Tag Archives: Tablet

Whacky Rumors – Will Microsoft Subsidize the Surface?

The Microsoft Surface tablet computer.
As I’ve written before, I’m generally opposed to all the silly tech rumors that fly around, such as what features may or may not be in the next Apple or Android device.

However, this idea is just too juicy to let go. Massive disclaimer upfront, I haven’t read this anywhere and have absolutely no proof whatsoever that Microsoft (MSFT) has any such plans. That being said, I’ve certainly wondered about it.

From the day the Surface was announced rumors have been flying about what the thing will cost. Microsoft said:

Suggested retail pricing will be announced closer to availability and is expected to be competitive with a comparable ARM (ARMH) tablet or Intel (INTC) Ultrabook-class PC.

This has lead a lot of people to speculate that the Arm version will be about $500 and the Intel version about $1000 give or take a hundred bucks. A few people asked about them going low like Google (GOOG) and Amazon (AMZN), say in the $299 price range, but conventional wisdom seems to be the higher figure, say Apple (AAPL) price range for Arm and Notebook price range for the Intel.

Personally, I immediately started thinking about the Microsoft strategy for X-box. Give the thing away for as close to cost as possible, even less if you can find a way to do it. Spend a few years subsidizing it and then make it back after you’ve clawed your way up to major market share.

For the most part this worked for X-box. Recently the division has had downturns, but so has the gaming industry on the whole. Overall most would say it’s been a successful strategy for Microsoft. In fact, many point to X-box as proof that the Surface will be successful, although I haven’t seen any such commentary that mentions the pricing strategy that was used. Note also that recently Microsoft began offering subsidies, further lowering the price of the hardware.

It’s undeniable that Microsoft has some work ahead of them if they want to make a dent in the tablet market. Apple has a pretty good lock at the moment. Amazon has gained some traction although with their method of sales reporting it’s difficult to get an accurate count. Google appears set to put some heavy competition on the low-end and small-device market with their Nexus. The Surface is exciting to Microsoft fans because of the OS and because it’s from Microsoft, but aside from that, for tablet customers there is nothing really new or outstanding about the Surface. This is evident from the obviously heavy attention given to the fact that it has a keyboard and a stand, both of which aren’t core issues and are available for every other tablet on the market. I’m not saying it’s a bad tablet, to the contrary it appears to be a decent machine. But nothing special to make it stand out, which is what you need if you’re going up against the iPad.

This is why I keep thinking about the pricing strategy. Microsoft could price it high and call it a premium device. This will keep the margins high, but undoubtedly limit its potential sales. Or Microsoft could go on and really attack the new market like they did with Xbox. This has the risk of alienating their OEM partners, but the upside is capturing real market share. Tell me Microsoft hasn’t at least discussed it internally.

This brings me to the rumor that I never actually heard but have thought about. Microsoft recently announced their Q4 earnings. In their 10-K filing with the SEC Microsoft says:

We may not achieve significant revenue from new product and service investments for a number of years, if at all. Moreover, new products and services may not be profitable, and even if they are profitable, operating margins for new products and businesses may not be as high as the margins we have experienced historically.

This got me thinking again about Surface pricing. If Microsoft is warning that they’re releasing a new product and it might cost them money, it may just be that they’re doing the fiduciary duty in warning investors. On the other hand, maybe they’re expecting to lose money on Surface initially, and if that’s the case, is is the price?

Maybe, just maybe, Microsoft will lowball the price of the Surface and following Amazon and Google’s lead, blow the tablet market wide open. This might not be good for Apple, but a tablet pricing war would be great for consumers. Cross your finger!

What do YOU think? Let me know in the comments, on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.

[Update Aug 14, 2012]
Today Engadget is reporting to have a source that says the Surface RT will be $199. Hmm… maybe I was right?
[/Update]

Microsoft Introduces the MeeToo

The Microsoft Surface tablet finally surfaced yesterday. I was discussing it with my son and he said the whole thing reminded him of the movie The Sixth Sense, which Microsoft playing the Bruce Willis part. They’re walking around, wondering what’s going on, trying to solve people’s problems and don’t realize they’re dead. People’s computing problems are directly attributable to them, not being alive and aware of how the world now works.

