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Can we officially declare the Microsoft Surface dead, then?


So is that it, then?

It’s been a good few months now.

Nobody’s bought one.

Well, no one I know has.

And that, dear reader, is the reality check.

This viewpoint is hardly based on extensive research but I think everyone bar Microsoft’s various PR agencies can now nod their heads in unison to the statement that the Surface 2.0 is dead. Or dying. Or a seriously irrelevant also-ran.

I use the descriptor, “2.0”, to differentiate between the rather fancy touchscreen table that preceded the debacle that is — was — the Microsoft Surface tablet.

I was in Las Vegas twice last month. Such is life. This is what happens when you run innovation for a multinational exhibition firm (not any more, though). Both times I had to visit the Las Vegas Mall opposite the gorgeous, glorious Wynn Hotel. Inside this Mall there’s a  semi-permanent open store in the main thoroughfare dedicated to The Surface.

What a depressing sight it was. Twice.

It was absolutely shocking.

I stood nearby admiring the technology — near enough so I could hear the puzzled comments from the passing tourists, most of them Americans. I really did feel for the sales executives who, it seemed, had to put up with a constant barrage of questions “about these iPads.”

At one point I witnessed a tourist ask if the store had any iPads in stock. With practiced resignation, the sales chap standing behind the desk pointed left, announcing that, “the Apple Store is just past the escalators.”

Now and again I hear about the possibility of organisations considering using the Surface as a platform that they can do business on. I haven’t seen many concrete examples yet though.

I actually recommended one to my father-in-law who was after a tablet that would run Word.

I haven’t used one for any length of time. I’ve not had the opportunity. I’ve not made the opportunity. I think that is a telling sign.

I remember hovering over the order button a little while ago when the Surface launched in the UK. I was about to spunk £500 of my own cash on one. But I hesitated. I’m used to having to do this. I’m used to having to put my money where my mouth is — and actually buy the equipment so I can give a qualified viewpoint. Often it’s possible to borrow one from a PR but there’s nothing like actually owning something to give it a proper run through.

I was quite surprised at how I reacted though. I was really surprised by my hesitation. I think I was worried that it was just too much of a waste of money.

I’d no problem buying various tablets from all manufacturers, but when it came to the Surface, I had a strange sensation: Waste. I felt I could do more with the five hundred pounds.

That’s not a good situation for Microsoft — when a chap like me, normally profligate when it comes to buying technology, starts worrying about waste.

I don’t think I’ve seen one in the wild, yet.

I’ve heard from people with vaguely positive experiences to report. They’d only lived with one for a week — a review unit — but went back to their iPad immediately later.

It’s still £719 for the 64GB version of the Surface Pro. That’s a lot of smackers. That’s a serious decision for anyone when it comes to gadget territory. The 128GB is £799.

The RT is still £479 nowadays (£399 plus the touch cover thing). But who want as tablet with a ‘this is shit’ sticker on it? I never connected with the RT concept. I understood it. But I was never a fan. I’ll happily buy a 16GB iPad because it’s cheaper than a 64GB one. But I don’t feel any different beyond the difference in space. It’s a utility decision, right? If the guy next to me opts for the 64GB WiFI+4G version, nay bother.

It’s like cars. Manufacturers rarely make a version that’s clearly shitter than their main marque. At least, they don’t make the different crystal-flipping-clear. A BMW 100 series is … smaller than a BMW 300. But it’s a different purchase type. They’re not shitter. They’re different. Likewise with the individual product variations. One might be slightly faster, or have a better sports pack. They’re still BMWs.

So I wonder, is it time to call the end for the Surface? Temporarily at least.

What next for Microsoft? Another version? Another generation? A different pricing strategy?

If Microsoft had taken a haircut like Google did with the Nexus tablets (or Amazon with their Kindle Fires), I’d have probably taken a chance.

Wouldn’t you?

[For the sake of balance — yes, we are occasionally at home to that here at Mobile Industry Review — I should point out that apparently, some dude’s mate’s sister’s brother’s friend (IDC) reckons Microsoft shipped 900,000 Surface units in the first quarter of 2013. Not bad, I suppose.]



  1. The Surface is perfect for someone that wants a modern-laptop replacement. The problem lies in Microsoft’s ability to portray this message to their potential customers. They shouldn’t be competing with the iPad, it should be shown as a new era of laptop computing…offering people both touch-screen lounge browsing AND the ability to perform whilst working at the office and on the go.

    The price point is actually relatively cheap for what you are getting specification wise, I just feel that if they had positioned it better within the market it would be flying off the shelves!

  2. I am running a surface pro in anger in work and so far have no complaints. I have actually packed away my previously “battered” ipad to force me to use only my Surface Pro. After a week or so of having to become familiar with the Windows 8 OS, I can honestly say that I am really happy with the experience.

    I have just gone ahead and ordered ten new pro’s for various departments across the company, so it will be interesting so hear the feed back from some of our Power Users who are currently using iPads on a daily basis.

    The end of the Surface Pro…..not yet in my opinion.

