Microsoft Fails to Fix the Surface Pro 2

Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) hybrid tablet, the Surface Pro 2, is emblematic of Microsoft's entire Windows strategy. Windows 8 is a hybrid operating system, designed to satisfy the needs of both mobile and traditional PC users. The Surface Pro is the ultimate extension of that philosophy -- it's a tablet, yes, but it's also capable of running just about any piece of PC software.

Microsoft recently unveiled an update to the Surface Pro: The Surface Pro 2 is better, faster and the battery lasts longer. Yet, early reviews have not been kind. It appears Microsoft still has much work to do to beat back Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) and Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) .

"It makes you compromise everywhere"
The Verge, in its lengthy review of the Surface Pro 2, ultimately concludes that it's a machine not noticeably different from its predecessor. The tech site awards it a 7.8 (on a 10 point scale), noting that -- despite its versatility -- it still comes with numerous drawbacks.

Likewise, engadget comes to a similar conclusion, noting that while the Surface Pro 2 is far better as a laptop replacement, its tablet credentials are still lacking. In particular, both the size and the weight -- still the same as the previous generation -- make the Surface Pro 2 far bulkier than its tablet competitors like Apple's iPad.

CNet, too, finds issue with Microsoft's size decisions, and complains about the pricing scheme. While the Surface Pro 2 technically starts at $899, but that doesn't include Microsoft's proprietary keyboard cover, a necessity to use the device as its intended. Wired remarks that a touch-capable Ultrabook might be better value for the money.

All signs point to Apple slimming down its iPad 
Mobile: The name really says it all. The big appeal of mobile devices is that they're, well, mobile -- users can tote them around easily, hold them with one hand, stick them in a purse, or otherwise make the process of transporting and handling their computing device easier.

And while reviewers complain about the size of the Surface Pro 2, Apple is making its own tablets more mobile. The fifth generation iPad borrows heavily from the design of Apple's iPad Mini -- it's both smaller and lighter than the previous version.

Moreover, in addition to winning the mobility war, Apple's iPad also dominates when it comes to apps. As Apple's management is quick to point out, there are almost 400,000 apps in Apple's store designed specifically for the iPad. Google's Android, meanwhile, has fewer tablet-specific apps, instead relying mostly on phone apps stretched to fit the larger screen. Microsoft's Windows 8 doesn't even have those, still lacking key apps like Spotify and Instagram.

Apple continues to offer the best all-around tablet experience, though admittedly, it's looking like consumers are less and less interested. Last quarter, Apple posted disappointing iPad sales, with many analysts blaming the decline on the lack of a new product. With a new model, it will be interesting to see if iPad sales rebound.

Google's Android partners are moving faster than Microsoft
Those poor iPad sales may be due to Google's mobile operating system Android, and its numerous hardware OEMs. Although Android still lacks the dedicated mobile app experience, Android tablets -- like Android phones -- are available in nearly every size and shape, and at just about every price point. Google's Android finally surpassed Apple's iOS in terms of tablet market share earlier this year, and should continue to dominate for the foreseeable future.

That's because many Android OEMs have already done what Microsoft is attempting to do with the Surface Pro 2. Admittedly, there aren't any tablets powered by Google's Android that can run traditional PC applications -- but that combination of tablet and laptop functionality is already available. Asus' Transformer Pad Infinity is a high-powered Android tablet with a keyboard dock, compete with HDMI and USB ports. Hewlett-Packard's SlateBook x2 is much the same.

And then there's the pen. It isn't mentioned as much as the keyboard cover, but the Surface Pro 2 also includes a stylus -- keeping in line with a long tradition of Microsoft tablets that focused on pen input. But again, here, too, Google's hardware partners are already a step ahead of Microsoft -- Samsung's lineup of Note tablets includes its S-pen, a smart stylus that works with Samsung-specific apps.

Users that need Microsoft's Office software suite, or who need to run desktop PC apps on their tablet, have little choice but to go with the Surface Pro 2. Others, who just need a keyboard or a stylus, may be better off going with a device powered by Google's Android.

The problem with the Surface Pro 2
Although Microsoft appears to have improved its flagship tablet, the Surface Pro 2 continues to be affected by the limitations of the previous version. Unlike Apple's iPad, which has gotten lighter and thinner, Microsoft's Surface Pro 2 remains bulky and heavy. It may have a keyboard and a stylus, but so do many tablets running Google's Android. Most importantly, its mobile applications remain limited.

That's unfortunate, because as long as the Surface Pro 2 remains a lackluster product, Microsoft's Windows 8 will never reach its full potential. Microsoft's idea of a hybrid tablet and PC experience remains intriguing for now, but still needs a true, fantastic product to demonstrate the concept.

