Microsoft pins Surface hopes on Gen-i hookup, supersized free cloud storage, free calls to landlines & mobiles
Microsoft pins hopes for new tablets on Gen-i hookup, supersized free cloud storage, free calls to landlines and mobiles
Just five months after Microsoft NZ’s Surface Pro launch, the company is two new tablets today: the Surface 2 (from $649) and the Surface Pro 2 (from $1299; see more pricing and specs end of story).
The compressed timing is odd, but reflects that New Zealand was way late to get the original Surface (released in June last year in the US). This time we’re part of the first wave of release.
And the October 22 release date means Microsoft sneaks in Surface before Apple’s launch event tomorrow [UPDATE: see the new iPads here], which is widely tipped to be a new iPad and iPad Mini.
There’s no sugarcoating the fact that the initial Surface was a disappointment. Microsoft took a $US900 million charge on unsold inventory.
How can the new models succeed where the first wave failed?
Microsoft NZ says the first-generation Surface tablets did well here, given it was limited to a couple of retail channels, but won’t talk numbers.
This time around the company will have a commercial channel.
Microsoft NZ marketing and operations director Frazer Scott says a deal is being finalised with Telecom’s services unit, Gen-i.
Unlike retailers, Gen-i can offer can offer large organisations full-blooded support and deployment services, Mr Scott says.
Cyclone Computers (which also pushes Google Chromebooks) has been added on the education side, along with to other distributors.
ABOVE: Microsoft wheeled in Michael Van de Elzen for its Surface launch in Auckland last night. The celebrity chief has been using one of the new tablets in the kitchen, swiping through a recipe app. But perhaps the real story is more meat-and-potatoes: A Surface Pro 2 has all the grunt to run full-blooded versions of Windows software like Office and Photoshop. Dock it to a monitor and keyboard when you're in the office, and you've got no need for a laptop. But bear in mind it comes at a laptop price: a fully kitted out Surface Pro 2 (held above by Microsoft NZ's Frazer Scott) costs $2599 - plus another $185 to $200 for an optional keyboard cover.
200GB of free online storage
One of NBR (and all-comers) complaints about the first Surface tablets was the came with a lousy 7GB of online storage. It was more than the 5GB offered free by Apple and Google, but that’s not saying much at a time when the Surface was being sold with up to 128GB of onboard storage, and even budget PCs stretch to 500GB.
Here, Microsoft’s listened to the criticism, and gone on the front foot, keeping that 7GB of free online storage and adding 200GB free for two years.
Good. Well done. In an age when you can sync apps and files across devices, you need that sort of cloud capacity.
Free overseas phone calls
A third selling point: buy one of the new Surface tablets and you get a two bonus Microsoft Skype international calling options: unlimited free calls to mobile numbers in seven countries (Canada, China/Hong Kong, Guam, Hong Kong, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Thailand and the US) and unlimited free landline calls to numbers in 60 countries (including Australia, China/Hong Kong, the US and the UK; see a full list here).
You also get unlimited Skype WiFi in any location that supports it (which includes the several thousand in NZ and worldwide running NZ company Tomizone's software).
ABOVE: The Surface 2 (front, with optional TypeCover) and the Surface Pro 2 (with optional TypePad and docking station. The dock provides extra connectivity options, but the tablet itself has Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi a/b/g/h and USB 3.0 and Mini DisplayPort jacks).
Full Windows software on a tablet
Techs and specs are also boosted, with incremental upgrades to processing power and cameras and so forth.
The Surface (the successor to the Surface RT) is also marginally thinner and lighter than its predecessor, and gets its display bumped to full HD. And still get a free copy of Office, and now Outlook too.
The Surface Pro 2 is the same chunky dimensions as the original Surface, but gains a beefier i5 processing power and now offers two new options that under-pin that this hybrid device can serve as a full laptop replacement. Its two most expensive variants double memory to 8GB, and onboard storage to 256GB ($1870) or 512GB ($2599).
The trade-off: that high-end Pro 2 pricing is more like a high-end laptop than a tablet.
And while all that processing grunt means you can run the same Windows programs on your Surface Pro 2 as you do on your PC, without compromise (another key selling point), it also means laptop-like battery life rather than the 10 hours or so you’re used to on your iPad.
Better keyboard options
Accessories have also been improved. The Touch Cover 2 keyboard cover ($185) is a lot more robust than its predecessor. Microsoft says it can now be used for typing with a Surface balanced on your lap. And the thinner Touch Cover 2 ($200) now has more than 10 times as many sensors, allowing it to support touch gestures as well as typing.
In the key area of apps, Microsoft is still behind (a Windows 8 version of Facebook’s app has only just been released). But the company is also pushing that its IE 11 has full touch support – and that for many sites and services outside of games – Netflix and Facebook were given as examples at the Auckland launch event last night – a web browser is all you need in many cases.
No sim card
Again, the new Surface models lack 3G or 4G, but Microsoft NZ says a 4G/LTE variant on the Surface Pro 2 ill emerge in the new year (it also says only 5% of iPad and Android buyers opt for a cellular-cable model. Certainly that wouldn’t surprise me given the high cost of mobile data, and the lack of data sharing plans).
Lastly, like all new Windows devices (and those that have taken advantage of the free upgrade), the new Surfaces ship with Windows 8.1, which returns the much-missed Start button (to a fashion), among other tweaks.
So: the new Surface tablets have a number of points of differentiation with the Apple and Android competition.
The odds are still heavily stacked against it. How many of your collegues in this bring-your-own-device age are even aware Microsoft makes a tablet, let alone are actively considering one?
And for all Microsoft's brave (and to a degree, quite logical) talk about the Surface's ability to run full Window software, and and many services within its web browser, apps still matter. Behind the scenes, the company is fully aware, and its supporting app developers in NZ and around the world.
Some third-party hardware makers have peeled away, disappointed in demand for their Windows 8 tablets. Against this, Microsoft's pending acquisition, Nokia, will soon release its own Windows tablet this week - which will make for a rather surreal inter-company rivalry. Still, it's competition of sorts.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has repositioned Microsoft from a software company to a "devices and services" company.
He's also due to resign within a year. A key point of interest will be where his successor takes the new strategy.
Me, I've just got a Surface Pro 2.
So I'm going to see whether, with a bit of docking to my work and home monitor and keyboard - and Office 365 and Adobe Creative Cloud installed, including Photoshop - it can indeed serve as a full laptop replacement.
Surface 2 (successor to the Surface RT)
2GB of RAM + 32GB onboard storage: $699
2GB of RAM + 64GB onboard storage: $799
Surface Pro 2
4GB of RAM and 64GB onboard storage: $1299
4GB + 128GB: $1499
8GB + 256GB: $1879
8GB + 512GB: $2599
Full tech specs: www.microsoft.com/surface/en-nz
Early reviews/further reading