Microsoft tweaks Surface 2 tablet, but still the same old formula
Surface Pro 2: Microsoft's tablet-laptop hybrid. Photo: AP
Weak reaction to important new Microsoft products rarely discourages the company. Instead, it usually tweaks the products over and over.
So it goes with the Surface, Microsoft's poorly selling answer to the iPad and a crucial cog in the company's headlong push into hardware. On Monday, Microsoft introduced a second generation of Surface tablets with only subtle adjustments from the originals, a sign that the company still believes in its vision of devices that blend the benefits of tablets and laptop computers. The most meaningful changes are under the hood, providing faster performance, better battery life and sharper screens.
Microsoft's Surface Pro 2. Photo: Getty Images/AFP
"We're right now focused 100 per cent on building the best tablets for the world," Panos Panay, a Microsoft corporate vice president, said last week. "We haven't slowed down or lifted our heads a bit."
If anything, the company is doubling down on making hardware central to Microsoft's future. Microsoft's pending $8 billion acquisition of Nokia's handset and services business will bring thousands of employees to the company who are specialists in making mobile devices.
It is not clear yet how the addition of Nokia's products and people will transform Surface, especially since the Surface group is planning for products two years away. But sales of the Surface could use a complete makeover. So poor were the sales of the cheaper version of Surface, known as Surface RT, that Microsoft took a $1 billion charge last quarter to reflect a $180 price cut on the product.
The Microsoft Surface Pro 2 tablet and Type Cover 2. Photo: Bloomberg
And it appears that Microsoft will be leaving many tablet sales to the competition with the new offerings, too. The latest Surface tablets have 10.6-inch screens and will not be available in smaller 7- to 8-inch versions, the most popular size in the market.
Panay suggested that Microsoft would eventually offer a mini version of the Surface, but not until it was confident that it had the right product.
As before, the new Surface family includes two products, Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2. The Surface 2, called the RT in the first version, competes more directly with the iPad, while the Surface Pro 2 is a more expensive device that can run any legacy PC applications.
Little has changed about the exterior of the devices, but the company paid special attention on the inside to improve battery life.
Microsoft will sell Surface 2 for a starting price of $529, and the Surface Pro 2 at a $1019 starting price. The new devices will be available from October 22.
"I think it's tough to come in at that price point when you are not that differentiated," said Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi. "Maybe with bundling they'll be able to make it more interesting."
Microsoft is using its online services to sweeten the deal for Surface, including a year of free international voice calling on Skype to conventional phone numbers. Surface customers will get 200 gigabytes of free storage for two years on Microsoft's SkyDrive service, far more than most people will need for their photos, videos and documents.
New York Times