The new Microsoft Surface is officially taking pre-orders now for an October 26th ship date, but many of you are wondering, if you should even care? We already have the industry leading iPad, and there are plenty of Android tablets around filling every remaining nook and cranny of the market, from worthless devices, to some pretty good devices. So why is Microsoft trying to break into the market with another type of tablet in a market already flooded?
There are a variety of reasons that Microsoft is getting into the tablet computer business. On the surface (no pun intended) you could say that there is a direct market for a third type of tablet. On one hand you have the iPad and what are commonly referred to as Apple Fanboys (basically anyone that likes iOS over Android), on the other, you have those who swears off Apple for the mere fact that they are Apple, or who get an Android simply because it had a product that they wanted and could afford easier than an Apple product.
In the middle though, there is a distinct market for a third type of tablet. While Apple provides a product that always works, it also has a very closed eco system, which can be difficult for corporations to deal with, and can be off putting to some users. On the other hand, you have the Android devices, which are built by “hackers” for “hackers”, this is great if you want to use your Android to power your robot, but can also be off putting to users who don’t want a heavy technical experience. (I will grant that the newest Android OS release has made some great improvements in user friendliness).
Microsoft Surface: Late To The Party But With A Clear Mission
Microsoft aims to come in somewhere between these two offerings. A product that is open, and has less direct controls over content, but something that is also closed enough to ensure an “it always works” product offering. It also aims to take on a market that neither Android or iOS have any current intentions of taking on, a tablet that can run everything your desktop can run. Wait! Yes, I said a tablet that can run everything. The new Surface tablet comes in two flavors. The Surface RT which is available now can run any Windows 8 designed application for the tablet or pc, while the soon to be coming Surface Pro can also run any program that runs on Windows 7 as well.
This is where Microsoft has a real chance to shine, and can compete as part of the much bigger overall picture. See Microsoft isn’t trying to just build another tablet that will only run apps designed for that specific tablet. They are trying to create a whole new ecosystem of applications that run on anything from your PC, to tablet, to car, to the new XBOX 720. Microsoft has tried this in the past, by working with other hardware manufactures to create tablet PC’s, but these efforts tended to be complete failures. The tablet PC’s usually didn’t measure up on performance, had terrible battery life, and they lacked the one thing that iOS and Android have been successful at, an operating system designed for TOUCH.
Microsoft hopes to change that with their new Windows 8 Metro interface, a front end to Windows that is designed to be completely touch friendly. Although Microsoft has had to maintain full backwards compatibility with Microsoft Windows 8, lest it die before it even gets out of the gate on the PC. They have made a very significant effort to encourage people to stick with the touch based Metro interface, and they are making an even stronger effort to push developers to develop new applications primary for this touch powered interface.
One of the biggest ways they are doing this is through the WinRT development cycle. Microsoft’s newest development tools are designed specifically to push developers into WinRT development. This is a drastic change from their previous efforts, and is a little off putting to some developers, but for those willing to have an open mind this is actually a potential market boom for them.
In the past, if you wanted to build an app for a PC, XBOX, Tablet, and a Phone, you basically had to write four different applications with what amounted to four entirely different development platforms. This meant if an app cost you $50,000 to make for one device, you were likely to spend $200,000 trying to make it work universally. But Microsoft is working to solve that problem, and even though it’s basically a full retraining for our programmers, it will actually mean a great deal of cost savings for clients in the future.
With the new Windows 8 and WinRT, we can develop one application that will work on your PC, XBOX 720, Surface Tablets, and Windows Phones.
While the physical hardware of the tablet itself is nothing super special to care about (it doesn’t even come with mobile internet), the promise of what it means for the future is what we really care about, and you should too.
Imagine creating an application for your business, say an electronic medical records application (EMR). Now instead of having to be pinned down to a desktop pc, you can have the entire application available to you on your PC, your tablet, your phone, and even soon in your car dashboard, and you only had to pay to cover the development of one application? For corporations around the world, this is a promise that can’t be ignored, in fact, it’s a promise I would go so far as to say should actively be supported.
From a consumer market, it also opens up an enormous marketplace for app development. Right now if we want to develop a universal app, it literally takes dozens of programers split across nearly as many platforms. Mac, Linux, PC, Android, iOS, Playstation, XBOX, Windows Mobile, etc. With the new Microsoft unified platform though, we can build one app and have it run on billions of devices, and with the extremely easy to use multilingual development system and Windows App Store, we can now reach markets across the globe with just a few clicks.
While you may not be rushing out to buy another tablet. The potential promise of what the new Microsoft Surface can offer us is huge and certainly should not be ignored. Our first Windows 8 and Surface apps will be coming out in November, stay tuned to see how well Microsoft is living up to it’s promise. Let’s hope that Surface and Windows 8 are a XP/XBOX take off, and not a Vista crash and burn.
If you would like more information on designing Windows 8/Surface apps, or apps for iOS and Android, contact us today.