Zeus Kerravala
Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his...
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Zeus Kerravala | June 21, 2012 |


Is the Windows Surface Tablet a Pretender or Contender?

Is the Windows Surface Tablet a Pretender or Contender? The much-hyped tablet has a few advantages, but will this be the device that unseats Apple? I doubt it

The much-hyped tablet has a few advantages, but will this be the device that unseats Apple? I doubt it

So amid plenty of hype and speculation, Microsoft finally unveiled the long awaited tablet--the "Surface". This is the device that's supposed to let Microsoft gain ground on Apple and be the true iPad disruptor. Considering Microsoft's lack of success in mobile devices, I'm shocked at the hype around this device. I even saw a Citrix post on Facebook that asked if the Surface could overtake the iPad as the preferred tablet in the workplace? Seriously? Or as my step daughter Arianna would say, "For Reals?" Aren't we getting a bit ahead of ourselves here?

I read Tim Greene's Network World article comparing the two devices and from a strict speeds and feeds perspective, the Surface has some advantages over the iPad. Better battery life, I think the ARM processor rocks and integrated business applications. But are these enough to make a dent in the iPad market? I say no and here's why.

First, tablets augment the laptop; for a few workers, it's the primary device. However, in most cases, it doesn't fully replace the laptop. Workers operate in two modes: information consumption and information creation. A laptop is a superior information creation device, as the keyboard and mouse/glide pad give people the control to manipulate images, input numbers into a spreadsheet and type quickly. The tablet is a superior consumption device. Flipping through documents, playing videos, etc is great on a tablet, as it's optimized for viewing. I believe that a device that tries to do both will be equally mediocre at both, and that isn't what workers want. Frankly, if someone wants a device that's super thin and has a keyboard and kickstand, why not just buy a MacBook Air? I know the price point of the Surface is less than an Air, but then buy an ultrabook.

Next, the application availability for the iPad is orders of magnitude greater than for the "Surface," and these are consumer devices even when used in the workplace. Tim's article points out how the Office Suite is available for the Surface and not the iPad. OK, advantage Microsoft for people that want to create and edit Office documents on a tablet--but I think that advantage is minor. As I stated above, when workers want to create or manipulate documents, they'll use a laptop or a PC and when they want to view, they'll use a tablet--and the iPad applications in this area are fine. The tablet augments the laptop, not replaces it, so Microsoft's monopoly-like share with Office won't translate to de facto tablet success.

Lastly, I know people looked at the device and saw the attached keyboard, and I wonder why that's such a big "a-ha" for people. There are plenty of keyboards available for Apple and Android tablets, some even built into the case. Admittedly, not quite as thin, but that's just a matter of time, and eventually moves to projection keyboards and other input mechanisms (such as voice).

I understand why the world wants to see Microsoft be successful with its tablet. It's no fun having one dominant vendor, and the Android tablet never managed to make much of a dent in the Apple market dominance. If Microsoft is going to have some success, I believe that it's going to be at the expense of Android for those people that don't want to buy an Apple device.

Long term, I believe that the tablet market will play out like the MP3 player market with Android and Microsoft fighting for #2. There will be plenty of companies that take a shot at unseating Apple, but as long as Apple doesn't slip up, they'll keep the share. This is because consumer devices aren't successful because of the device itself; instead it’s the entire experience that creates Apples success. The iPad, iPhone, iCloud, iTunes and other i-things are why Apple has been winning this war.

If you remember back, Microsoft had tablets long before Apple did, and the knock on them was they weren't great as laptops or tablets, so people didn't buy them. Not that past performance is any indicator of future performance (see BlackBerry) but market share only changes significantly when there's some sort of market transformation going on, and there isn't one here for Microsoft to capture. So will this be the device that unseats Apple? I doubt it. Same Apple. Same Microsoft.


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