Microsoft’s two-pronged attack on the tablet market offers two distinct models, the consumer-oriented Windows RT and Surface Pro aimed at business and professionals.
For IT buyers hoping for a Windows tablet tailored to the performance and security needs of the enterprise, Microsoft’s announcement had good news and bad. The good news is that the Surface Pro is just that, a Windows tablet designed for business and professionals.
The bad? It’s going to be a bit of a hurry-up-and-wait scenario. Microsoft said the Surface RT tablet will be out when Windows 8 officially launches (expected to be this October), but Surface Pro isn’t due out for three months later which means it won’t be for sale until early next year.
“From what I can see, the Surface Pro is a business-centric machine, so it’s not a big deal if Microsoft misses the Christmas sales cycle,” says Pund-IT analyst Charles King. “If Microsoft is shooting for a January release and it can go to customers a month or two earlier than that with samples, that should be good enough to get the ball rolling.”
Even though there’s been a lot of chatter that Microsoft pulled a fast one on its hardware partners by launching Surface to compete with them, King sees a bigger picture.
“What you saw yesterday was a big splash by Microsoft that was a foreshadowing of what’s to come; Windows 8 devices from a lot of vendors, not just Microsoft,” said King.
Post-PC era? Hold on ...
"The bigger message I think Microsoft was trying to convey is that at a time when you heard a lot of people on Apple’s side say that we’ve entered the post-PC era, Microsoft is saying ‘wait a second’ with Surface. We’ve entered an age where a simple consumer-centric tablet is of great value to people who want to be entertained and consume media, and we can do that in a Windows 8 device.
“But Microsoft is also acknowledging that there are a host of business and professional customers that want a full blown PC experience in a light mobile form factor,” King added. “And with the Surface Pro Microsoft’s saying we can give you that experience as well.”
In a note to clients, the research firm Ovum said the Surface tablets look compelling, “but it will be apps and the overall user experience that will ultimately determine the success of the device."
In addition to Office 15 for Surface, Ovum expects there to be out-of-the-box support for Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync as well.
“The lack of pricing information makes it impossible to judge, for certain, what the market impact will be, but it’s expected be positive given Windows' huge installed base and Microsoft's second-to-none partner ecosystem,” says Ovum.
Surface versus Ultrabook
The only specific pricing Microsoft did provide is to say that Surface RT would be priced comparably to other ARM-based Windows RT tablets while the Surface Pro would be priced about the same as Ultrabooks.
So if you’re an IT buyer, price won’t necessarily be a factor if the decision is Ultrabook versus Surface Pro.
King thinks that shouldn’t be a hard call to make. “I don’t think there’s a huge overlap. It comes down to portability and screen real estate,” he says. “If you’re comfortable with what’s essentially a netbook-size screen than the Surface is going to be attractive. “But if you need something bigger, you’re going to go Ultrabook or something else.”