Skimming the Surface

It’s interesting to note that Microsoft has FINALLY stepped into the tablet space with a product that could in theory compete against the iPad juggernaut. It’s particularly interesting that they are offering two flavors of “Surface” (the current brand for the tablet entry), one is an ARM-based machine with a form factor very similar to an iPad (small, thin, and consumption oriented, although oddly enough, it includes the Office Suite), and a second slightly heavier machine that is closer to a MacBook Air.

Will they succeed? Probably, but not at the expense of Apple. Any gains made by these machines will come out of Android’s hide. Why? Because Apple has always aimed at the high end of the market, they never have been/never will be interested in the mass market, where Android is running wild. If you go by the hype, you’d think Apple is completely dominating the mobile device market. They’re not. Android in all it’s permutations has taken over that space by a significant margin, and Apple has once again painted itself into a gilded corner. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s hard to argue with one of the richest, most successful companies on the planet.

Microsoft’s strength has always been in the office, their dominance there makes Apple look like a distant spec on the horizon, the “consumerization of IT” notwithstanding. This product rollout is a good extension for them, a lot of people were moving to iPads because there wasn’t a viable alternative, and while the iPad is cool and fun, it is not something I would use for work, aside from checking e-mail. Android as an alternative is simply too fragmented and the market too chaotic. Businesses thrive in a market with predictable rules, and Android does not offer anything like that. However, Microsoft does, and that alone is likely to tip the market solidly in their favor. This could be similar to what happened when IE entered the market late, and in the long run it made zero difference. The fact that Microsoft has re-entered the hardware space and is now competing against it’s old buds like HP and Samsung will probably not matter much in the long run either. The compelling event is always software driven, so the success of this foray is just a matter of entering the market with an integrated stack that plays to their strengths, which this clearly does.

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