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Microsoft Proves (Again) That It Doesn’t Understand Marketing with Surface RT and Surface Pro

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I had high hopes for Microsoft and Windows 8. When Microsoft appeared to grabbing the bull by the horns and coming up with its own hardware to showcase (in its words) how we view Windows 8, my hopes and expectations raised even more. Microsoft, to all outward appearances, looked to be finally recognizing that it had to make some severe changes in its computing and mobile strategies if it wanted to compete in a world that shifted under its feet. And then they released the Surface RT alongside of Windows 8. To call it a rocky beginning would be an insult to rocks.

I’ve used, reviewed, and am still using the Surface RT. I’ve called it conflicted and confusing and it is. But it is no more or less so than the apparent strategy behind its release and the marketing effort to support it. And now comes word that Microsoft has announced the price point and the specs for the Surface Pro. That’s the second of the two signature hardware devices Microsoft wants to use to say this is what the future will be. It’s due out in January. The entry level price point is $899. That will get you a 64GB model. If you anticipate needing more storage and want a bump up to 128GB it will set you back $999. And, catch this. The battery life is expected to be half that of the Surface RT. In every place where Tablets are made, battery life has become a non-issue. That’s not the case in Redmond. Apparently it’s not the case with Intel either.

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Neither of those price points will get you a Touch or a Type keyboard. You’ll have to spring for this very necessary accessory, or use something else. It also doesn’t include Microsoft Office, which you’ll have to also spring for. Note that Surface RT users got that as a part of the bargain.

So, which is it, Microsoft? Is the Surface Pro a too high priced Tablet or is it an Ultra-book with Tablet features? I can understand having one foot stepping towards tomorrow while the other stays comfortably in the past, but we’re looking at a situation here where that foot in the past is mired hopelessly in quicksand.

In case the folks at Microsoft need a quick primer on what Tablets need to be and have in today’s world here is my list.

  • Thin and light. (Microsoft achieved this.)
  • Price point starting at $500. (RT yes, Pro no.)
  • All day battery life. (RT yes, Pro no.)
  • Performance that makes using the device and software transparent (RT no, Pro-undetermined.)

A short menu for a tall order? Not for Microsoft’s competitors. Let me say this, if the Surface Pro performance is a slow and buggy as the Surface RT, then Microsoft shouldn’t even release the device.

Set aside for the moment the conflicting and confusing issues relating to Microsoft’s vision of how these Tablets will and should work. What is equally, if not more disappointing, is that Microsoft has proven, once again, that it has no clue how to market its products beyond its Xbox line. There are actually some nice features that come out of the box with Windows 8. The Hub structure, Sharing (when it works), how the system handles Search, and Live Tiles. Microsoft’s cloud solution Skydrive works better than anything Apple is trying to do with iCloud. But with the exception of Live Tiles, you’d never know the Surface has anything going for it other than snapping and clicking a keyboard onto the device. For those who say the price point makes sense because of USB ports and the ability to run x86 Legacy Apps, you are part of the problem. The mobile computing world is moving (has moved) far beyond that kind of thinking. We’re not talking horse and buggy vs automobiles just yet, but we’re damned close.

Microsoft will sell lots of licenses to Windows 8. It will sell lots of copies of Office. Huzzah. In my view, most of that will be achieved through inertia more than anything else. I’m half expecting to see an ad that tells us we can get all of the old frustrations we’ve become so accustomed to with the new Windows 8. I don’t think its new hardware well be any sort of record setter though and it may not need to. But if that new hardware is intended to show OEMs how to create future machines for Windows 8 and to create demand for those machines from consumers, well, somebody, somewhere goofed.

I wanted to give Microsoft the benefit of doubt as it moved into these big initiatives this year. Call me crazy, I believed Microsoft was looking to the long view rather than having some sort of quick success on an opening weekend. I still think that may be the case, but whomever is pulling the marketing strings in Redmond needs to realize that the market’s long view has changed so dramatically, that how Redmond is looking at things makes Rip Van Winkle seem like a trendsetter.

