Microsoft Introduces a Challenger to the iPad

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/19/technology/microsoft-unveils-a-tablet-to-challenge-the-ipad.html

Another quarter, another iPad competitor. But the headline is misleading. I watched the announcement. Microsoft didn’t introduce anything. They merely announced the Surface. This one had better be good, Microsoft is running out of marketable words to name their tablet attempts.

The keyboard idea is clever. It’s original. It might even work. It will take up less space than my iPad plus bluetooth keyboard. But is it better?

Ballmer has been watching Apple product introductions. He was trying hard to channel Steve Jobs. The hushed invites. The buildup music. The decor of the stage and slides. The introduction and invites. The structure of the presentation. The lack of PowerPoint looking slides. The Jonny Ive inspired “design” video. Microsoft is trying really hard to be like Apple.

They talked about the Surface and the ability to do all our Windows tasks on it. But they didn’t actually demonstrate the tablet doing any of them. Lots of talking and hand waving. Here’s the NetFlix screen, here’s the, oops, hang on while I grab another tablet. What? A crash during the announcement? That’s not the part of Windows we want you to bring to the mobile computing world Microsoft. Sad, sad, sad.

They let journalists touch them afterwards. For 90 seconds. With the power turned off. No typing on the vaunted keyboard. If these products worked even modestly well, you can bet they’d have been showing them off, like Apple did at the iPad announcement.

The announcement reeked of desperation. They announced a product so buggy it can’t survive a live demo. It may ship in the 3rd quarter, but Microsoft isn’t known for nailing their ship dates. There’s no pricing, likely because they’re having trouble sourcing components in quantity, because a certain dominant tablet maker owns the tooling and factories that create all the hi-res tablet displays. They have zero third party apps optimized for a tablet, and little enthusiasm from mobile developers. They are paying developers of popular 3rd party apps to port them to Windows Phone 7.

The saddest part of all this is the powerlessness at Microsoft. Back in the 90’s, I recall Microsoft product announcements instilling a sense of doom in anyone competing in a market. Competitors scurried. Projects and sometimes products were cancelled at the mere announcement of a Microsoft initiative, because competing with Microsoft was certain death. Now Microsoft makes an announcement and it’s just sad. Memories of greatness are replaced with memories of PlaysForSure and Zune trying to compete with the iPod. Then the Danger fiasco, the Kin disaster, and the underwhelming Lumia trying to complete with the iPhone. Then there’s the list of Windows powered tablet flops, crowned by the HP Slate. It’s just sad.

What I find most telling is that Microsoft and Google have both publicly confessed that Apple’s integrated approach is best. The modular solutions they previously championed (hardware from them, software from us) are not good enough. Google bought Motorola and will soon announce its own hardware, and now Microsoft has announced their own.

I think it’s premature to declare the Surface an iPad challenger. But one thing is for sure, it’s going to get even tougher for HTC, Samsung, and LG to complete in the mobile computing race.

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