Microsoft has announced the Surface tablet. At the centre of CEO Steve Ballmer’s presentation yesterday was a single message: the integration between the hardware and the software is key to deliver better experiences to end-users.
The hardware designed by Microsoft tries to capture the interest from users for a device that combines a PC-like and a tablet experiences. Therefore, this tablet is clearly targeted to professional users in the first place.
The physical keyboard, the lack of a camera and the focus on the MS Office environment shows that Microsoft is targeting the business segment, where they can differentiate and take some share from Apple. Microsoft’s tablet will probably come with the best MS Office experience, the killer application of the device. The keyboard is also a very important accessory for a professional usage.
Despite some interesting hardware features, almost nothing was mentioned about the software, the user interface, the user experience and the ecosystem. Some of these points were previously introduced by Microsoft on previous presentations of Windows 8. Although Microsoft needs to start bringing together the different pieces of the Windows 8 story.
What makes the iPad the most successful tablet on the market is the software, the applications and the added value that end-users perceive from that. The reason why Android tablets need to be cheap is because they do not deliver value. Besides Apple, no other manufacturer has captured a relevant market share in this segment. The main focus has been on the hardware and specs only.
What I was expecting to hear from Microsoft was how the Surface delivers an integrated experience with the PC, what additional services or features are available and how the Microsoft ecosystem is growing to be a real alternative to the iPad or any Android tablet.
Hardware-wise Microsoft did a very good job by launching a device that can really be exciting and different but it needs to deliver what has been promising with the new Windows 8 strategy. Consumers will not buy, and specially not pay a premium price for the Surface until they understand what is the additional value they can get compared with the iPad and how the device integrates with their PCs, the Gaming Console, the Windows Phones, etc. The entire ecosystem is what will make Microsoft proposition attractive and not unlinked pieces of it.
Microsoft has also showed how serious it is about controlling the hardware. This tablet could had been announced with any of its partners (or several). But by designing and launching its own branded tablet, Microsoft is clearly refocusing its approach to a more closed strategy. And if that is the case the company will need to take a different route and to acquire a manufacturer that knows and controls the entire supply chain.