Will the Surface Surpass Expectations? A Few Key Issues to Consider at the Moment

25 Oct

Now that Apple has finally gotten its elegant, drool-worthy lineup out in the open, many will no doubt begin to wonder whether Microsoft’s Surface, a proclaimed iPad competitor, will have the necessary fire-power to compete in today’s highly aggressive tablet market. The software giant’s nifty looking device certainly had little trouble garnering a fair share of positive impressions, with much of the early praise directed towards the innovative look of Windows 8, the intuitive feel of the touch-cover keyboard, and the Surface’s potential hardware capabilities. But as time passed, and as various issues and imperfections are being uncovered (through early impressions and the recent reviews), growing skepticism towards the device has inevitably begun to emerge.

To give a general idea as to why some are still not buying into the “Surface” hype, we include below a list of major concerns that are perceived as potential obstacles to the tablet’s long term success:

The Apparent lack of 3G or LTE feature: Even at this moment, Microsoft has yet to make an official announcement regarding the inclusion 3G or LTE connectivity. While the uncertainty may not be that big of an issue for casual Wi-Fi consumers, for the frequent traveler type hoping for less internet related restrictions and a wider variety of usable settings, the absence of cellular connectivity will ultimately come off as a letdown. One possible scenario is that Microsoft is simply waiting to announce the LTE/3G versions of the tablet after the October 26 launch date. Whether or not this is the case, the company’s initial wave of non-cellular Surface tablets may no doubt to be perceived as a step behind Apple’s tablets, seeing how even the iPad mini comes with LTE connectivity. It will be interesting to see if the company will choose to include such a feature after observing the initial performance of the tablet in 2012.

The Divided Consumer Issue: Unlike Apple, which intended its iPad device for a universal audience, Microsoft has curiously decided to release two (vastly) different Surface models, a move that is not only likely to segment the consumer base, but also make it a bit difficult for buyers to decide on what model to purchase. A major factor believed to potentially confuse consumers even further, as suggested by The Verge, is that the RT version of Surface technically doesn’t run the actual Windows 8, but only a condensed version of the operating system. Compared to the Windows Pro 8 model (set to be released next year), the RT model reportedly gives consumers limited software capabilities, and denies access to some of Microsoft’s major apps and programs. It is possible that in response to this, consumers may choose to pass on the October 26 tablet, instead opting to wait for the “better” version before making their purchase decision. Should this happen, the market performance of the initially launched Surface tablet will definitely take a hit.

The New Platform Risk: As many have pointed out since the Surface was first announced, one of the biggest challenges Microsoft will face is convincing consumers to adopt an entirely foreign platform. So far, it does not appear that the path will be an easy one, given that a variety of criticisms have already been directed towards the new operating system. In the early stages, Gabe Newell, developer of Valve, called the interface a “catastrophe,” whereas several early reviewers described their initial Windows 8 experiences as being a bit awkward. The recent set reviews have been slightly more positive, although many are still reportedly disappointed with problems such as the slow running speed and occasional crashes.

Weak App Market: Microsoft’s underwhelming number of downloadable (and effective) apps, without question, serves as another major incentive to avoid the Surface tablet. Microsoft’s app store currently features about 4000 apps, a meager figure compared Apple’s monstrous 275000 app market. The number will undeniably increase one day, but until that happens, it is likely that consumers may find it more practical to just stick to the Android or the iOS hardwares for now.

The Not-So-Consumer-Friendly Price Tag: Topping all other issues so far is the Surface’s pricing. The RT tablet that is set to be released on October 26 will be charged at the $499 USD mark. Given that the model does not come with the touch-keyboard, anyone wanting a “complete” version of their tablet will have to pay a total of approximately $600 USD. For many reviewers and early critics, this is a lot to pay for something that: (a) has yet to prove itself; (b) has an inferior display resolution compared to some of its competitors; and (c) has little to offer in terms of apps and ecosystem. Before the RT model’s release, a poll from Gigaom showed that 58% of the users found the price a tad too high for a tablet of its caliber. A look into the competing products like Apple’s arguably more superior retina display iPad, along with affordable options like Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD (both of which operate on better ecosystems than the Surface), it becomes clear that Microsoft may have to reconsider its pricing strategy if it really wants to capture a major portion of the tablet market.

Whether the abovementioned issues will ultimately prove detrimental to the Surface’s market performance, of course, will not be entirely known until mass consumers, along with the other reviewers, have spoken. It should be noted that in the initial wave of the Surface RT’s early reviews, critical mentions have also been made towards the RT tablet’s heavy weight, mediocre camera quality, and crash tendencies. These do not necessarily spell trouble for the software company, but they do indicate the amount of refinement work that Microsoft may need to ponder in the future. For now, the software company faces a tough road ahead in terms of establishing a reliable ecosystem, creating more reliable apps, and, ultimately, convincing customers why they should pay more for their tablets.

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