The device itself may not even be as relevant as how it positions the whole ecosystem that Microsoft is building against Apple’s. Most experts still do not seem to understand the fundamental change that is happening in home computing and entertainment. Apple did not just invent the iPad and all the other devices randomly in the past few years. They are deliberately building a system that seamlessly serves the needs of their customers for their home computing and entertainment needs. This is the change that Microsoft has realized and trying to counter. Many companies have tried to build the iPad killer tablet in the last couple of years. However, no one else can build the ecosystem that matches Apple’s but Microsoft. Although some has bits and pieces like Amazon and Google but plans do not seem to take shape to expand on the existing elements. At the end of the day Apple’s ecosystem may not even be the winner. However, for the time being they are very successful with it. That is why Microsoft is emulating the Apple model.
The biggest asset that Microsoft has is Windows, the most popular operating system in the world. They also have a game console (Xbox) that is already connected to many television sets. Microsoft built a cloud service SkyDrive as well. Zune is their competing portable music and video player and the name of the service connecting the user and the devices to the Zune Marketplace where they can purchase content. The tablet is the next logical piece of the puzzle that Microsoft needed.
Many are speculating that it does not make sense for Microsoft to come out with their own tablet. They are in the business of licensing software. Why would they compete with the hardware manufacturers using Windows? The answer may be that they are not planning on competing. Much like Google coming out with Nexus One and then stepping back, Microsoft may just want to showcase Windows 8 on an actual tablet and entice manufacturers to use it in their products. At the end of 2010, Nexus failed. In a few months, Android had surpassed Apple in the U.S. Three months later, Android had topped Blackberry to become the country’s leading smartphone OS. This may just be the business plan Microsoft has in mind and then let Nokia and the others come out with their Windows 8 tablet at the end of the year and take it away.
There are two facts that seem to support all that. The first one is a detail in the specifications that would somewhat support this theory. The current Surface has WiFi only. The lack of LTE or any other 4G capability shows that they are not necessarily serious about succeeding on the marketplace. The other one is the price. They were vague about it and seemed to have indicated that the price would be whatever the market bears. At this point Microsoft would have to be very aggressive with pricing to get a foothold in the tablet market. If they are not forceful that shows that the point is not to sell hardware. In addition, a third piece of information emerged recently. Microsoft specifically said that they do not have any plans to come out with their own phones.
Another reason Microsoft needed this hardware is software development. It is similar to the chicken and egg scenario. It is difficult to develop one without the other. Especially if Microsoft wants other companies to use Windows 8, they need to have relatively well behaving software for the development. Microsoft can use Surface to work out the kinks internally before handing it over to Nokia, Samsung, etc.
So Microsoft Surface is probably not an iPad killer and most likely it is not intended to have that role from the start. Although a tablet is a very important piece in the emerging Microsoft ecosystem, but it is more a development vehicle and something that needs to demonstrate and create a buzz about the coming force that is Windows 8. At the same time if sales of the new tablet take off, Microsoft would be foolish not to take advantage of the situation. Even if the Microsoft Surface is not an iPad killer, Windows 8 tablets in general have a chance to achieve that as part of the Microsoft ecosystem.
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