Surface - Microsoft's new tablet
Whether it will be or not, it’s too early to tell. Until the devices get here, and until the apps start arriving en masse, this event is merely the start of an absorbing mini-series, pitting Microsoft and its devices against the myriad other manufacturers battling for tablet market share.
What is promising are the signs around the announcement and the two Surface-branded devices – for both the Windows RT and Windows 8 Pro operating systems. Microsoft has obviously been watching the marketplace closely, and nervously, as its competitors – and Apple in particular –embrace the tablet form factor and deliver an end to end ecosystem to which, until now, Microsoft hasn’t had a comprehensive response. With some adept industrial design, coupled with some hardware innovation, Microsoft has demonstrated it’s got the potential to become a player, whilst reducing its dependencies on other parties.
For those of us in the industry, Microsoft has been making hardware for many years, producing numerous mouse and keyboard devices, and the Xbox and Kinect devices. Until now, it’s never made its own computing hardware (Xbox aside), relying on its hardware partners to design and produce the kit that runs Windows. With the Surface this has now changed, and Microsoft runs the risk of alienating the same partners it’s relied upon for many years – how will HP, Dell and the many others respond? Microsoft would not have gotten itself into this situation blindly, and would have assessed the cost of doing its own thing and frustrating its partners, when compared to the risk of not having a compelling tablet story. Looked at in a positive light, one hopes increased competition lifts the bar that bit higher for everyone else, and we consumers end up benefitting.
By offering compelling hardware, Microsoft also helps to do its bit to ensure that Windows 8 – which is always a massive bet for the company – is seen and used in the best possible light, subsequently helping to minimise any risk of Windows 8 not being embraced by the marketplace due to “below par” hardware devices. Financially, Microsoft relies heavily on its Windows franchise and this move helps to protect it, despite the considerable financial commitment involved. More brutally, perhaps this is an investment in protecting its future relevance – devices such as the iPad have captured significant mindshare, and this move ensures Microsoft is now on the same playing field, playing the same game.
Microsoft’s commitment to the tablet space further highlights the extent to which these devices are being embraced by both consumers and business people. Windows is evolving, and historically with its operating system releases Microsoft has looked forward while always looking in the rear view mirror – it’s always been conscious it needs to support earlier versions of its applications; its legacy, if you will. With Windows 8, Microsoft could be seen to be diverging from this strategy. Sure, Windows 8 Pro will provide the past application and user interface compatibility many organisations will require, but the Metro user interface – coupled with the tablet form factor – are helping Microsoft to break away from its 30-year past and look to the all-important future.
Devices such as the Surface will create a groundswell for such hardware across organisations of all sizes and types, and the implications – and repercussions – of this need to be considered by any organisation with investments in IT. Organisations need to assess, quickly, how their IT capabilities will function in this rapidly changing environment, and service providers such as Intergen need to guide our customers and help them understand and exploit the opportunities that now exist. Whilst the arrival of the Surface hardware was a surprise for everyone, many partners – including us here at Intergen – have been working with Windows 8 for many months and are well placed to advise organisations on the best way to embrace the new operating system.
With uncertainty comes opportunity for all of us, and the Surface will add further excitement around the launch of Windows 8 later this year. Like all good dramas, this one will continue to evolve over the coming weeks and months.