So I looked at the press event and the product video, and I’m trying to figure out why people are excited. Ok, yes, there’s another tablet offering out there, and it’s from a company who in theory can go toe-to-toe with Apple in this space, or sell at a loss for a decade if not (see Xbox profits and marketshare). And it’s a Windows offering for those who’ve been wanting Windows on a tablet. That’s it. That’s the new stuff. The rest are things already out there. NPR has a summary of reviews. And or course there is the obligatory use of the term iPad Killer. I’d actually be careful with that one, it seems a good way to end up with a tablet nobody wants based on past experience. Remember Xoom, Playbook and Touchpad? They were all iPad killers.

John Quain of J-Q.com said:

“Microsoft has always mimicked other technologies, from graphical interfaces to Web browsing to financial software. In some cases, it did improve upon what it copied, but in general the company’s approach worked because it was based on an artificial monopoly. It was important for us as users to work with common files and formats, so Windows continued to dominate and we adopted its browser and related software.”

So let’s look at what we know so far, and what we don’t know.

The thickness and weight are basically an iPad. The screen size is 10.6″ with HD resolution. This is good news if you’re primarily watching videos. Not bad, but not groundbreaking. Bad news if you’re trying to get work done. Note that the larger diagonal with the 16:9 resolution results in a smaller vertical space than the iPad with the 4:3 resolution. And look at the kickstand – this is a horizontal device by nature. Less vertical space is not a great idea if you’re trying to get work done, like email, creating documents, etc.

Screen Dimensions (estimated based on diagonal)
Tablet Diagonal Width Height
Microsoft Surface 10.6 9.2 5.2
Apple iPad 9.7 7.8 5.8

For screen resolution we don’t have any actual numbers yet, but people are suggesting that the “HD” for the RT version vs the “Full HD” for the Pro version means that it’s 720p (1280×720) and 1080p (1920×1080). iPad 2 resolution is roughly 720p albeit a different aspect ratio at 1024-by-768. The new iPad resolution is much higher at 2048-by-1536.

As to the processors we know that the RT is an ARM and the Pro is an Intel I-5. Both have an unknown number of cores and clock rate. How much RAM is also unknown.

Storage is 32GB through 128GB. Mostly standard fare for tablets, although the 128 currently stands out. It may be matched by others in the not too distant future, but currently a lot of space. Remember though that this is for a full Windows installation, so free space may be less than what you expect.

Price, Performance, Battery life are all things we don’t know. Raw specs, currently unavailable, are going to be essentially meaningless. What will matter is how snappy it is. If apps start fast, switch fast, and are responsive, then it’s a plus. Anything less than that will be DOA. I’m presuming it’ll be fast enough. Microsoft said the price of the Windows 8 RT Surface will be comparable to the price of other consumer tablets, while the price of the beefier (and heftier) Windows 8 Pro Surface will rival the price of Ultrabooks. Nothing new here, unless you count a $1000+ tablet as something new. Maybe. Overpriced tablets are a dime a dozen. Remember the Motorola Xoom?

The Kickstand is only new in the sense that it’s built-in. Kickstands and a wide variety of other cases are widely available. Will the Kickstand work vertically like many iPad cases? It doesn’t seem to be that way. How will it work when you put it on your lap? It’s a great idea for a table-top, but wouldn’t work the way I frequently use my iPad.

The keyboard again isn’t a new device. There is a huge selection for tablets from cases that convert your machine to basically being a notebook all the way to standard Bluetooth keyboards. Some are good, some are crappy. Logitech for example makes an extremely thin one built into an iPad case. Bundling it is a definite plus, but nothing new. Some will argue that the keyboard is using latest greatest technology, but it’s still just a keyboard and therefore not revolutionary. Kinect based keyboardless input – now that would be a reason to buy!