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  • Report this Comment On October 22, 2013, at 12:11 PM, MiketheITGuy wrote:

    You would be right if the Surface Pro forever remains priced over a $1000 but the price will drop and drop hard over the next 1 - 2 years.

    Will the iPad or Android be able to run the billion dollar selling GTA5 when it is released for the PC next spring? No... (but it will be very playable on a Surface Pro) How many guys will buy a Surface Pro when it is selling in the $500-600 range in a couple years?

    Microsoft is blindsiding Apple and Google and nobody sees it yet...

  • Report this Comment On October 22, 2013, at 12:40 PM, CharlesClarke3rd wrote:

    You're dumb. Plan and simple. I am now dumber for reading this article. Waste of the 10 min. it took you to get a paycheck. And if it wasn't clear enough, I'm saying the writer of this article has a lower than average IQ.

  • Report this Comment On October 22, 2013, at 1:21 PM, joe2m wrote:

    I for one, am planning on buying a surface pro this spring (when I usually make purchases like this). If I get a tablet, I want one you can do real work with. Mike, you make a good point as well, Steam (with it most of my games) will now be portable for me.

  • Report this Comment On October 22, 2013, at 1:42 PM, poornamelessme wrote:

    Considering the fact that nobody purchased the Surface (RT or Pro) versions in considered numbers, and it seems unlikely the 2nd version will sell much better, I am not sure they are blindsiding anyone.

    Remember that other manufacturers don't remain static too. If these sell at all, or even if not and there is an untapped market, I expect Apple will simply release a convertable tablet. They can beat Microsoft on price, but even if they don't, they can beat them on apps and public acceptance. I am also not so sure Microsoft can wait a couple of years to sell any of these... By then, they would be so far behind in android/ios market share, it won't matter anymore. It could be argued that already is the case.

    And nobody in their right mind would buy a Surface Pro for playing GTA5 on. Nobody would buy them for gaming at all ... games like that do not benefit from a touch interface (they are unplayable mostly).

  • Report this Comment On October 22, 2013, at 2:33 PM, JoeLemon wrote:

    I'm getting the feeling this web site writes articles to be so annoying people just have to post.

    You are comparing the surface pro to the ipad and you bring up apps? 400K apps? Wow, there is over a billion apps for the pc that the surface pro can run. The surface doesn't need the mobile apps either. Unless the ipad it comes with a full browser. Most apps are just web sites to make up for the limited features of the browser.

    You even admit yourself that tablets aren't selling well. Why? People want a larger phone, so they don't need a tablet and a phone.

    Exactly how is the keyboard a required thing for the surface, but not for the ipad. Apple also sells a keyboard for the ipad.

    Google is ahead of the surface by including a pen. Exactly how when the surface had one first, and there is already apps that use it.

    Price? The surface pro is smaller and lighter then the mac air and cheaper. The pro also has the same hardware.

    A lot of companies are buying the surface pro instead of a laptop. It is easier to bring to meetings and bring home. Then you just connect it to a monitor and keyboard.

    If you want 1 complaint about the surface pro is for some stupid reason Microsoft didn't make a docking station. You can use the USB port for it, but I would want a real one.

  • Report this Comment On October 22, 2013, at 2:50 PM, roll0188 wrote:

    What is wrong with most "tech writers"? It is foolish to compare the Surface Pro or Pro 2 with an iPad, It is not intended to uproot an iPad, a consumer device good for email, web surfing, and games, not productivity. The Surface Pro 2 is an excellent laptop replacement, and can be used as a tablet as well. It's size is perfect for business travel, and permits the user to remain productive with Office Suite applications, just as in the office, with VPN support. It also can run apps for those so inclined. The biggest drawback is the price, $200-300 less would greatly boost sales to individuals. We are using Surface Pro's at work and are very happy with them.

  • Report this Comment On October 22, 2013, at 2:57 PM, JoeLemon wrote:

    Apple is going to beat someone on price? Are you joking there stuff is far more then anyone else.

    Apple would also have to redo the OS to make it a hybrid. And if hybrids caught on Microsoft wins. Apple market share of PCs is where Microsoft is of mobile. Of course sites like this act like Apple is doing well in PC sales. Apple is losing market share in the PC market.

    The surface pro will never be $500.

  • Report this Comment On October 22, 2013, at 5:07 PM, TMFMattera wrote:

    Thanks for the comments, guys. Just a few points:

    JoeLemon:

    Saying "just use the browser" might sound nice, but in reality, that's not what people want to do. In fact, according to Flurry, 80% of the time people are using tablets, they're using apps -- mobile apps matter.

    Tablets are selling well -- sales are projected to increase 53% this year. The iPad itself is slowing, but the growth of Android tablets is making up for it.

