Microsoft’s New Tablet: Surface Warfare Torpedoed

| Particle Debris

Microsoft’s disclosure of its Surface RT tablet pricing and availability has once again ignited the discussion about the role of a tablet’s keyboard. It also raises the issue of how Microsoft has set the product’s keyboard pricing. Was it all planned? Has Microsoft misjudged the market? Or is this supreme cleverness by Microsoft?

When Microsoft first unveiled the Surface family of tablets, the physical keyboard was portrayed as playing an important role. The proposition was that a serious tablet for business people who create content (with MS Office) on the move need a physical keyboard. You’d almost never see a product image without that keyboard, and that led to snarky comments about how the Surface tablet is really just a notebook computer with a detachable keyboard.

In contrast, Apple, from day one, has always had a crisp vision for the iPad. It started out as a content consumption device in contrast to the classic PC, a content creation device. The iPad’s virtual keyboard is merely for emails, passwords, and short notes. In time, iOS has matured, and the iPad has been pressed into service, for a few advanced users, as a content creation device. But for the vast majority Apple’s new iPad customers, a physical keyboard is an unnecessary nuisance.

So with Microsoft’s announcement that a keyboard will cost you an additional, whopping US$100, the question arises: why is an item considered so integral to the Surface tablet’s function not part of the base price? Is it because Microsoft underestimated the cost of commodity parts and found that they needed to create a SKU without a keyboard to create a more attractive base price? The keyboard, which is rather expensive, and considered essential then becomes a profit item, perhaps the only profitable item. If true, that presents us with the prospect that Microsoft completely botched the relationship between product design, marketing and manufacturing.

A companion issue is the pricing as a whole. Because Microsoft doesn’t have as vigorous infrastructure empire behind it, like Amazon, the device can’t be sold as a loss-leader. That puts it at a disadvantage compared to other tablets that are less expensive -- or those have entrenched positions in business, education and government, like the iPad. Stern Agee analyst Shaw Wu thinks the Surface RT pricing will end up being a “fatal mistake.

This is all part and parcel of Microsoft coming into the game 30 months late and not being able to create and drive a favorable marketplace setting for its tablet. Microsoft argues that they’re getting it right for the long haul, the 25 year future of the tablet. But being so far behind may mean they may never catch up, just as the Mac, fabulous as it has been, never caught up with the PC over the period from 1984 to 2012, 26 years.

Tech News Debris

Our technology world is steeped in science. All around us, we live in a world developed by science: the International Space Station, the Space Shuttle (not flying anymore), wireless communications, the iPhone and iPad and their inherent quantum mechanics and solid state physics, the GPS system which depends on Einstein’s theory of Relativity to operate properly -- you name it. But when it comes to the U.S. Congress and technical leadership, there is only ignorance and fear. “Meet a science committee that doesn't get science.” John Timmer, by the way, is an expert, accomplished science writer. Follow him on Twitter: @j_timmer

Next is a first class piece of work on the “Mapping The Entertainment Ecosystems of Apple, Microsoft, Google & Amazon.” Click on the tabs below each map to see the penetration of each company in music, movies, TV shows, eBooks and apps. I’ll probably be referencing this research for a long time.

Would you believe? ... A 20 page, detailed review of the iPhone 5. Of course, it's by AnandTech, who else. Better put on an extra pot of tea for this one. “The iPhone 5 Review.

Image Credit: AnandTech

I can recall, back in the 1990s, arguing with other technical friends, that MS Windows was not the right OS for many facilities to use in a national defense environment. It all fell on deaf ears. Of course, starting with Windows 7, that OS has come a long way with security. But the bottom line is that no modern, consumer OS, is really up to the task of fending off the expert hackers trained by foreign governments. It’s been a worrisome proposition for some time.

In fact, recently, we heard the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, talk about a possible “cyber-Pearl Harbor” attack on the U.S. It’s probably no coincidence that Kaspersky is working on a new OS for certain critical U.S. facilities, industrial control systems. It’s high time because consumer OSes, pressed into service in these facilities in the 1990s were never intended to deal with modern threats from foreign counties. Here’s the story: “Kaspersky builds its own antimalware OS -- but not for you.