Obviously there is some chaos at Microsoft, evidenced by Steven Sinofsky’s departure. But that can’t account for the ineffectual and just wrong marketing leadership that led up to the debut of Microsoft’s next best hope with Windows 8 and all that comes with it. In essence this is what Microsoft’s current marketing strategy boils down to. We’re going to give you some of what you want today, with lots of yesterday thrown in at a higher price to preserve that legacy, because you really don’t want to be up to date now do you?

Microsoft may yet make some strides in the future if it can correct problems that in my view it made for itself. Microsoft won’t accomplish that unless it puts together marketing talent that can understand the market as it is now and where it is going.

Warner Crocker is a professional theatre director, producer and playwright and also a Tablet PC enthusiast. He is also a Microsoft MVP for Tablet PCs. Send email to Warner. You can follow him on Twitter or Google+

17 Comments

  1. jesse

    11/30/2012 at 8:25 am

    Surface Pro is running on an Intel i5 processor, with a solid state drive and plenty of fast memory, it will perform extremely well without question.

    As for battery life, it will be between 4 to 6 hours based on other machines with similar specs. This isn’t great battery life by any means but it is the reality of the current hardware available. If you want to be able to run professional software on your tablet you will need an X86 model and unless you want the device to be large you will get this battery life.

    I am currently using a Samsung Slate 7 which is an older model that I updated to Windows 8. I love this tablet. In fact I use it as my main computer because of the versatility of it. Battery life is a concern “especially since this machine only gets between 3 to 4 hours” but being that I dock it at work it is always charging and ready for when I need to take it mobile.

    I own the latest iPad, Surface RT and the Samsung Slate 7 and I can say that almost all my use is on the Samsung based Intel device. You just give up too much power and flexibility for the conveniences of ARM based tablets.

    • Warner Crocker

      11/30/2012 at 10:55 am

      Jesse,

      I buy and understand your points and point of view here. I’m talking about the mixed messages and cake and eat it too that Microsoft wants to have by saying these devices compete with Tablets., They do not in my view.

      • BrianCahill

        12/01/2012 at 9:20 am

        Love my job, since I’ve been bringing in $5600… I sit at home, music playing while I work in front of my new iMac that I got now that I’m making it online(Click on menu Home)
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  2. Diogenes (@tCynic)

    11/30/2012 at 8:41 am

    I understand a lot of your concerns, but realize that the short battery life is a result of the laptop level processing power. I don’t get how you can think the surface pro will be slow and buggy. This hardware is out already. People have used windows 8 on core hardware.

    It also seems to me that the always on tablet, while it may be the main draw of consumer level tablet use, has not been the main draw for pro level use. Versatility, size and ease of use tend to lead out over battery life. The surface pro is not aimed at people who use an iPad. I for one, want one. Being able to edit photos on a device with an active digitizer while on a location photoshoot is an enticing use case.

  3. John Kutzman

    11/30/2012 at 8:42 am

    Warner, I know from years of experience reading your posts that you are, or used to be, and inker. I’m almost positive you haven’t been inking on your RT device and it sounds like you won’t be getting a Win 8 Pro device. So what now for inkers, particularly those of us with several years of legacy OneNote ink files? (I need to track down Sumocat and ask him this same question).

    • Warner Crocker

      11/30/2012 at 10:59 am

      I hold out hope for the Surface Pro and other Win/Tel hardware to come for true Inkers. We’ll see where that goes next year.

  4. John Kutzman

    11/30/2012 at 8:50 am

    “AN inker.” Sorry.

