Surface RT: To Be Or Not To Be

So the Surface RT has been out for 9 months and Microsoft just declared a $900 million dollar write-down. So how did this happen and what does it mean for Microsoft’s efforts to break into the tablet market? I have been thinking a lot about most of the information below since the Surface product line was released. If you are looking for a “Microsoft Is Dead” story, then don’t read any further. But if you want an honest look at what I think led Microsoft to this point and what I think can be done to make Surface RT devices better, then please continue reading.

What Led Microsoft To The $900 Million Write-Down

  • Surface Unveiling:Microsoft totally missed the boat when they unveiled the Surface product line on June 18th, 2012.
    • Microsoft should’ve been ready to post the specifications of both devices that night.
    • Microsoft should’ve had a site up and running right after the event so people could pre-order the devices. This would have given them a good idea what the interest was in each device.  They could also have used this data to make a better estimate for the number of units to to have available for the launch and beyond.  They also lost out on taking advantage of the excitement generated by the Surface RT and Surface Pro announcement. They could have thrown in a free touch keyboard to anyone who pre-ordered.
    • The advertising should have started right after the announcement and gotten bigger as launch day approached. Push for as many pre-order as possible and build excitement for the launch.
  • Actual Launch (Surface RT): By this time all excitement was gone from the initial announcement, except for the Micorsoft faithful.
    • Microsoft should have been ready to sell the Surface in as many markets as possible at launch. The limited market release was a real letdown for a lot of people.  A limited release right after the initial announce is understandable, but not at the official launch of the product.
    • Microsoft overpriced the device and now they are lowering it to what it should have been to start with. The $349 price is within the range I suggested it should be at before pricing was announced. (Surface Tablets: The Price Must Be Right).
    • Limited ordering options online was also a killer. User should have been able to buy the base unit of each device and then add on whatever keyboard they wanted to (this applies more to the Surface Pro).  There should have also been a place where users could order any additional add-ins that they wanted to buy (covers, extra power supplies, etc.)
    • Marketing was better and the dancing “Click In” commercial was cool, but the ads comparing the iPad with Siri should have been on the air from day one of the announcement (or at least the launch).  Consumers want to know why you tablet is better, not just that is has a clickable keyboard and built-in kickstand. They could have also compared it to some of the other mid-range tablets if they had not overprices it to begin with.
  • Stock Applications (Mail, People, Calendar, Music, Video, Reader and IE): This is where Microsoft really blew it.
    • They had all the time in the world to make these applications the best of breed and instead we got applications that seemed thrown together.  Some updates have made these application better, but they are all still lacking in features that should have been there from day one. This did not help to enhance a new users experience any.

      ** I will admit that the applications that were data driven were first class citizen’s and that makes it even more perplexing why MS could knock it out of the park with the Weather, Travel, Finance, Bing, etc.) and fail so miserably on the core applications users would use the most on a tablet.
  • Desktop on Tablet: The desktop just is so out of place on the tablet 
    • I understand it was needed for Office but think it would have been better to not have the desktop in Windows RT, but instead open up the Office applications in full screen mode, in a desktop shell (same goes for  IE11).That way the user wouldn’t realize they are leaving Metro and going to the desktop.
    • The other option would have been to just not include Office on Windows RT devices. Instead they could have made awesome Widows Store Apps for Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint. In addition, they could have made the stock Mail, People, and Calendar applications contain all the functions that Outlook gives desktop users.
    • Having some of the settings in desktop mode and others under “Change PC Settings” made Windows RT seemed unfinished and rushed to market.

What Can Be Done To Make Windows RT Based Tablets Better (At least in my opinion)

  • Either eliminate the desktop all together from Windows RT or at least make the user experience better by hiding the fact the user is running Office/IE in the desktop. Personally I ‘d like them to totally get rid of it and just make awesome Windows Store Application version of Word, Excel PowerPoint & OneNote.  This might also make the OS smaller and give the user more available disk space. I doubt there will ever be a Windows Store App versions of Office, but I still think it is a good idea.
  • Make is so users can easily direct their documents, picture, videos and music to their extra storage and can access these files from the standard libraries.  A user should not have to create a VM on their microSD card or create symbolic links to get this to work properly. Most consumers would not be able to do this. Then users get frustrated when they run out or room on their main storage because nothing is automatically save to their microSD card when saved to libraries.  This is a major bug that needs to be fixed, otherwise Microsoft’s selling point of having a microSD slot is worthless.
  • Allows users to uninstall and re-install any of the Office product that come with the Surface. That way people can free up storage space by uninstalling the Office applications they do not need. Everyone’s needs are different, so make the options flexible. Don’t take up storage space for applications the user will not use.
  • Make the Core applications the “Cream of the Crop” Windows App Store applications. The should set the bar for all other Store applications.
  • Improve performance as much as possible, if it seems to be sluggish on a tablet consumer will not buy it.
  • They need to price the next line of Surface product very aggressive to undercut not only iPad but also Android low end tablets (Nook, Kindle Fire, and Nexus, etc.)
  • Give developers incentives to write quality applications for the devices.
  • Don’t reward developers for cranking out cookie cutter, low quality applications. I’d even suggest Microsoft consider implementing some new store certification guideline to stop these type of applications being published.
  • Allow users to easily move the recover disk “partition between their microSD card and main storage.

My Predictions for the Surface RT and Windows RT

I honestly think even with all the missteps MS has made since the announcement  about the Surface product line, that they are on the right path. I was excited the Surface tablets when they were announced, and I still am. The truth be told, Windows 8 on a tablet (aka: Windows RT) is better than both iOS and Android. My nephew who is an Apple fan boy told me after he saw and used Windows 8 (he got the beta running on his iPad), that Windows 8 kicked Apples butt as a tablet OS. So there is hope for all Windows RT based tablets. I agree with my nephew and that is why whenever anyone asks me about my Surface, I love showing it off and recommend it.

The 6 keys to gaining market share in the tablet market are;

  • Aggressive pricing by both Microsoft and their OEM’s
  • Good quality devices put out by Microsoft and their OEM’s (there are some out there, but not enough)
  • Marketing, Marketing, Marketing from both Microsoft and their OEM’s (Need more ads showing why windows based tablets are better than iPads and Android tablets)
  • Getting Widows tablets in retails stores all over, and giving sales people incentive to sell them. Consumers like to try electronics out before they buy them, and most will listen to what the sales person suggest. Microsoft needs sales people in retail stores directing people to buy windows based tablets over iPads and Android tablets. I think the Microsoft Stores within Best Buy is a good start, but they also need to get prominent displays in Walmart, Target, etc..
  • Release a smaller form factor Surface, Hopefully the 8”-10” next generation Surface is not a rumor.
  • Make “Surface” the brand name for all Microsoft tablets and hybrid devices that they come out with. They cannot change the name with each new release.  Make Surface synonymous with quality, the same way that iPad  is for Apple.

Well, that is my 2 cents on the subject. Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below. Soon to follow will be my thought on the Surface Pro, so keep an eye out for it.


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