Why I’m Taking the Microsoft Surface RT Gamble

As I mentioned in a post some time ago, I’ve had a Microsoft Surface RT Tablet on my fall shopping list for some time now. Today, as Microsoft finally announced the pricing and made limited pre-orders available, I pulled the trigger and ordered one. I ordered a 32GB model with the Touch Keyboard and I ordered the Type Keyboard as well. Microsoft has been cagey, perhaps too cagey, with the release of info about the Surface RT tablets. To be honest, that fact almost kept me from pulling the trigger. Microsoft’s strategy with its Surface Tablets has left many with more questions than answers and Microsoft has set itself up for problems if they can’t deliver. But, pull the trigger I did. Here’s why.

heroMicrosoft is indeed playing catchup with its Surface Tablets when it comes to the Great Tablet Race. Keep in mind that the Pro version of these Tablets won’t be available until after the first of the year. But in this game of catchup, Microsoft is essentially attempting to reinvent itself by taking some big gambles. Unlike Apple or Google or Amazon, Microsoft isn’t gambling by adding something new to an existing business. Microsoft is reinventing its entire business. Setting aside peripherals and the XBox, Microsoft is now in the hardware biz and in a way that may alter more than just the landscape in Redmond. That’s perhaps the biggest reason I’m going to give Surface RT a try. It’s not often we see a major player, (albeit a diminished major player) make such a big gamble. No, I’m not just wanting to help Microsoft’s gamble pay off. I want to be able to draw my own conclusions as to whether or not Microsoft succeeds or fails, or fails somewhere in between.

Quite a few folks have already written Surface and Windows 8 off as a bad bet. There’s quite a number of bloggers and tech journalists who seem to have already drawn their conclusions. I find that interesting since we still don’t know much about these devices. I can understand some of the sentiments on Windows 8. Folks have been able to play around with that new OS for some time now. I’m not sure I understand the complaints with the Surface Tablets though. Yes, Windows 8 is a different UI without a Start Button. Yes, Windows 8 is going to alienate some users, and yes, Microsoft hedged its bets by offering a keyboard (at an additional price) with its new Tablet.

On the first and second yes’s above, I agree with some that Windows 8 might be be a UI change too far for many. But, I think that Microsoft, having taken far too many hits in the recent years while it was deciding on its next move, is probably looking beyond what we all accept and expect today out of a mobile or non mobile experience. Call that long term thinking. I can’t say this as anything other than an opinion, but I think Microsoft is counting on the next generation of computer users and not this one. However, long term bets are increasingly risky in today’s “what have you done for me lately” mobile sector.

On the third yes, Microsoft may be reinventing itself, but it is still tied to some old business models. Most of those models require some sort of keyboard entry. (Think Office). Microsoft also had the advantage of time. Admittedly the long delay wasn’t something anyone wanted. But, as Microsoft watched the number of iPad users who bought some sort of keyboard it was probably breathing a sign of relief. At least the Office folks were. (Keep in mind, Apple offered up its Wireless Keyboard at the launch of the first iPad, although not with as big a splash as Microsoft.) At this moment, no one except a few select journalists have actually really used those keyboards. Microsoft briefed them yesterday, and I would imagine that they are embargoed from talking about them or writing reviews until sometime next week. That’s when we’ll hear the first real words about how well, or not, these keyboards work. Will the keyboard strategy matter? In the short term, I think so. In the long term, I’m not so sure.

Now, don’t think for a second that I’m predicting all of these things are going to be wonderful and work like a charm. I think they have the potential to be quite exciting. I also think there is potential for this gamble to be a big fail. There is just too much we don’t know. The real question is can Microsoft capture the public’s imagination (think consumer) with these devices. That’s going to be tough given that Microsoft doesn’t look to have the usual retail channels in its immediate plans. Ineffective marketing is a shadow that Microsoft created for itself and still seems to be operating under. I have to say after that new commercial rolled out last night, Microsoft might be off to a bad start. Aside from the flash and dance, we learned nothing really knew about the Surface Tablets beyond the fact that there’s a keyboard that goes click. But then, Microsoft has always had a marketing problem. That said, sooner or later we’ll have to see these devices in action with use cases that tell us why we need one. Is that really that important? Absolutely.

So, why do I need a Surface RT Tablet? I don’t. But, this is a turning point one way or another for Microsoft. It may also be a turning point for the rest of the industry as well. If Microsoft has a success here, things change. If Microsoft’s gamble fails then things change. Or course you could argue that the rest of the industry has already rounded the corner and Microsoft is still at the starting gate. I think that’s accurate.

As someone who watched Redmond flail and fail with its earlier Tablet strategy, I’d like to hope that perhaps Microsoft could actually figure out how to get in the game this time around. I’m looking forward to trying out Surface RT. I’m keeping my mind open to the experience once the device and keyboards arrive on 10/26. While I’m willing to gamble with Microsoft’s big gamble, I don’t know how many will feel the same way. And that might be Microsoft’s big miscalculation here. My guess is that what we start hearing on 10/26 will give us some early indications as to how this pays off. Or not. I’m sure we’re going to hear some good and quite a bit of bad in some of the reporting. By 10/27 there will be some reviews that claim Surface RT is a failed experiment. It may well be. But, I’ll experience this for myself and let you know what I think.