    While the Surface Pro might be better than the MacBook Air in certain situations, they're very different devices. A better comparison might be the Surface Pro to say, an HP Ultrabook, and there, it isn't as clear.

    roll0188:

    Comparing the Surface to the iPad is a very fair comparison to make -- Microsoft itself does it all the time in its advertising. Have you watched an NFL game lately? The Surface Pro, with x86 architecture, is in a different class, but Bill Gates himself compared the two devices, telling CNBC a few months ago that iPad users are "frustrated" and that the Surface Pro is the solution.

  • Report this Comment On October 22, 2013, at 5:32 PM, JoeLemon wrote:

    Um, you realize that why people use apps is that the mobile browser is very limiting. The surface comes with a full browser. You don't need the apps. So your 80% is meaningless.

    More people are interested in a larger phone over a tablet and phone.

    How is the air and surface very different devices? Because 1 uses Mac OS, and another uses Windows? You do know you can put Mac OS on the surface? The air is just an ultrabook, but HP makes really crappy computers.

    Um, Microsoft compares the RT to the ipad not the pro. You don't notice that the surface price is the RT price not the pro in those ads? I'm starting to think you don't know the difference between the RT and the Pro. And how is that quote Gates comparing the 2. It is actually him saying they aren't the same.

  • Report this Comment On October 22, 2013, at 5:54 PM, TMFMattera wrote:

    JoeLemon:

    The limitations of the mobile browser might be part of the reason, but definitely not an adequate explanation. Native apps are designed with the touch screen in mind, making them far easier to use. If apps didn't matter, then I'm not sure why the Surface RT hasn't sold just as well, or almost as well, as the iPad. Instead, it's been outsold by a factor of about 30. Why is it? It can't be for lack of advertising, or even pricing.

    Mac OS and Windows PCs are quite different beasts. A fair comparison is a touch-screen equipped Windows Ultrabook. You can buy a 14-inch Asus Zenbook with a touch-screen for less than $700.

    I agree that the Surface (RT) is a much more fair comparison, but Gates himself compared the two devices.

    Gates, Microsoft's chairman, said: iPad users are "frustrated...Surface, Surface Pro -- you've got that portability of a tablet..but the richness of a PC...It's going to be harder and harder to distinguish tablets and PCs"

  • Report this Comment On October 22, 2013, at 6:57 PM, JoeLemon wrote:

    Mobile web sites are built for touch as well. People aren't buying the Surface, because it isn't the cool thing there friends have. Also the live titles look ugly. I'm not a fan of the Surface RT, but I love the pro.

    You said that 2 times now, but exactly how are they different. The Surface pro and the Air have pretty much the same hardware, and I can install Mac OS on my Surface. Exactly how they are different beasts. Does that mean if I install Linux on my surface pro it is a different beast then a Surface pro with Windows. Or you mean that the air isn't touch screen. In that case +1 pro.

    Again how is Gates comparing the 2. He is actually saying they are different. 1 is a hybrid and 1 is just a tablet.

  • Report this Comment On October 23, 2013, at 10:55 PM, ericseba wrote:

    Frankly, I don't think the Surface needs a "fix" except maybe in the marketing department. I am a Windows Desktop user through and through, both at work and at home.

    I do however own for my portable life, a Mac Book Air and a 2nd generation iPad (a mini as well but it's effectively a reader). When I go out of town, frankly I don't feel like either is the perfect device so inevitably, even though I bought the slimmest, lightest laptop out there, it gets weighed down by the extra bulk of carrying my iPad as well.

    That is why I find it nearly comical that the biggest "failure" of the Surface Pro is size/weight. Frankly, you need two Apple devices to do all that one Surface can do.

    While on vacation, the iPad is perfect for watching movies on board the plane, pulling up reservations in the car, etc... It's also a great reader. My wife however, can't live without the MacBook because she lives to transfer photo from our SLR camera every night so she can edit them and post to Facebook. Furthermore, I use logmein on the MacBook to connect to my office desktop and access MS Office and Peachtree Accounting (no version for Mac and no, I'm not running parallels or VM on my MacBook Air).

    The fact is the Surface with its OPTIONAL keyboard detached is a great iPad replacement for my on board activities. Add the keyboard and I can do anything the MacBook Air can do and then some. No need for logmein to access MS Office or any other Windows only software. My wife can transfer photos and post to Facebook to her hearts content (or store them in our free 200 GB SkyDrive account).

    Is the Surface a couple ounces heavier than the MacBook Air, sure with the keyboard attached it is. Is the battery life shorter? Yes again. However, I rarely find myself much more than a 2-4 hour plane ride from an electrical outlet. Once I'm at my hotel, I could care less about 10 hours of battery life.

    If a few ounces a and a couple hours of battery life is the only price I have to pay to have one device that does everything that two Apple products combine to do.... well, I'll find the strength to lug the extra couple of ounces and I'll live with the 5 hours of battery life (or pack a battery backup).

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