Microsoft’s Surface RT tablet has been having a rough ride lately. No official word from Microsoft, but reports say the software giant’s first tablet has sold about a million units during the recent quarter, below what Microsoft and others had hoped, especially considering the heavy ad blitz for the device.
There is little if anything we don’t know about the Surface RT, which was previewed way back in June, 2012, well before its official release at the gala Windows 8 announcement in October.
Microsoft’s given Surface critics plenty to dwell on (Surface dwellers?). Because it’s based on an ARM processor, the Surface RT runs a custom, less-than-complete version of Office but isn't backward compatible with other Windows software. The optional keyboard is nice, but Microsoft confuses with two different choices one of which, the Type Cover (priced $10 higher than the $119.99 Touch Cover) is clearly better for typing.
And then there’s the price. The rumor mill leading up to the Surface release had Microsoft subsidizing the price so it could take the market (specifically the iPad) head on with an aggressive $299 starting price.
Didn’t happen. Microsoft went conservative, matching the $499 starting price of the iPad and claiming, with some justification, that it was a better value given the 32GB in storage is double what a basic iPad offers along with other features.
Comparisons to iPad
So has Microsoft screwed up the release? Is Surface RT, and the entire category of RT tablets from other vendors for that matter, doomed? It’s too early to make that call.
I was reminded of this following a recent exchange I had with New York Times tech reviewer David Pogue. Pogue was upset I referred to him as an Apple fanboy in his glowing review of Microsoft’s forthcoming Surface Pro tablet.
You can read our exchange in the Comments section below the article.
In the course of preparing my response, I looked up some earlier articles I’d done before joining TabTimes that referenced Pogue. Back in 2010, I called him an “Apple fan”.
But what really caught my eye in the January 28, 2010 article about reaction to a preview of the iPad, is how so many initially slammed the device, such as Gizmodo’s "8 Things That Suck About the iPad," and a columnist at betanews who said he couldn't keep his complaints to his preferred list of 10 in his "12 reasons why I won't buy an Apple iPad."
Of course Apple proved the critics wrong. The first iPad sold reasonably well and kicked into high gear with the much improved iPad II and has been on a roll ever since with newer models.
Will Surface be a similar high growth story?
No. The iPad was not the first tablet computer, but it had a huge first mover advantage in creating the market for a consumer, mass market tablet and has established a dominant position. There are now many innovative competitors that I think have an excellent chance to chip away at the iPad, but not seriously threaten its leading position anytime soon.
Meanwhile, Surface RT isn’t setting the world on fire, but Microsoft has a reputation for sticking with products till it gets it “right”.
To me, one of the biggest surprises of the iPad’s release was the price. The industry was convinced Apple would bring it out at about $999, so the announcement that it was going to be only $499 created a great vibe right away.
The price isn’t right
Unfortunately for Microsoft, the rumor mill leading up to the Surface’s release got it wrong ($299) in a way that didn’t help the rollout.
Along with improvements, like the inevitable expansion of apps available in the Windows Store, I think Microsoft should give up on the idea of merely matching the iPad’s price if it's serious about giving Surface RT a chance to succeed over the long haul.
In any case, it is still early days. Reviewing my article detailing the early criticisms of the iPad, it was the NYT’s Pogue who correctly pointed out that it was too soon to rush to judgement. Microsoft should take his words to heart.
"... the [iPad] bashers should be careful, too. As we enter Phase 2, remember how silly you all looked when you all predicted the iPhone's demise in that period before it went on sale.
"Like the iPhone, the iPad is really a vessel, a tool, a 1.5-pound sack of potential. It may become many things. It may change an industry or two, or it may not. It may introduce a new category -- something between phone and laptop -- or it may not. And anyone who claims to know what will happen will wind up looking like a fool."
Sure the Surface could sink, but early criticisms alone shouldn’t be enough to make the SS Microsoft abandon ship quite yet. After all, just look at the iPad.