What Microsoft and Surface 2 Forgot to Address

Operating System Issues

The issues with Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro are the same issues that have been hammered home time and time again with both Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets – the operating system.

Windows RT still has a desktop mode and is still branded as a Windows OS. It still doesn’t run Windows Phone apps, and still won’t run desktop Windows apps. Microsoft hasn’t done anything to fully differentiate it from the desktop version of Windows, which runs on the Pro version of its tablets.

Without a true software based differentiation between Windows RT and Windows 8.x, no one, including Microsoft, is going to understand why users should pick one tablet – Surface 2 vs. Surface Pro 2 – over the other. If Microsoft can’t tell us why we would want one over the other – and can’t, or at least haven’t now with two different generations of their Windows-based showcase hardware – they can’t expect us to figure it out.

Attention Microsoft – you need to figure this one out before things get so TOTALLY out of hand that Surface branded tablets become irrelevant and/or a thing of the past.

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Hardware Confusion – Lean Back vs. Lean Forward

I know, I know… the first question on your mind is what is a Lean Back vs. Lean Forward device. It’s actually very simple if you think about it. A Lean Back device is something that you lean back and relax with. A tablet is considered a lean back device, as it’s largely used to consume consumer based content with – music, movies, TV shows, social networking and the like. You can use it on the couch, on the train, in bed, or basically anywhere you’d want to sit, relax and soak up some downtime.

A Lean Forward device is something that you use to drive your business or day job. A laptop computer or an ultra-book is a great example of this type of device. You use apps like Microsoft Office Professional Plus, Photoshop (or Adobe’s Creative Suite) or other productivity software on this to get your day job done or to drive your business needs.

Unfortunately, Microsoft Surface and Surface 2 devices (including the Pro versions of each) have a serious identity crisis. They really aren’t lean back devices. Unfortunately, they’re trying too hard NOT to be lean forward devices. This identity crisis not only effects their sales, but it’s negatively impacting the Microsoft Ecosystem as well.

Surface RT and Surface 2 devices SHOULD be lean back devices. With the proper branding, marketing and – most importantly – TOTAL REMOVAL of Windows RT’s Desktop Mode – Surface RT and Surface 2 tablets could be. They really want to concentrate on the consumer end of the world anyway. They really don’t have the punch of a full blown desktop machine and don’t have the software library that is available on the lean forward side. Nearly everyone that I know of that’s either purchased one or looked at one has either taken it back for a refund or passed entirely.

There are a couple things going on here, and it very much involves BYOD, or bring your own device, to work. Many workers want both work and personal data on a single device. That way, they use one computing device to address all of their needs. When they’re done working for the day, they can take the device home and read, watch video (movies or TV shows), read personal email, etc.

When they get ready to work, there’s no learning curve. With a BYOD environment, companies don’t foot the entire bill for the computing hardware, they either pay part via employee subsidy or some other route, or don’t pay anything at all and allow users to use the equipment they’re used to working with, with say, a provision that they have to have someone look over the device or permit a specific security package to be installed, etc.

Microsoft intends Surface RT and Surface 2 to be a lean back device, but they don’t have the ecosystem setup to support that. The apps, and content just don’t really exist any longer. Manually managing music and video purchases wasn’t easy on WMP to begin with, now with the Windows Store, buying apps is easy… if the catalog itself was worth shopping. Buying music, videos, finding podcasts, etc. isn’t handled within the Store, so the shopping experience is fragmented at best. So even though MS wants Surface RT and Surface 2 to be a consumer content consumption or lean back device, it’s not very enabled to be such.

Surface Pro and Surface 2 Pro are also meant to be lean back devices – they can do everything that Surface RT and Surface 2 can do, plus they can lean forward. The problem here is that they’re really ultrabooks and not tablets. Microsoft clearly wants you to rock back and forth with both Pro versions of Surface. You can work and play with them. This is leading to identity confusion.

With the iPad and any Android tablet, the strategy is different. They’re clearly lean back devices. Apple and Google want you so used to playing with them, that when it comes time to work, you’ll automatically choose it as a work tool as well. Interestingly enough, the strategy is working; but it’s passive. They’re relying on the user to make that choice, they aren’t enabling it from the beginning and expecting you to do that.

As such, the tools and accessories are marketed differently – as a lifestyle choice made by the user – and both Apple and Google are relying on 3rd party accessory makers to market the lean forward capabilities of the tablet. With Microsoft sitting on the back/forward fence, no one knows what Surface wants to be when it grows up, including Microsoft.

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Conclusion

This lack of identity is seriously killing the entire product line.

If Microsoft doesn’t figure this out quickly, Surface 2 is going to be just as successful as Surface was, if not less so. For example, I have a 128GB Surface Pro device. I also bought a 64GB microSDXC card. I do not plan on using my Surface Pro as a desktop replacement. It’s a work only – so a lean forward – device that I primarily use for OneNote. It’s a digital notepad that travels with me from meeting to meeting. I may use it to take control of my work PC via Remote Desktop, but that won’t happen too often. I will also use it for light word processing, spreadsheet and presentation work when I can’t pull my Mac out. The amount of storage I have on the device is MORE than enough. It’s very unlikely that I’ll fill up 64GB of SDXC card with data. After I installed Office 2013 Professional Plus, I’ve got just over 88GB of free space on my SSD, or C:\ drive. I probably won’t install any other software on it.

I’m guessing that most people will find the price points of the larger capacity Surface 2 Pro devices to be cost prohibitive, and they won’t bother purchasing those. Unless a serious strategy shift comes with a new CEO, I foresee yet another HUGE write-down coming for Surface 2 that will ALSO include Surface 2 Pro.

It’s so unfortunate. I really like my Surface Pro. I know I’m going to get a lot of use out of it in the next few years. However, unless Microsoft can get the right people in charge of products – and quickly – I’m not certain how long Surface or Microsoft for that matter, will last.

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