  3. Oh now that is absolutely the feedback I’ve been looking for Ian. What are you really enjoying about the experience?

  4. The fact that I am actually on the corporate domain allows me to easily access centralized applications and file sharing servers. I am connected directly to MSX rather than via OWA which makes things seamless. I tend to use the traditional desktop within win 8 rather than the tiles for work reasons, but the tiles are really useful for more personal useage (music, movies etc).
    The device itself handles Windows 8 with no performance issues which give an overall slick feel when navigating the OS. Battery life is fine (could always do with more) but no worse than my iPad 3. The ability to run all of my corporate apps on the device without having to navigate an apps store to find an alternative has been of huge benefit along with the ability to run the full Office 13 / Lync suite locally on the machine rather than having to connect to O365.
    Being a big apple user in the past (phone, ipad, pro etc), I was rather dubious about migrating across to the Surface Pro, but after a couple of months of heavy use I am more than happy that I made the decision to give MS a shot.

  5. This is exactly the sort of market I saw the Surface performing well in. I think Microsoft have jumped on the ‘casual tablet’ bandwagon instead of marketing the actual strengths of the device. I will be looking to replace my laptop with a Surface Pro in the near future.

  6. When time permits Ian, talk to us about shortcomings — have you found any direct gotchas that anyone carefully considering the Surface should be aware of?

  7. Ewan, I think the most telling point is you didn’t buy one. You but one of just about every new device that hits the street – even things we both believe aren’t relevant. In my 7 some years of following you, this may be the first time I can remember you not buying a new device. That in itself tells me a great deal.

  8. Ewan,
    Interesting debate. Sure enough I haven’t actually seen anyone with a Surface, but plenty of people ask me what mine is like. In fact I am using one this minute to write this response. I generally respond by saying what do you want it for? If they say work, then say get one. If they say anything else I say get an iPad / Android tablet.
    I am using the basic RT model with a nice Cyan response-less keyboard.
    I use it EVERY time I travel. It has replaced my laptop completely and here’s why :-
    1) It’s light, thin and compact
    2) It’s sync’ed to Skydrive and therefore all the documents I need are to hand
    3) The battery life is great. I last the whole day without worrying about charging, and I use it to top up my 2 smartphones when they start running low on juice, via the USB cable.
    4) It has office!
    5) It’s totally sync’ed with my Office365
    6) I have got used to typing on this responseless keyboard and still make mistakes but it’s probably more productive than my touch screen efforts.
    7) Screen size is good and performance (bar the odd prolongued freeze) is pretty good.
    8) One Note. I don’t carry a pen or paper with me any more.
    9) I am a Lumia 920 Windows 8 user, and have Xbox 360 at home
    Here’s the shortcomings
    1) A tablet it ain’t (although the touchscreen is pretty reliable) and I wouldn’t use it, and have never used it, as a tablet.
    2) Lack of apps (but then again because I am using it for the aboveforementioned reasons I don’t really need that many apps to be honest)
    3) Internet Explorer lacks support and is buggy
    4) The sheer WTF about tile homescreen and traditional desktop. There simply is no rhyme or reason to it and it’s confusing.
    I use my Nexus 7 for reading Kobo and Zinio (Cycling and Business Books and bike magazines respectively). Oh and NFC testing / programming etc.
    So is the Suface good value and worth getting?
    Depends what you want. If you want a super-light laptop that lasts all day and syncs seamlessly with all your stuff then yes.
    If you want to play Angry birds, read books and magazines and do nothing “productive” then no.
    Hope that helps.
    Best wishes,

  9. Just outside my office (in Canary Wharf) there’s a big display run by Microsoft. They are trying to convince us wharfites to swap our androids for Surface tablets.

    I owned one briefly – it was tough to use and mostly useless. I currently have a Dell Windows 8 Pro tablet. It’s just as useless. I like to think of it as an underpowered touch-screen PC that can’t do any development work.

    One of these days I will think of something useful to do with all these devices – however right now they just gather dust. I cannot even convince my kids to use ’em – the 3DS is way more compelling.

    As for replacing a laptop: I still have a laptop – A delightful Dell XPS Developer Edition. I use it all the time. The Surface only replaces the most trivial functions of the laptop.

  10. Surely Microsoft would have risked being seen as desperately clinging to their core market rather than truly competing if they’d marketed the Surface to its real strengths? Might have been good for the sales of Surface but bad for the share price and developer perception. If you work for a big corporate that still has IT infrastructure built around MS products then a tablet/laptop hybrid that’s fully compatible with that setup makes sense. If you work for a smaller or newer company they’ve most likely gone with Google Apps or similar already and the Surface brings no advantages and a poorer catalog of tablet software at a higher price.

    I’m sure Microsoft set out to create something that could go head-to-head with the iPad for mass market consumers and they failed. Win 8 was clearly the most consumer focussed OS they ever created. The fact that they left all the backwards compatibility and integration with their existing products in there both held back the product (basically no-one wants the RT version without the compatibility) and left it at least a reasonable sized market for people with “legacy” (read as pre-tablet era) software compatibility requirements.

    If you buy the argument that most people will not need laptops anymore (or at least only replace they ones they have very infrequently) while mobile devices will get the majority computing use and spend then nothing here sounds like good news for Microsoft.


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