Analysts say Surface needs to show superior user experience
Microsoft needs to give superior end user experience, right pricing, for Surface to win
Analyst reaction to Microsoft's newly announced tablet device has been mixed, with most commentators predicting that Surface could sell well into businesses, but with reservations about its potential in the consumer market and its impact on the wider industry.
In general, the hardware aspect of the Surface is regarded as a success, but analysts feel that Microsoft needs to prove the overall user experience and to sell that.
Francisco Jeronimo of IDC commented: "Hardware-wise Microsoft has done a very good job of launching a device that is exciting and different, but it needs to deliver what it has been promising with the new Windows 8 strategy. Consumers will not buy, and specially not pay a premium for, the Surface until they understand the additional value they can get compared with the iPad and how the device integrates with their PCs, gaming consoles, Windows Phones, etc. The entire ecosystem - and not unlinked pieces of it - is what will make Microsoft's proposition attractive."
Jan Dawson, chief telecoms analyst at Ovum was more sceptical, saying that while the large install base of Windows might mean the device is attractive to business, Microsoft will need to deliver a stronger software experience and better integration to gain traction with consumers.
"There are no surprises in the software - the Surface tablet uses the same two desktop and RT versions of Windows 8 we've been hearing about. As such, nothing has changed there and it still looks like a huge break with the past on the surface but with a jarring switch back to the old desktop world hidden beneath," Dawson said.
"In theory, it delivers all the benefits of both the tablet-optimized environment and the classic desktop approach and apps, but in reality the versions available to try at the moment are a horrible mishmash of the two worlds that is likely to be confusing for the consumer."
David McQueen, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, also expected to see traction for Surface among business users, if Microsoft can change the perception of tablet devices as being more than just devices for consuming content.
"Tablets have been finding their way into the enterprise, despite being mainly classed as consumption rather than productivity devices, and it will be interesting to see if a Microsoft tablet changes that perception. If it has the requisite Windows office applications available from launch - across both device types and suitable peripherals to make input easier - at a price point that is competitive, then I do see it displacing notebooks and netbooks in the office," McQueen said.
"However, there may be a problem with fragmentation owing to ARM-based and Intel-based versions of the same Win8 tablets, and possible differences once other vendors launch products, which may stymie the market in a way that has caused Android to suffer to some extent. However, this may be addressed in future Windows releases that pull together full support for the enterprise and are also optimized for touch and gesture control."
McQueen added that Surface has some features that differentiate it from other tablet devices, such as the built-in kickstand, Touch Cover peripheral for keyboard and trackpad, magnesium casing and pen accessory, but that price point, screen size, memory and applications would be essential differentiators for consumer markets. McQueen also pointed out that the Surface would likely be the first Win8 device to market, and would put Microsoft into competition with its OEM partners. Surface could play a role as a showcase for the benefits of Windows 8 and Tablet, in a similar fashion to Google's own-brand Nexus phones, but that Microsoft would have to have a market-ready proposition.
"By taking this approach, Microsoft needs to make sure it hits the market running as it is essential the tablet is properly marketed and shows its full potential if it has any hope of displacing Apple's iPad in certain segments," he said.
If Microsoft is going to take a more closed approach to its route to market, Jeronimo said, then the company may need to tap more experience in the supply chain, possibly through an acquisition of a hardware player.
Dawson predicted the move could mean trouble for Microsoft: "On the hardware front, what does it say about the tablets Microsoft is seeing from its OEM partners as it gets ready to launch Windows 8, that they felt they needed to launch their own tablet? Either they are not happy with the devices out there, or they are not satisfied with only taking a licence fee from selling Windows-based tablets. Either way, it is a huge vote of no confidence in its OEM partners, who should rightly feel slighted. It is rarely a good idea for an OS owner to start competing with its OEM partners, and this does not feel like an exception."