  5. Warner Crocker

    11/30/2012 at 10:58 am

    Diogenes,

    I consider myself a pro user. If there’s something I can’t do on a Tablet (where I do most of my work) I use a laptop or a desktop. I don’t know that the Surface Pro will be slow and buggy, and I’m hoping it won’t be. While the hardware is out already that seems to run Win 8 adequately, I’m talking more about these “tablet” devices than I am hardware that is built to work the way we’ve always seen Windows machines run. Blending the two is not successful in this first iteration in my view.

    • tie23

      12/02/2012 at 4:09 pm

      After reading through a couple of articles talking about the Surface Pro announcements, I feel that the tune of many tech writers would be vastly different if the Surface Pro came with a keyboard permanently attached to the device. Then it’d be a laptop with a touch screen, and then it wouldn’t be in a new hybrid class of half laptop, half tablet.

      Would it be better if they released the Pro in 4 SKUs instead of 2? 64GB with Touch Cover, 128GB with Touch cover, 64GB with Type Cover, 128GB with Type Cover?

      I personally view this as Microsoft’s Macbook Air, but with a touch screen.

  6. John in Norway

    11/30/2012 at 11:34 am

    I’m hoping (but not expecting) that they will do something about the abomination that is the TIP in Windows 8. I understand that they had to dumb it down for the ipad finger crowd but if they’re actively marketing an active digitizer I hope they make it more useful for inkers.

    • John Kutzman

      11/30/2012 at 3:48 pm

      Hadn’t heard this. Great. Now I’m worried.

  7. Erin Winfrey

    11/30/2012 at 1:12 pm

    I had such high high hopes for Microsoft for the Surface product. I switched from Windows to Mac about a year ago as it was fairly easy for me to get my greedy and cheap fingers on the iPad. The commercials had me so hyped up for it and thinking I’d make the switch back. Maybe one day they’ll start to understand.

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  8. John Fro

    11/30/2012 at 4:13 pm

    I was at Staples, and seeing the MS product line-up there was incomprehensible. Essentially, you can’t tell what you are buying or what it is for. The mixture of RT surface like tablets, regular tablets and Win8 laptops made choosing one difficult and then, if you don’t know how to use one, which I suspect is a large majority of the people who would be looking, it makes it incomprehensible. The same actions on the laptops don’t work on the tablets and neither gives any indication if you need to use the screen, mouse or trackpad to do anything. This is going to be very difficult for retailers to sort out.

    • John Kutzman

      12/02/2012 at 6:20 am

      +1. I’ve been into my local Staples several times to look at these devices. The sales staff have been in my face the moment I reached out to pick up one of the devices but the sales people know next to nothing about them.

  9. Fahri Karaağaç

    12/01/2012 at 2:06 am

    Why not think simple. You put a desktop UI, which is refined for mouse use for the last 30 years, on a touch based tablet. This is the very definition of not being determined enough to fully embrace the touch phenomena.

    Putting a trackpad on the keyboard? On an “extra” accessory, which is NOT meant to be part of the device’s main user experience, but just an extension of it? Like kinect? Come on.

    Steve Ballmer is a sales guy. He knows the “if you buy this, I’ll give you this for free” thing. That’s why everything comes with a bonus thingy. Surface RT comes with Office. RT comes with keyboard. Win phone 8 comes with office. Surface RT goes out as shopping season, although it is not ready for prime time.

    Ballmer is not concerned about the whole experience. He is concerned with the sale-ability of the things he’s trying to sell. This is what a sales guy is meant to do best. Someone else creates and the sales guy sells. He sees the quick bucks. You cannot expect to oversee revolutions as true visionaries like Steve Jobs.

    BTW, this is also what Tim Cook does and will do.

    • John Crawford

      12/01/2012 at 3:13 am

      Tim Cook is hardly a sales guy.

  10. gplawhorn (@gplawhorn)

    12/01/2012 at 7:52 am

    So . . . if a Surface Pro will cost over $1,200 once you buy the necessary keyboard, get less than 4 hours of battery life (I mean, when has Microsoft ever exceeded expectations?), and lack Office, why not just buy a decent laptop instead?

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