Some are calling the keyboard the killer secret weapon. It’s funny while there are many keyboard options available for the iPad, how many do you see in the wild? Very few. The point of a tablet is often to leave the stuff behind. Of course, if your OS is not designed for a tablet, but requires keyboard and mouse, then you need the thing.

The cover – wait for it – comes in colors and has magnets! Wow, how 2011! Has anyone at Microsoft seen the old iPad 2 videos? OK, it has an accelerometer too. You can call it evolutionary, but again not revolutionary.

Applications – you can run your windows applications, at least on the Pro. This will undoubtedly be a reason for many to try the Surface out. The question will ultimately be whether the experience is good enough to last. Remember Microsoft built tablets that could run Windows applications over 10 years ago, and pretty much no one wanted them. A 10 year old capability is nothing new. The tablet touch experience is fundamentally different than a PC. it’s based on UI that doesn’t need keyboards and mice. I’m not sure Microsoft understands that.

And that leaves me with their new marketing video. It reminds me of the droid campaign in that it’s long on sizzle and short on function. It shows lots of pretty pictures the relate to how the device is built, but nothing about what it can do. Looks to me like they’re targeting Android fans. There are those who criticize Apple’s advertising because it shows apps more than the devices, but isn’t that the point? It’s not about the device, it’s about doing something, whether it’s watching a movie, writing the great American novel, chatting with your grandchildren, or killing time with Angry Birds. How well will it do those things is still the great unknown.

[Update] Forgot about the stylus, inevitably someone will complain so here it is. The Pro version has a stylus – can you say Palm? [/Update]

[Update] How did I miss this? Where is the internet connectivity? WiFi only?! I want my LTE! [/Update]

Padding your work – the iPad in the office

iPad © by Yagan Kiely
I recently added an iPad to my technology arsenal. I’ve been using a MacBook Air for several years now and I really like the size & weight, but compared to the iPad it’s enormous and has a short battery life. I get a lot of use out of my iPhone, so I know what the iPad can do. Some continue to insist the iPad is just a toy.

For me, the big question mark is the keyboard. If I’m carrying an iPad and a notebook while traveling, it seems a bit ridiculous. If I carry an iPad and a keyboard, isn’t that just a notebook? Is there any real advantage to such a thing? Well I decided to give it a try and see what happens.

I travel a lot, so based on things like email, eBooks, and in-flight entertainment the iPad was a no-brainer, it can do them all very well. But I was wondering how useful I can actually make it in a software company.

If you’re going to try to use the iPad as a replacement device, there are a few categories of apps you’re going to be interested. I’ve broken out a few of these categories and selected some basic apps to see how well they will work. I’ll go into more detail on each after I’ve got some real use.

I checked out a list of 30 Business Apps and while it has some interesting ideas, it didn’t cover some specific software development needs. I’m purposely ignoring the entertainment category such as music, video and games, as it’s well covered in many other places.

Office Tools

I bought a couple of office suites for comparison purposes. I know, this sounds crazy, but it’s still less than the price for Microsoft Office on a desktop. My basic needs are typical word-processing, simple spreadsheet, and presentations. I also have some apps for note-taking and planning.

I happen to be a fan of the Mac office suite with Numbers, Pages, and Keynote. Especially Keynote is a great improvement over PowerPoint. So I bought each of those apps. I had already purchased a Keynote remote app for my iPhone that I haven’t had the chance to tryout yet.

However, our office and clients remain largely Microsoft (MSFT) based, so I bought the QuickOffice apps as well. After initially giving it a pass, I decided to get DocsToGo as well. There are one or two other major office suites for the iPad as well, I may try them at some point, but probably only if I’m missing something. I’ll be shaking them all down as much as I can in the coming weeks and I’ll give the long and short of it here.

