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Microsoft Surface: Much improved, still unloved

In what some would describe as a very short time since the release of the Surface 2/Surface Pro 2 Microsoft has just launched the latest in its tablet line, the Surface Pro 3. Rumours about a Surface Mini did not materialise.

So, we have new tablet with better specifications in every way. Key changes; the enlarged 3:2 display and the switch to N-trig for the pen technology would both benefit usability. These were the two main reasons I returned my Surface Pro 2 in January of this year; the pen was so inaccurate it was worse than useless and the screen was too small for doing anything on the desktop. The other improvements: that it’s thinner, more powerful, better battery life etc. (you can read up the specs if you like) are simply necessary evolutions and not a paradigm shift.

The unfortunate thing is, Microsoft is still trying to flog a product that nobody wants. A glaring testament to this was that most of the journalists who attended Microsoft’s own product launch attended with a MacBook of some kind. It is not funny. Microsoft continues to ignore what people want and instead tries to tell us what product we must like to do our work on. It’s the same with Windows 8. This is not how it should work. It was pointed out at the launch that 96% of people who had an iPad also had a laptop. There is a good reason why this is so. People do work on their laptop because that is what it is optimised to do and play on their tablet because that is what it is optimised to do. The proclamation of meaningless statistics with no causal relationship appears to be in vogue. I am sure A lot of people who own a car probably also own a bicycle but so what? Yes two devices are required, but they do what they do “super” [sic] well.

“For sure there’s plenty of MacBook Airs in here for good reason.”
(Source).

Attempting to cram these two distinct use cases into a single device is still not currently viable and probably never will be. As tablet technology advances, so will laptop technology and they will always be on comparatively the same terms as they are today. This is where the Surface fails yet again as despite the evolutionary improvements, it is still too heavy to be a play tablet, and still too small, cramped and awkward to be a work laptop. Whatever changes in technology occur, a separate laptop and tablet will always be the better option. The drawback obviously is cost. I have never bought a tablet for myself because it is after all just a plaything, a toy, an addendum to having a laptop and I can’t personally justify the expense given my bank account balance but if I could, I would buy one. There are many instances when I wish I didn’t have to whip out my (albeit thin and light) Core i7 laptop just to listen to music or check out a website. Because of this, I believe that anyone who buys a Surface does so because it happens to work for them in their work life, will still like to buy a proper play tablet anyway. While having to have to buy a tablet to accompany your tablet might sound ridiculous, in their current form that’s exactly what people will have to do!

What is the answer for Microsoft then? I wouldn’t recommend dropping the Surface line as there are countless people out there for whom this is the perfect form factor and probably use it every day for their jobs. I wouldn’t like to see them put out. But I do think that Microsoft should market the Surface differently. Give up on marketing it as a do it all device as the reasons why this can never comfortably be as a laptop still exist. Instead market it for what it is, a very powerful tablet that runs full windows. With the improved N-trig pen, larger screen and better aspect ratio this device could be epic if we ignore that windows 8 is still a mess (but that’s another story). There are many who need such a device, but for the rest of us, a laptop is still the best for work and making out year after year that we the users must be delusional is only going to breed distrust in anything at all that Microsoft tells us. I would also introduce some new blood into the Surface team. Get rid of some of the staff who still think that trying to beat apple is the way to go. If I wanted an iPad-like device, I would buy an iPad not your lame attempt at replicating one. An iPad is a purpose designed device and is therefore very hard to better. People who refuse to drop the old school mentality of deciding what is best for their customers and then preaching about it ad nauseam need to go. The era of the product evangelist is dead.

Microsoft should stick to its core users i.e. those involved in productivity or risk becoming another blackberry. Too many mistakes by Microsoft and the money no matter how abundant now will eventually dry up. Distinguish the Surface by making it a work tablet. Ditch the silly floppy keyboards and market it for those who walk around all day and use the pen for input. Maybe even a new name is called for. What’s wrong with Slate PC from the 2000s? This will differentiate the product from what people now understand as a tablet. This way a core user group who love the Surface for what it is, a perfect solution for their particular use case, will naturally develop and grow. To continue to make and market this device as the device to replace everything else is folly.

It seems like the first person outside of Microsoft to receive a surface pro 3 agrees.

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This entry was posted on 21 May, 2014 by in Technology.
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