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Microsoft's Surface strategy: Flatten the PC

Mark Hachman | Oct. 7, 2013
With the Surface 2, Microsoft isn't just trying to dominate the tablet market. It's hoping to replace the PC market.

surface tablet

With the Surface 2, Microsoft isn't just trying to dominate the tablet market. It's hoping to replace the PC market.

The Surface 2 by itself is just a tablet. But when you pair it with its new Power Cover, suddenly you have a notebook PC. And when it's docked in the Surface 2 Docking Station, suddenly it could emerge as a replacement for a desktop PC.

"We've said previously that our ambitious vision was to make Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 the most productive tablets on the planet, and that we believe people need great devices for play and getting things done," a Microsoft spokesperson says. "For Surface Pro 2, it can be the first device that is a tablet, a laptop, and a high-powered workstation."

Why? Futurists have been talking about modular computing for several years, and the Surface 2 may be the epitome of its evolution.

Microsoft launched the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 last week in New York, upgrading its tablets with Intel's fourth-generation Core (Haswell) chip. That change increased the Pro version's performance by 9 percent, according to PCWorld's preliminary benchmark testing. Microsoft executives say such results put the Surface 2 on a par with today's most powerful laptops--but again, within a tablet form factor. And the Surface 2 is priced at $449, $50 less than its predecessor.

But it's the Surface 2's peripherals where Microsoft seems to be setting the pace. The first-generation Surface debuted with the option of either the Touch Cover or the Type Cover--well-designed keyboards, but keyboards nevertheless. With the Surface 2's peripherals, Microsoft has added options for extended battery life and multimonitor support, wireless options, a car charger, and something a little crazy: the Surface Remix, what Microsoft calls the first of a series of "blades" that will turn the Surface 2 into a purpose-built tool. The Remix, for example, was specifically designed as a DJ's assistant for mixing music on the fly.

Whether you buy into it or not, Microsoft's strategy here is intriguing. Tablets have become the must-have computing gizmo, although sales have recently cooled a bit, probably due to the lack of a compelling reason to replace them. PC sales are continuing to decline. Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system is straddling the line between PC and tablet with its dual interfaces. And now here comes the Surface 2, offering even more overlap with the personal computer.

Add to that the Power Cover and the Docking Station, which can replace the other aging computer devices that a user has on his or her desk. It's a strategy that fits in neatly with Microsoft's vision for productive PCs. And it's a vision that Microsoft executives articulated last week, even if the new hardware overshadowed it all.


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