Microsoft has been actively attempting to gain traction for the Surface, their venture into tablet hardware. Microsoft had in the past followed a strategy of software development only, partnering with third parties to provide the hardware powered by their operating system and applications. Thanks to the woefully wrongheaded guidance of the now-departed Mr Ballmer Microsoft is very behind in the mobile market: their Windows phone platform has existed longest and still garners less than 5% of the world market, and the Surface tablets have failed so dismally Microsoft wrote off almost a BILLION dollars in losses due to lack of customer interest.
With new leadership comes new hope, and Microsoft has re-committed to their Surface lineup, albeit in a slightly different direction. Once pitted as an iPad killer, the new advertising strategy is to position it as an in-between multitasker that can take the place of both a laptop and a tablet. To go along with this new vision Microsoft has opened the wallet to buy strategic product placement for their flagship mobile device.
First was passive positioning in various TV shows; the placement on Arrow was somewhat less than subtle. Other appearances on shows like The Wire and 24 haven’t made Microsoft’s offerings the must-have devices competitors have crafted. Then came their buy-in to be the official tablet of the NFL. Numerous teams had already embraced iPads as practice and sideline tools, replacing cumbersome old school tech like photo journals and paper playbooks. The ploy hasn’t fared quite so well, as TV pundits referred to the Surface multiple times as an iPad (and never actually called them by their actual name or mentioned Microsoft).
Now comes word of the latest PR slap in the face for the Surface: CNN personalities were caught on camera using their Kickstand-equipped Surfaces as stands for their iPads. My borderline irrational hatred of the Windows 8 tiled interface has kept me from even toying with a Surface, so I can’t make any observations on the functionality of the device. I see the concept behind them- a touch screen device that straddles the unexplored land between currently established devices. With the rapid dwindling of the PC market, why not attempt to mimic Apple’s trend of creating new markets with an innovative device?
Sadly, the Rodney Dangerfield of computing has no one to blame but themselves. They’ve clumsily employed some of the worst aspects of their competitors; the secrecy of Windows 8 led to a revolt in their user base when the jarringly different interface was sprung fully formed on them. Repeat this for some of the features of the X Box One (always on, always connected Kinect?). The first Surface was, according to reviewers, a valiant but critically flawed attempt that Microsoft banked too much on considering that their third party partners were going to be struggling to gain traction with their late-to-the-game products.
The Surface may end up carving out a niche market, but it’s hard to see it ever being a marquee device considering the head start the iPad and the various Android tablets have. A good bit of its design was focused on mirroring the waning PC platform without providing any real differentiation from current tablet tech (is a kickstand really a worthy selling point?) for it to be a clear advantage for much of anyone other than Microsoft diehards.