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Microsoft steers same strategic course in Surface do-over

Gregg Keizer | Oct. 3, 2013
Isn't budging from strategy to push own devices to business first

"I don't think they're too early this time," Rubin said.

Historically, Microsoft has had a premature problem. Critics have cited everything from smart watches (2004) and tablets (2000) to mobile phones (2003) and smart TV (as early as 2000) as examples of Microsoft prematurely pitching a product that ultimately was popularized by others years later.

"It gives Microsoft a sensible place in the tablet space," said Gottheil of Microsoft's two-in-one strategy. "If you need a device that does PC things, then this is excellent at that. It's a very elegant solution."

Like Rubin, Gottheil saw Microsoft's reiterated Surface strategy as more concerned with stemming the desertions from traditional PCs — long the foundation of its Windows business, and leverage for the rest of its biggest money makers, such as Office, Exchange and Windows Server — than in directly competing with Apple's iOS and Google's Android in tablets. "This keeps PCs from erosion from other OSes," said Gottheil, referring to Microsoft's thinking.

He wasn't as willing to join Rubin on timing. "I think the Surface is too early," Gottheil said. "And the poor messaging by Microsoft and price resistance hasn't helped."

Like most outsiders, the analysts had a much tougher time digesting the Surface 2, and what it meant in the context of Microsoft's larger strategies. Part of the reason was the visible rejection of the Surface RT evidenced by the $900 million write-off. But they had other questions.

"They have a lot more work to do building out the apps," noted Rubin, repeating a refrain of many since last October. "The dilemma is that the Surface 2 retains the mainstream price point and some advantages [over rival tablets], but all those relative advantages have stayed the same."

In other words, after the failure of the Surface RT, Microsoft's plunging ahead with a product that's little changed from its predecessor, begging for a repeat.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft's Panay didn't see it that way last week. He trumpeted the 10-times increase in the "Modern" nee "Metro" app count over last year, and claimed that the Surface 2's new quad-core Nvidia Tegra 4 processor boosted performance by three to four times that of the original tablet. He also said the Surface 2's battery life had been extended to 10 hours.

The analysts agreed that Microsoft's Surface RT/2 strategy was easiest to describe as what it wasn't, not what it was.

"I think it's more about playing defense of the erosion of the PC as opposed to driving volume," said Moorhead.

Rubin echoed that. "If their number one goal [was volume] they would have done a $250 7-in. tablet," he said.

Microsoft's not. Although rumors circulated earlier this year that it would, those plans are now reportedly for 2014, perhaps deep into the year, according to longtime company watchers like blogger Paul Thurrott.

 

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