It’s rare that a large vendor can keep a secret from the media but with no real warning and few rumors, Microsoft invited the media to an event and within less than 48 hours of speculation they announced the Surface Tablet last Monday.
I myself cannot wait to get my hands on one. Although I like my iPad I don’t enjoy having to use multiple operating systems and most of the novelty of apps has worn off for me. I want to use my tablet for work and Apple doesn’t really deliver that as neatly for me as Microsoft does – yet.
If Microsoft pull this off, many of us could be seeing Windows 8 at home, on our desk and in our pockets in the near future.
But after the geeky excitement of a shiny new tablet with a slick keyboard, innovative design and speedy processor wore off I started to wonder – how will Microsoft actually deliver this to a global market? And if Microsoft plans on targeting the iPad, how will they meet or exceed the many standards from customer service to accessibility and affordability set by Apple and other seasoned hardware vendors like Dell.
Only in America
Firstly, note that Microsoft are only planning on selling the Surface through their own Microsoft Stores in the US. Didn’t know Microsoft had stores in the US? Neither do most Americans. There are only about 20 in the states and none of them have received the same sort of chaotic, line up all night like a lemming attention that an Apple opening receives. We cant expect the Surface will dominate in sales just yet, certainly not with such a limited retail sales model.
Of course the Surface will be available online but despite the convenience of online shopping, most of us still prefer to touch and try things before we buy and I suspect online purchases will be relatively low, especially outside the US.
Return to Sender?
Other than a small, very specialised cache of Microsoft designed keyboards, mice and webcams, Microsoft is not a hardware manufacturer and that’s a big draw back for the Surface, especially outside the US. Not only will they lack distribution networks but getting a Surface repaired could mean several days or weeks without your tablet.
A couple of weeks ago my parked car was hit by a bus. Fortunately I wasn’t in the car but my iPad was in the driver door and it was smashed to bits by the impact – also another reason I’m glad I wasn’t in the car! The next morning I walked into an Apple Store and for a small fee they replaced it with a brand new iPad. And, with the exception of driving my wife’s car for a few days while mine was repaired, the impact to me was minimal.
Apple have Stores in most major cities and regional areas and they continue to open new ones. They also have an extensive Authorised Repairer network. Not only that – they’ve managed to turn the repair and return process into a sales experience with friendly ‘genius bar’ servants and cool gadgets to play with while you wait.
It’s not just Apple either. Other hardware vendors such as HP, IBM and Dell have same business day and next business day warranties all over the world, and through partnerships with IT support providers they can generally get a spare part or a replacement to you within a reasonable time frame.
Microsoft _could_ pull this off by utilising their partner network, but the partner network is very segmented, not exactly fiercely loyal to Microsoft and there is no guarantee partners will embrace the Surface, many of whom are already avid iPad and Android fans.
So what is Microsoft’s game plan?
Some theorists say MS has no intention of mass marketing and distributing hardware, that this is a PR trick to show off Windows 8, or a warning to hardware vendors demonstrating that hardware and software needs to harmonise, much like Apple’s iOS harmonises so well with Apple’s hardware.
Hardware vendors are now watching Microsoft closely to see if they are suddenly becoming a competitor instead of a partner. If so, will this impact Microsoft’s ability to sell software? Would we see more hardware vendors start bundling their products with Google’s Android or Linux instead?
This I’m not so sure. Already Google has attempted to build hardware which may fail for the very same reasons as noted above for Microsoft – a lack of distribution. This didn’t stop Samsung or Asus loading Google’s Android Operating System on their latest tablets and it’s unlikely to stop major vendors from selling their hardware with Windows pre-loaded.
This could just be a test from Microsoft. Let’s not forget that the first iPhone received no attention whatsoever here in Australia and only gained popularity here and everywhere else once the iPhone 3G was released. The US is a pretty big playing field and Microsoft is smart enough to know that what works there could work here too, but not just yet.
That’s not to say Aussies won’t get their hands on one when the Surface releases later this year, but it will be limited to enthusiasts willing to risk buying one online without trying it, or tech savvy travellers who don’t mind spending a few extra bucks overseas.
So – what do you think? Will Microsoft’s tablet be a Surface to Mac Missile or a dud? Would you, like me, buy one online even without local vendor support? Is this Microsoft’s big entrance into the hardware space or are they just giving their hardware partners a wake up call?