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Microsoft announced a line of tablets this week, ushering in Surface as its new old way of doing things.

The IT industry reaction has been mixed, and Microsoft is likely to be both shaken and stirred by the responses. No one, it seems, can work out who the tablets are aimed at, how Microsoft will sell them, or why anyone would buy one.

Oh Noes
IDC says that Microsoft is pitching the tablet at professional users, something that hasn’t worked out well for other firms and similar devices – witness the HP Slate and RIM Playbook – and will control the hardware itself. This could either go very well or very badly indeed.

The physical keyboard and the focus on the MS Office environment show that Microsoft is targeting the business segment, where it can differentiate and take share from Apple. The Surface will probably come with the best MS Office experience, the killer application of the device. The keyboard is also a very important accessory for professional usage,” said Francisco Jeronimo, research manager for European Mobile Devices at IDC.

Microsoft has also showed how serious it is about controlling the hardware. This tablet could had been announced with any of its partners (or several). But by designing and launching its own branded tablet, Microsoft is clearly refocusing its approach to a more closed strategy. And if that is the case the company will need to take a different route and to acquire a manufacturer that knows and controls the entire supply chain.

No way
Ovum is at best unimpressed, and there the analyst found that where the tablets impress on one hand, they disappoint on the other.

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,” says Jan Dawson, chief telecoms analyst at Ovum. “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.

From what we gather Dawson will not be asking for a Surface tablet for Christmas, and probably won’t buy one for anyone else either.

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,” she added.

Hmm. Maybe
Carolina Milanesi, Gartner’s research VP for Consumer Technologies and Markets said that the tablets could have the business appeal that they might so desperately need.

“At least from the coverage we have seen it looks like the design is interesting and the features compelling,” she told the INQUIRER. “That plus the appeal of the windows OS will certainly attract business users. In order to compete with apple though MS will need to build up a strong app offering on metro for both consumers and enterprises.”

Oh Dear
Forrester’s Sarah Rotman said that Microsoft will struggle here, but struggle because of the way it sells the devices.

To start at least, the Surfaces will only be available at Microsoft Stores and online, which certainly limits adoption potential,” she said. “Microsoft will be its own worst enemy in this market.

Rotman says that Microsoft will do what its competition has never done, confuse its potential customers.

“The worst thing that could happen to Microsoft’s Windows RT tablets is Windows 8 on x86. Selling x86-based tablets in the same retail channels as Windows RT tablets will confuse consumers and sow discontent if consumers buy x86 and think they’re getting something like the Ipad,” she added.

Microsoft and its partners need to articulate a compelling strategy for how they will manage consumer expectations in the channel. Consumers aren’t used to thinking about chipsets. Choice is a key tenet of Windows, but too much choice is overwhelming for consumers. Apple gets this, and limits Ipad options to connectivity, storage, and black…or white.

Still, overall she welcomed the devices, saying that Microsoft has enough assets and partners to make them compelling.

Microsoft has so many assets to bring to its own hardware: Smartglass, a ‘Kinect camera,’ Skype, Barnes & Noble Nook content, Microsoft Office (although that won’t be exclusive to Windows), just to name a few,” she said.

Say what?
Robert Scoble, a rather infamous ex-Microsoft employee, must have forgotten his mincer when he came to writing about the releases, and leaves us in no doubt about where he sees Surface going.

He said that Microsoft is simply copying Apple, and is making a hash of it. “Will that be a successful business strategy for Microsoft? I’m not very confident it will be,” he opined.

Everyone knows that the Ipad has really great apps out for it and this new Surface will be welcomed to the market just the same way Windows Phone has been welcomed to the market: with 3 per cent marketshare or so.”

Ah well
At least David McQueen, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms reckons that Microsoft could do okay here, but again, only if it manages to convince consumers or businesses that they need a Surface tablet.

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.

In terms of market potential, if Microsoft can convince consumers, enterprise and OEM partners alike of its value proposition then it should do well.

via The Inquirer




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