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The Surface shines while Windows tablets wobble

Brad Chacos | May 3, 2013
The Surface tablet may not be crushing the competition with the vigor that Microsoft undoubtedly hoped it would. However, as compared to its third-party Windows tablet brethren, Surface is absolutely killing it.

The Surface tablet may not be crushing the competition with the vigor that Microsoft undoubtedly hoped it would. However, as compared to its third-party Windows tablet brethren, Surface is absolutely killing it--though Windows tablets still have a long road to travel before they're considered anything close to a success.

Between the Surface Pro and the Surface RT, Microsoft hardware comprised half of all Live Tile-sporting slates sold in the first quarter, according to a recent IDC report.

Microsoft moved 900,000 Surface tablets in total last quarter, with the business-friendly Surface Pro being a big chunk of those shipments. That may seem paltry when you consider that Apple and Samsung respectively moved 19.5 million and 8.8 million tablets in the same time frame, but according to IDC, those 900,000 Surface slates made Microsoft a top five tablet vendor mere months after entering the hardware arena, supplanting Barnes & Noble.

Not too shabby--though it probably says more about the state of the overall tablet market.

Speaking of which, overall Windows tablet sales are a mixed bag.

The IDC report claims that Windows tablets as a whole moved only 1.8 million units, with only a dreadful 200,000 of those dreadful Windows RT slates shipped all quarter. (Disaster for Windows RT looms ever closer.) A recent Strategy Analytics report, however, claimed that Windows tablets account for 7.4 percent of all first quarter tablet shipments, moving 3 million units in total.

The truth probably lies somewhere between the two analyst estimates. Still, no matter how you count it, Windows tablets are struggling for relevance with consumers. That reality is made all the more brutal given the woes Windows 8 has faced in the slumping PC market after being overhauled with a tablet-first interface.

Bobbing and weaving

Despite these early troubles, Microsoft is making moves to shore up its position.

First and foremost, an impending update known as Windows Blue (or Windows 8.1) is adding a multitude of finger-friendly features that arguably should have been in Windows 8 from the get-go. New gestures, more useful PC settings options, and a modern version of SkyDrive that actually syncs files will add a lot to the base Windows tablet experience.

Next, most of the tablet market has moved on to smaller 7-inch form factors, and Windows 8 as we know it wasn't built for diminutive displays. Thanks to its new focus on rapid iteration, Microsoft has been able to roll out a number of tweaks paving the way for smaller slates, such as support for lower screen resolutions and improved Snap functionality.

Microsoft is also said to be offering Windows and Office licenses to manufacturers at a dramatically reduced cost to spur development of small-screen Windows 8 hybrids and tablets.

 

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