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Why Surface won't be submerged by Microsoft's Nokia acquisition

Brad Chacos | Sept. 4, 2013
No, Surface isn't going away, and the Nokia acquisition may actually be a good thing for the fledgling hardware brand.

microsoft surface tablet

Don't let all the talk about service synergies and sales teams fool you: Microsoft gobbled up Nokia to ensure Windows Phone's ongoing survival and bolster the "devices" portion of its newly refocused "devices and services" business.

But wait! Hasn't Microsoft already spent more than $1 billion in resources on an in-house device brand? Indeed it has. And while the newly minted marriage between Nokia and Microsoft almost certainly crushes any hope for a Surface-branded phone—at least in the near future—it doesn't mean the end of the Surface line.

Buh-bye, Surface phone
Let's get the low-hanging fruit out of the way first.

Microsoft has said in the past that it has no immediate plans to introduce a Surface phone. The Nokia purchase solidifies this position—and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

"I'm not even sure what the value of a Surface brand would be on smartphones," says Ross Rubin, the principal analyst at Reticle Research. "First of all, 'Surface' implies a larger area on which to do something and get things done. And of course, one of the things the Surface tablets struggle with is the focus on the add-on keyboard—which is without a doubt its signature feature. But if you don't need a virtually omnipresent keyboard, it's a double-edged sword... and we've seen significant dwindling of phones with mini-keyboards, like the BlackBerry Q10."

But beyond the Surface phone concept alone, Rubin's sage words drive home why the Surface won't be sucked into the abyss just yet.

One Microsoft, two brands
While Microsoft touted "One brand, united voice" after announcing the Nokia acquisition, mashing everything together under a single brand simply doesn't make much sense yet.

It might make sense if Microsoft bought all of Nokia. Nokia's a much more recognizable name than the fledgling Surface hardware brand—but Microsoft bought Nokia's devices business, not the Nokia name itself. The Lumia brand (which Microsoft will presumably soon own) isn't as well-known as "Nokia." What's more, the Lumia brand's bold design and colorful exteriors target a whole different audience than the stark, VaporMg-clad Surface slates.

"It's targeting a very different audience," says Ben Bajarin, the director of consumer technology at Creative Strategies. "A product like a Surface, or even a PC or hybrid or two-in-one, targets a very different audience that what Lumia's been doing with the colors."

Simply put: The Surface is for work—despite what Microsoft's fast-cut, dubstep-tinged advertising blitz may have you believe—and the Lumia line is for consumers. And while the line is growing increasingly blurry thanks to BYOD, there is still a difference between the two.


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