The Microsoft Surface RT tablet was introduced around a year ago as Microsofts direct competitor to the iPad. It featured premium hardware in a compact body and ran Windows RT. The tablet was offered with a range of accessories with a choice of colours.
From the press releases and peoples initial hands on reviews, everything seemed rather positive, people liked the industrial design and high quality keyboard in such a limited form factor. What however started to emerge from peoples extended use were some of the Surfaces Issues; many of which I pre-empted in my original Surface RT blog post.
The simple rule in computing is, if you price something near an Apple product, there needs to be a darn good reason not to just buy the Apple product. The surface was originally the same price as the iPad, however lacked Retina display, was heavier, didn’t have the partner ecosystem and was devoid of apps (more on that later)
Over time with falling sales the Surface RT is now priced at only £279 which actually makes it rather tempting, and the new Surface 2 tablet is quite a bit lower than the relevant iPad at a reasonable £359.
Apple has always been known for expensive accessories, the connectors for my Macbook Air cost around £25 each and a new power adapter for my iPhone is £25, but Microsoft seems to have lost the plot with the cost of Surface accessories.
The power adaptor for the Surface is £35!! and the keyboard -whether touch or type is your flavour are both over £100, very quickly ramping up the cost of the tablet into Ultrabook territory, or even small laptops which can run full Windows 8.
Advice for Success: The price of the tablet itself is ok, but the accessories need at least 40% taken off them to be competitive, even with Apples!
There were certain issues with the first gen hardware; which is usually common with all first gen hardware. It was made worse for Microsoft as people would instantly compare the Surface RT to the iPad in looks, design and internals.
Microsoft greatly tooted the screen as being a high quality (wide viewing angles, high nit level etc.) but it was glaringly obvious (no pun intended) that the resolution was no way there when compared to an Retina iPad.
This was in part to do with availability of panels (in a market dominated by Apples purchasing might), cost savings and performance.
…ah performance, Microsoft used nVidias Tegra 3 chip, which at the time was already nearing its end of life, coupled with a rather poor graphics processor meant there were very few must have games for the platform beyond Angry Birds. Apple themselves use graphics performance as a great way to upsell to the new iPad, with the usual Real Racing or Infinty Blade tech demos.
Performance and hardware has greatly improved in the Surface 2, while at the same time the device becomes slimmer and lighter. Battery life has also greatly improved, even with the Surface 2 having a 1080p screen. This still may not be Retina display territory, however being 1080p means it is far better suited to watching media content.
The absolutely huge Elephant in the Room for the Surface RT and Surface 2 is what happened in between the two tablets and why Windows RT was even thought about.
Up till around 2 years ago, Intel didn’t really have a mobile chip, or something that an average people would call a mobile chip. Intel was always known as a desktop chip company, and even their mobile chips due large amounts of power. It seemed obvious to make tablets that could last all day, they would have to use ARM based chips which consume far less power. This made obvious sense say 4-5 years ago if you didn’t watch Intels keynote speeches, but this all changed – guess Microsoft didn’t watch them.
Microsoft plowed on and developed Windows RT (codenamed Windows on ARM), based on the Windows CE platform they had developed over many years for the low power embedded market.
Apple has always used ARM chips in their tablets, however have begun going beyond the reference ARM designs to further improve performance to a points where these issues of battery and performance do not matter.
By the time the Surface RT came out, the writing was already pretty much on the wall for Windows on ARM, even in the embedded market, the emergence of Ultra low power Intel Atom chips moved development in x86/64 standard windows. Each generation of chips from Intel could last longer and consume less power to the point where a Haswell i5 can last over 12 hours in most laptops. The battery need for RT was dead, as well as performance.
What summed it up was the Surface Pro tablets, which featured an i5 processor. Between the first and second generation battery life jumped 40%. Microsofts lack of future vision meant they have gone down a path that is pretty much abandoned.
What could they do differently then? – Well why not have a Surface Pro that isn’t pro? How about an i3 or Atom version with 2GB of RAM and a physical HDD, or just a smaller flash HDD with emphasis on the cloud.
If the Surface Pro is £719 and the Surface 2 is £359, what can be shaved off for the £360 cost saving? – Do we need a digitial stylus? 10 point multitouch panel?
Advice for Success: Make a Intel based Surface 2 running full Windows with i3, 2GB ram, 32GB flash, 5pt multitouch(no stylus) and sell it for £400
With Windows on ARM (Windows RT) being a completely different OS to Windows 8, there was a LOT of confusion where consumers could not understand why the applications they had bought for their desktops did not run or transfer between accounts to their Surface Tablets. Apple had made their tablet/phone OS markedly different to their desktop OS so there was no point of confusion, Microsoft failed on this.
Being a new OS as well, there was not much initial take up from developers; unsure of the consumer base and profitiabiliy of the platform. This lead to a big issue with the platform and why other tablet OS’s (Blackberry) have failed – there are no apps!
If Microsoft had kept to a single OS across desktop and tablets (full x86/64 Windows 8) developers could have targeted one application type and leading to more overall apps being developed – developers would not need to split their time.
Advice for Success: Stick with just one apps platform, differentiate between completely incompatible products.