There are a few other tools I use frequently in the office, such as a voice recorder to take dictation for creating presentations, training materials, whitepapers, articles, etc. At the moment this is centered heavily around the built-in memo recorder on the iPhone, and possibly Siri will help but I don’t know yet. I’ve also got Dragon Dictation but mostly it’s something I record and then later work from manually. I’ve got a few other audio recording apps as well. I’ll give a full shakedown in the near future.

Another useful office tool is having some kind of scanner software based on using the camera in the iPad. OCR on top of that is really the icing on the cake. I’ve got a couple of these installed, at the moment GeniusScan and JotNot Pro. I’ll see if I can figure out which is best.

For note taking I’ve frequently used simple text editors or a blank page in the word processor. While both work, neither is well-suited to the task. Ideally I should be able to type, write with my finger or stylus, and draw simple things to help illustrate the topic at hand. I should be able to save, edit, and share the document created. With that in mind, I’ve got a few note-takers installed like PenUltimate, but the noe I have high hopes for is Note Taker HD.

I’ve also got an app that lets me try to study/plan/organize based on putting 3×5 cards on a cork-board. It looks really great, but I’m not yet convinced it’s actually useful or sustainable.

Travel Tools

This is a category that some office users won’t need. If you’re an iPad in the office and at home kind of person, you can probably skip this set. My initial set includes the apps for the airlines I use, just in case I need them. I also have the TSA app for airport information. The bulk of my travel information comes from TripIt which I have found very useful on the iPhone.

I also take a GPS on the road with me via my iPhone, so I haven’t listed it as a necessary item for the iPad, even though the bigger screen makes for easy mapping.

File transfer

I also already have some file sharing apps to transfer files on and off my device. Mostly I use iDisk since I have MobileMe but long-term I will be doing something else. I’ve installed Box.net since they have the free 50GB offer running right now. I may get a small DropBox for comparison with that. And my Latest favorite in this area is FileBrowser which let’s me do normal file system browsing on remote computers, such as my desktop.

I’ve got a few others as well, some of which have already been deleted for lack of usefulness.

Development tools

For software development I have a decent Bugzilla client called iBzilla, and nice SVN source control client called CodeViewer 2, and I bought a few code editors I will be trying out, including Textastic, Koder, and of course what computer is complete without VI?

Database

One could argue that database is part of the development tools category, but I think it’s big enough to warrant separate treatment. I do a lot of database work, so again I already had iPhone apps for connection to various DBs such as Oracle and MySQL. I updated them to iPad versions. Mostly I use Navicat. I’ll discuss this in a separate post, but if anyone has suggestions for good DB apps I’d be happy to check them out.

I also have Bento for quick and dirty db stuff, but I currently don’t use it much. If I find a way to leverage it for work I’ll let you know.

Social / Web stuff

For social and web stuff I have the usual suspects, Twitter, WordPress, Polldaddy, LinkedIn, GoToMeeting, WebEx, Instant messengers, etc. This covers blogging, posting info, messaging, as well as video conferencing.

Geek stuff (SysAdmin)

And I had the usual array of geek utilities like DNS tools such as nslookup, VNC for remote login, and a terminal client that includes SSH support. There is some overlap between these so I’ll try to narrow it down to what you actually need with what’s good and bad about each.

Other iPad stuff

There are a few other things that are interesting. For example, I am making more use of the Kindle application now for books. I do have a Kindle and there are times I prefer it, but that’s normally for when I am not carrying the iPad.

I find the Kindle device great for reading, but the larger iPad better for reference books. One other benefit is that most technical manuals are much cheaper on Kindle than in print, and it’s very convenient to have them with you when you need them.

I’m going to assume that at least conceptually all of the ideas here are equally useful for other tablets. This will depend of course on having the apps you need available on the platform of your choice.

I could certainly borrow a tablet from a friend and do a similar experiment, but it’s something that takes time to do in depth, so we’ll see. If any of you are interested in a similar idea, let’s talk.

Updates on real world experience will be coming in the near future as I shake down each category.