Microsoft's Surface Announcement: Much Ado About Nothing (Yet)

Carl Weinschenk

Get ready for a summer of waiting to see whether the Surface tablets are the answer for Microsoft.

There is a lot on the table: Will Apple’s iPad retain the huge lead it now holds as the industry segment begins to mature? Will Microsoft — the Apple of a previous generation — use the new tablets to do what Windows Phone apparently has failed at, which is to reverse the gradual tide running against it?

Those are just the big questions. Don't look for an immediate answer, or one that will even be recognizable as it arrives. We will know on Nov. 6 whether it’s Obama or Romney (barring a 2000-style fiasco, of course). We will know on a specific date whether it’s the Heat or the Thunder. But there is no date for when the Microsoft tablet questions will be answered. There are announcements, commercial launches and then, a while later, a trend line gradually emerges.

There is nothing new in that. But, right now, we have two very contradictory images. The reports of Microsoft's announcement were generally laudatory, but seemed to be lacking in specifics. This leaves us with two headlines: "Microsoft versus Apple: Game On" and "For Microsoft Surfaces, the When and What Still Are Vague." Read this paragraph at ExtremeTech:

Microsoft’s presentation emphasizes the way the covers feel natural in your hands — book like — while offering functionality that’s unheard of in form factors this small. Pricing and availability weren’t specifically disclosed, but Microsoft is targeting 64GB and 128GB flavors with launch “around Windows 8.” The implication is that the Windows RT version might actually drop before the Windows 8 x86 flavor — a fact that might make sense if the target device is a 22nm Atom. Otherwise, we’ll wait and see.

Huffington Post offers another example:

On its first day in the wild, potential buyers are listening and they seem interested. Will they still be listening in four months, when the first Surface tablets are rumored to be released?

It’s a good question. It's been quite a while since Tiger Woods was a dominant golfer. But sports reports continue to breathlessly track how he is doing in each tournament. It’s understandable: Can anyone but a fan name more than one or two other golfers? It's the same thing for Microsoft. It has been in the limelight for so long that whatever it does attracts — and merits — attention. It has had its successes during the past few years and still is a potent force. But it’s been years since it set the agenda.

Announcing a product months before launch, even with such gaping holes in the information released, is typical, and there is nothing wrong with it. The media needs to do its job and put it in context, however. It is true that Microsoft brings unique attributes — Windows and loads of cash, to name two — to the table. It also is true that the fact that the company will make the devices and not just license software to other parties is important, though not a first for Microsoft.

What also should be clearly stated is that aside from marketing needs, the dog-and-pony show is unnecessary this far ahead of actual product availability — especially with so much information missing. It is even more important to recognize that Microsoft’s current status means that this challenge to Apple is not really a battle of the titans. It’s a battle between a titan and a company struggling to regain that status.

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