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Comments

  1. Bill Moore says

    I have eagerly anticipated the release of the Surface RT since it was announced. The screen resolution is a letdown for me, though. One of my primary uses is reading eBooks, so I want a “Retina-like” display.

  2. hi says

    Warner -you’ve been in the game for a long time and I am glad you are still in it. If your gut instinct is indecisive, then it either does not bode well for Microsoft’s current OS or your powers of prediction is failing you. I have used Win8 on a Lenovo x200 and was confused at first, but then learned the shortcut keys and was off to the races. I am puzzled by your confusion. Very recursive of you.

    The hardware won’t move the needle much unless it is alien hi-tech. Sure Surface will be a better tool than Win8 on the x200, but I predict success will be tied to the separate and distinct marketing campaigns for consumers and businesses. Microsoft can make a case for both. Apple, Samsung, et al… not to the same degree.

    Microsoft had to become a device company. HP, Dell, and others have failed for years and still do not understand tablets. You have said this for years. Only Lenovo can bring it…maybe Asus. Until Intel kicks motherboard and display OEMs’ ass, Surface products will be the only device to complete with iPads.

    The major flaw in Microsoft’s strategy is no answer for the $99 tablet. They have to get one to innoculate themselves from Nexus. Google (and Microsoft) always used the dumping of products as a strategic weapon. Microsoft will fall on Google’s sword if they do not forge their own.

  3. Warner Crocker says

    hi,

    My confusion, if it is confusion, is that I haven’t seen the hardware and software match up together. I’ve tried Win 8 on a Lenovo Tablet as well. But in this current age, it is the hardware/software marriage that makes or breaks a Tablet as Apple has proven, Google has learned, and others still try to emulate. This is Microsoft’s shot to do that and the jury hasn’t even been selected much less begun deliberations.

    On the other hand my powers of prediction could very well be failing me. ;)

  4. Bigmouth says

    I actually found the commercial surprisingly compelling. And it did manage to communicate that the tablet and keyboard lock together in a solid and reliable way, something I had questions about.

  5. FlyingShawn says

    Two thoughts:

    1) The commercial wasn’t designed to appeal to techies like us or really anyone who cares about things like specs. Just look at when it debuted: during Dancing with the Stars. In that respect, it really is VERY comparable to the latest iPod commercial that features various model iPods bouncing around to music (granted, that’s already an established product, but I think the point still stands when you consider the target market).

    2) There’s one simple reason that I didn’t preorder a Surface and probably won’t get any RT products: ink. I know we’ve been talking about the benefits of digital ink for many years now and the original Microsoft tablet push was less than successful, but the technology behind it was fantastic and it could really work well on this sort of device. I don’t think the ARM chips would have any problem with the extra overhead of processing it, so then it just comes down to the added cost of a digitizer and the question of why they didn’t include the architecture into the OS so it could be on higher-end models. Just imagine using a Metro version of Journal or OneNote on a device this light/thin with true all-day battery life!

    I’ll be looking at Win8 Pro models when they come out, but an RT+Ink device would be an much easier (and cheaper!) upgrade to justify over my current Fujitsu Q550.

  6. Roger J says

    Again, an honest and excellent article by Warner and amplified by good commetsna dn feedback by others.

    I’m of the same vintage as Warner (hope you don’t mind, Warner!) and also want inking to come-of-age.

    I have trying to withstand the hype of Surface and stick to my earlier goal of getting a good Windows 8 Pro tablet (Lenovo looks good so far, before Windows 8 launch). Why? Because I want primarily to do work, then also for leisure, sofa-surfing etc.

    When I do get my new tablet, my IPad3 will be for sale, I have become increasingly dsillusioned with it and it confirms my own dislike of the Apple business model – at least I was willing to try it!

  7. Bill Moore says

    Roger, another “vintaged-one” here. ;-) I had an iPad 3 for about a week, was disillusioned with it and returned it. I’ve used Windows since 3.1 and seriously considered switching to Apple a few months ago but concluded that premium prices charged (e.g., for moderate storage upgrades on the iPad and for the Retina display in the MBP) were simply not worth it and were foolhardy for someone with a moderate budget.

    So . . . I’m really hoping that the Windows 8 tablets, whether RT or Pro, take off. I’m looking forward to reviews comparing the reading experience of the RT, with its 1366×768 resolution, with the iPad 3. MS claims that the lower resolution will be superior because of better contrast (http://www.tomshardware.com/news/Surface-iPad-Microsoft-Display-Apple,18504.html), and yet the Surface Pro will have 1920×1080 resolution. That makes me question MS’s claim about the lower RT resolution. I’m hoping that Warner will address that when he receives his RT.

  8. Surface says

    The commercial made me pull the trigger and pre-order it!!!! I wanna dance with it. Seriously, all you haters will shut up when it comes out

    • Bill Moore says

      @Surface. Haters? Why throw around such a pejorative word? It seems that there was an adult conversation going on here. I’ve been using Windows computers since the late 1980′s. Enjoy your Surface and, seriously, grow up.

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