device, it looks very nice. The Metro UI is great — I’m a fan of it on Windows Phone 7 — and the keyboard covers are nice additions.
I fear, though, the devices will suffer from the same issues that have plagued past Microsoft products, as well as other tablets that have tried to take on the iPad:
Inconsistent, confusing branding
A focus on features instead of use cases
No compelling reason to choose over an iPad
Microsoft is releasing two versions of Surface, each run by a different architecture, each packing different operating system features, and each with a different full product name. Simplicity is not Microsoft’s forte.
One of the big missteps Android tablet manufacturers make is that they sell features instead of use cases. Look at any Apple ad. They aren’t selling the processor or RAM. They’re selling the experience. Microsoft needs to do this. I don’t think they will.
Consumers have given two past platforms a shot to build up developer support, and have been bitten by both; the HP TouchPad was discontinued, and the BlackBerry PlayBook is dead in the water. Microsoft will now attempt to woo devs to Metro for tablets. If Microsoft can’t get developers on board, consumers won’t have many compelling reasons to pass on an iPad, or even an Android tablet.
Microsoft channeled as much Apple as it could for its big day, but when it came time to offer up details, there weren’t many to be had. This is a place Microsoft needs to improve. Apple can build buzz and capitalize on it with quick launches. Microsoft (and Google does this too) tips its hand months in advance and releases the product after the furor has died down. By the time Surface releases, the market could be full of Android devices ready to eat its lunch, and a new iPad could be right around the corner.
I guess we’ll see in the coming months how for-real the Surface is. I want to believe that Microsoft is putting more of an emphasis on design and hardware/software integration, but the way they’ve handled a few things so far has me feeling some déjà vu in a bad way.