Attending the NZ launch of the Microsoft Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 yesterday was quite weird. You might know that for the last couple of years I had been heavily invested in the Microsoft platform. I literally relied on Microsoft and Windows 8 to feed my kids. Not anymore.
So I looked on dispassionately as the Microsoft people enthusiastically extolled the virtues of these second-gen tablets. Lighter! Faster! More ports! More battery! All wonderful stuff. The Surface 2 in particular is massively better than the Surface RT it replaces (and that Microsoft are strangely still selling – I’m guessing they have a shitload of inventory to run out). Where the RT was embarrassingly slow, the Surface 2 is buttery smooth. I can’t tell you how enraged we were as developers when our gorgeous apps ran like shit on ARM Win8 tablets. I’m glad Microsoft have fixed this. The latest generation of ARM Win8 tablets are all but perfect.
The Intel-based Surface Pro 2 is a beast. You can get one for $1299, but fully kitted out it will cost you closer to $2500. That high-end model is stupendous: 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, it runs faster than most laptops and is still incredibly small and light. I don’t exaggerate when I say that the Surface Pro 2 is the best bit of Windows hardware anywhere. It’ll run Photoshop properly, and give you a full digitiser to use while doing it.
The new covers are great too. There’s one with an optional battery, and the keyboard covers have been greatly improved with backlighting and weight reductions.
But (there’s always a but) while hardware is certainly a problem Microsoft needed to solve, it is not the problem Microsoft currently has.
Questions to the presenters about the hardware were easily answered (“yeah this shit is awesome! It has 72 graphics cores!”), deeper questions about the platform resulted in the waffle that is the signature of a corporate employee saying “yeah we have a problem there but I’m going to pretend we don’t”.
When asked about the target markets and uptake of the previous model Surfaces, the response was “yeah we’re not sure what has been holding back uptake of the Surface Pro”. To be fair, Microsoft hasn’t had a corporate reseller channel for Surface, instead directing companies to buy from Noel Leeming or JB Hifi in NZ. This has been sorted out now, so I wonder if that will reverse the trend. But in any case I was really surprised that they admitted Surface Pro uptake has been disappointing. The $900m write-down was on the Surface RT after all, not the Pro.
When I asked about corporate apps and uptake, I got the same answers I myself was shilling a year ago. Conversations about exactly the same couple of companies testing the water, and the same prototype apps that have gone nowhere in 12 months. No big-bang stories of corporates buying Surfaces (or any other Win8 tablet) by the thousand. That’s pretty sad, especially when you consider that the New Zealand Police rolled out iPads and iPhones to all front-line staff in that same 12 months.
Can Microsoft reverse this trend? I reckon these new Surface revisions are the right tools to do that job, but I’m seriously wondering if Microsoft can ever win back that portable device mindshare it has lost to Apple and Android. Still, 12 months is a lifetime in tech, and I hope Microsoft can surprise us over the next year.