Microsoft’s new tablet, the “Surface” was announced with much fanfare, but the product has been getting mixed reviews in no small part because it’s really not possible to review it at all. You can’t get one, even to play with, so far. No pun intended, but on the surface the device appears well-made and it has some interesting features, like a touchcover keypad. There will be both an ARM/RT version and a Wintel Windows 8 version, with the latter clearly costing more.
Microsoft is being coy about the context for the Surface, but it appears that it intends to couple it tightly to its Xbox for entertainment and also to SkyDrive and Live services for productivity. The company is resisting attempts to typecast the Surface into a business mold, but it sure looks to me like the RT version is more consumeristic and the Windows 8 version more productivity-friendly. That would explain the keyboard, something the average consumer tablet user isn’t exactly clamoring for.
If you look at what we know about the device, it seems obvious that this could never hope to succeed on hardware differentiation. Does Microsoft think that RT or Windows 8 will be that much better than Android or iOS? I doubt it, which is why I’ve said from the first that tablet wars were cloud wars. The stories of how Microsoft will be linking the devices to Xbox and Office and even Microsoft’s commercial tools have already emerged in early form with SmartGlass and the notion that Microsoft’s next-gen OSs will be exempt from some special per-seat licensing charges. But even these won’t be enough, and I’m sure that Microsoft’s big announcement, one linked to the cloud, is yet to come. If not, the Surface is going to be a yawn.
Nothing was said about when the product would be on sale or what its price would be, but I think it’s safe to assume it will come out this fall with Windows 8 as part of a coordinated launch. Did Microsoft see other tablet changes coming along from Apple or Google and wanted to get out in front? It’s hard to say, but for sure the iPad is gaining ground on Android at this point and Microsoft may feel it has a shot at being number two in the space, which I hear is their goal.
An unusual story out of Asia is that Telstra, the Australian carrier, has taken a lead in a round of investment in multi-screen video startup Ooyala, a company who has been working hard and with increasing success to capitalize on the stumbles of traditional carrier-video solution providers, particularly the network equipment vendors. The move probably spells further trouble in content delivery for the traditional network vendors, because at the least the Ooyala solution would sap the higher value and differentiation. Since every one of the major players has a video story they were hoping to capitalize on, the idea that the operators are running out to fund players who are doing better has got to rankle. It should; content monetization has been a top operator priority and vendors have generally been doing it badly.