There are some strong ideas. The keyboard is an interesting concept, and there are a lot of people who are really excited with the design of Windows 8. Still, this announcement was well short of what it should have been:
- There's no availability date yet, and the rumors state that -- at the earliest -- the tablets will be available in October. That means that MS announced their product at least four months in advance, and possibly more. Feeling excited now? Well, sit on that feeling for four months, and then let's see how you feel. Apple makes billions by getting you excited within the same moment that you can whip out your credit card and make a purchase. Microsoft still struggles with this, so many years later.
- The keyboards didn't work at the unveiling event. Those who got their hands in display devices found that the hardware wasn't connected, which means that Microsoft unveiled hardware that doesn't work yet. Everyone who's worked on a project is familiar with the experience of assembling the airplane while it's speeding down the runway, but announcing what you've got before you've got it is foolish at best, disastrous at worst.
- The full-Windows-capable version comes with a stylus. Not to put too fine a point on it, but styluses suck. If you've got a touchscreen and still feel compelled to include a stylus, you're doing something wrong with your interface.
- It's complicated. The two versions have different specs, run on different hardware, and will have different software capabilities. It's a little confusing even if you know what you're talking about, and a lot of customers in the consumer space won't be so savvy. The strongest marketing messages are based on a simple, clear message, and Microsoft makes that difficult with its complicated product portfolios.
- No word on pricing. The enterprise market might not care about price so much, but consumers absolutely do. If the Surface costs more than $499, it will face severe challenges, and statements that the price will be competitive with Intel Ultrabooks is not a good sign: ultrabooks go for $700 and up.
- It's a conventional design. The interface is innovative, sure, but everything else you get -- a rugged case, a keyboard, a mess of ports -- spells "scaled-down laptop." The iPad is successful in part because it redefined what a mobile device could and should be. By comparison, the Surface looks like a conservative reaction, rather than a bold step forward.
This device could succeed. I think it will be a pretty easy sell in the enterprise market, pitched as a lighter and more mobile solution than the clunky Dell laptop that employees would otherwise be using. If it makes much inroads into the consumer market, though, I will be surprised. This is a device designed to sustain Microsoft's profits in an exiting market, rather than an attempt to disrupt its way into new markets.