Microsoft's Surface tablets: Why they make sense

By Abhishek Choudhary Published Date
09 - Aug - 2012
| Last Updated
09 - Aug - 2012
Microsoft's Surface tablets: Why they make sense

A little over seven weeks ago, Microsoft announced their very own tablet, the ‘Surface’. Approximately 3 minutes and 28 seconds after the announcement, the web was overflowing with opinions from various pundits as to how the software giant was “entering unchartered territory”, “misjudging the market”, “starting unnecessary competition”, and somehow, “propelling its own demise”. And we think only one of that is true - it is, indeed, entering unchartered territory. And we applaud Microsoft for that.

When we gave an impartial chance to the idea to impress us, it did admirably well. If Microsoft wants to give the world an idealistic view of the exact way it wants the OS and its services to perform, building everything hardware from the ground up, then it does make sense. Let’s take all there is to it, one by one. First up, the looks – they’re not bad at all. In a time when looks, above everything else, are converging across devices, Microsoft has made something that at least has the potential to stand out, and in a good sense. And with the pop-out keyboard plan, there is as much functionality as there is oomph. Not that the concept is new - Lenovo’s ‘too-ahead-of-its-time’ IdeaPad comes to mind - but the thoughtful way in which this seems to be implemented shows that the company has not lost its touch with the times.

When it comes to tech-specs, neither of the models are pushovers in any sense. For the people with mainly on-the-go connectivity needs, there is the smaller sibling, with its HD screen (not Full HD), and the ARM processor. In this RT version, you would have access to the Windows Marketplace for all of your software needs, but then that is what you choose when you go for it. For those who seek juice in their machine, the Pro version carries plenty. You can have all the software you need, from any provider you choose, and not necessarily from the Marketplace. Add to that Intel’s Ivy Bridge i5 for processing power plus a Full HD screen to boot, amongst all the other regular features of a general tablet in the segment, there is no reason why you should not buy the Surface (pssst, there’s HDMI ports in both versions, too). “But why exactly should I buy the Surface?”, you ask. Straight up, we’d say it has pretty much everything going for it. Any feature that you would say that a tablet should have - it’s there, you name it.

Windows 8 seems tailored for a touchscreen. Plus, the attachable feature is nifty, to say the least. The overall design consideration seems to be inclined to make it as useful as it is fun. Sothis is our precise reply to the one viral question over the internet - “Why would you buy this over the iPad?”. Let’s just say that everything has its own merits and demerits, and get the adages over with. Seriously, though, and it’s only because it can’t be stressed enough that it is being repeated here - functionality. Also, you may want to consider the other reason that one might buy something else over an iPhone - because you might freakin want to.

A few years ago, all had been quiet and well in the computer world, with segments properly demarcated, and living happily together. Computers were computers, mobiles were mobiles, and laptops were laptops. Clear and simple. The iPhone showed up one day, and turned the whole market upside down, and the repercussions are there for all to see. The greatest one of those is that we are no longer a Microsoft ecosystem that engulfs all of known humanity (or our ape brothers, as the ‘Apps for Apes’ movement would have us believe, with all of its iPad goodness!).

For years, it had been assumed that it was the logical progression for development of computing devices that the hegemony of a single enterprise will break, and the competitors will come up with better ways to entice consumers. And they did. More precisely, Apple did. It started with the iPod, went over to iPhone, which made iMacs and Macbooks cool again, and finally, crowned itself with the iPad. Basically, trying to move with the times and attempting diversification by diluting its focus is what has been seen as one of the bigger reasons that Microsoft had been losing ground on competition recently. In the era when it made its name, the company had almost had its way, and made its name as the digital conqueror that has thrown any and all challengers not only out of competition but also out of the ballpark. And the signs are now there that we have not seen the last of the Redmond giant yet.

Microsoft suffered from the general public’s fear of large corporations so early that it practically introduced the phenomenon to tech circles. And that is why people were happy that the world was moving away from such distinct polarization of our digital life, and the horribly premature ‘demise’ of Microsoft was being predicted. And Microsoft had been without a trademark ‘bulldozer’ of a product for a long time. But now we know what it had really been up to. Windows 7 finally showed that all was not over for the world’s largest software company.

As has been evident in their advertising campaigns for some time, they had been planning on building their very own ecosystem for us to live in, something that can keep pace with the latest consumer demands/expectations, and something that you would actually choose to have. Built on the relatively solid framework of Windows 7, but sporting a radically new interface when it comes to PC operating systems, Windows 8 has had pretty positive reviews since it was introduced by Microsoft, and is being regarded as an important cog in the development of the user-machine communication for the future. Realizing the potential that the idea possessed, it has gone ahead and developed its mobile OS (Windows Phone) on similar grounds (or was it the other way round?), and has now dropped the big bomb of launching its own tablet, the ‘Surface’, which will natively run the latest version of the full-fledged Windows 8.

So why do so many people seem to despise the idea? Again, the distrust of the big corporation, for one. There is a certain sense of vindication when you see a giant fall before you. Still, leaving the philosophical angle by the side here, it’s true that the company hasn’t exactly been covering itself in glory for some time now, but it has definitely earned the brand, a right to a fair shot for each of its new products. Then there is a given fact that a Microsoft product will sell. And if you choose to refer to a little known misadventure called ‘Kin’ here, we would remind you that it is next to impossible task to replicate that kind of failure, especially coming from the same organisation.

Also, from Microsoft’s point of view, the Surface makes simplistic sense. It can now have a hardware specification in mind to optimize its products (like Windows 8, for starters), and thus incorporate the kind of smooth, seamless experiences that have become Apple’s USP. What must also be noted is, because Microsoft is not stopping other manufacturers from making devices on the platform, therefore - a.) that revenue stream is still open, and b.) the hardware manufacturers will now have a bar of specification to develop their machines off - a reference design, if you may. That eliminates the need of the guessing game that is hardware spec for a new computing platform.

From the users’ point of view, they have it all going for them. First, the product comes directly from Microsoft, so they get to experience the device in the precise way that the developers intended them to. Also, if nothing else, it adds to the choices in the market, and that can never be a bad thing. From the OEMs’ point of view, they have it in the balance. While there is added competition, one can easily put a positive spin on that. If they do everything right, then Surface becomes just another competitor in a fair market. Then again, if, for some reason, Surface starts beating them hands down, they can always ask Microsoft to help them - they’re on the same side! Think Google’s Nexus here, just more mainstream. Finally, coming back to Microsoft, if Surface catches on, then its good for them.

As the conclusion, I would point to what I consider to be the best part. Even if it doesn’t catch the public imagination the way it is supposed to, the company stands to lose next to nothing. It would still make loads of money from OEMs for Windows 8. Thus, Microsoft is not putting all of its eggs in one basket and crossing its fingers (which is traditionally the Apple way of doing things). It is rather hedging the market, and preparing a situation where it has excellent returns against good returns. If that is not a win-win, then I cannot think of anything that is.

Abhishek ChoudharyAbhishek Choudhary