USS California sinking, December 7, 1941 (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

If you don’t know it by now, your smartphone is a virtual bonanza of information for the carrier. “Verizon catches flak for bragging about value of spying on customers.” So what do you do if you want to easily carry on a private, secure conversation with someone? A former U.S. Navy Seal is providing a solution: “New ‘Surveillance-Proof’ App To Secure Communications Has Governments Nervous.” This is amazing when you think of it. Technical facility brought about the end of privacy with little legislative protection or intervention. Now, it’s considered a birthright by others.

Finally, from the “bold claims presented as technical fact” department here at Particle Debris Plaza, we have this article summary by Jason O’Grady, “Microsoft is telling customers that its new tablet's display is sharper than the iPad 3. ‘Not so fast’ says an internationally recognized research scientist specializing in display technology.”  Curious? Read about it here: “Refuting Microsoft's claim of Surface display superiority.

Microsoft has to do something to ignite interest in this tablet, a device whose limitations appear to be driven by the company’s inferior manufacturing capital, resources and expertise compared to Apple.

Sign Up for the Newsletter

Join the TMO Express Daily Newsletter to get the latest Mac headlines in your e-mail every weekday.

8 Comments Leave Your Own

John Martellaro

MacFrogger had trouble posting today and asked me to post for him.

John said: “But when it comes to the U.S. Congress and technical leadership, there is only ignorance and fear. ‘Meet a science committee that doesn’t get science.’ ”

Jerry McNerney (D-CA) is as far as I know the only Ph.D. on the House Science Committee.  His Ph.D. is in Mathematics, and he was trained as a wind energy engineer.  This is not meant to be an endorsement, just informational. See:




The piece by John Timmer on the US Congress’s Science Committee reminds me of the cold fear I felt in moving my kids to the US a few years back, and the type of science education (or lack thereof) that they might receive. Questions about science education were amongst the very first I would put to school representatives during our interviews. Mr Timmer’s read is, further, a chilling reminder that a nation’s security, and threats thereto, take on many spectres, the most dangerous and pernicious of which, in my view, are those that arise from within amongst the very leadership whose remit it is to protect a nation. Despite the fact that it is beyond dispute that every nation’s security rests upon its scientific acumen and science application, to appoint such science discipline-averse and science fact-hostile people to oversee a country’s scientific mission is unconscionable; and should the USA lose yet further ground in its scientific endeavours, unforgivable.

I suspect that such indifference and hostility towards science and scientists is a luxury that only a wealthy and powerful nation can afford; poor countries are in a desperate race to augment their science capacity. What appears to be missing from this calculus, however, is that such wealth and power are sustainable only through further scientific competitiveness and relative gain; anything less being a fast track to relative dependence and poverty.

I maintain my optimism, however, that in most countries, the US being no exception, the elected leadership is neither representative, nor a reliable barometer, of a critical mass of their educated and thinking electorate. Such optimism is, at the same time, an opprobrium on the state of post-modern democracy, at least insofar as its tenure of scientific progress is concerned.



John, in addition to never seeing pictures of Surface without the keyboard, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen more than a few, if any, that show the tablet being used as a tablet. Inevitably, like the picture in this article, the Surface is shown upright, kickstand deployed, with a keyboard cover.

This raises a serious usability issue for those who see Surface as a productivity device: screen angle. If Surface is to be a laptop replacement, it lacks a feature every laptop has: adjustable screen angle. Surface, though, is one-size-fits-all, or rather one angle fits all. I have to wonder how Microsoft determined that the angle of Surface, with kickstand deployed, is optimal.

Yet optimum screen viewing angle is dependent on a number of factors: the height of the user, the height of the surface that the Surface (no pun intended) rests on, and the ultimate angle and distance from Surface screen to the user’s eyes. I don’t know about you and others, but I’m constantly adjusting screen angles on my iMac and MBP. And based on my use of the MBP, I think the Surface screen angle with kickstand deployed is going to prove too steep for many, in many circumstances.


[quote It’s probably no coincidence that Kaspersky is working on a new OS for certain critical U.S. facilities, industrial control systems

Sooooo… the idea is that high security and critical systems should be running an OS from a company with deep roots in Putin’s Russia?
Can you say Maginot Line?

The piece by John Timmer on the US Congress’s Science Committee reminds me of the cold fear I felt in moving my kids to the US a few years back, and the type of science education (or lack thereof) that they might receive.

Back in the ‘80 I was a science teacher for public schools in the US. It was frightening the amount of opposition we got. Our program was a travelling show that taught astronomy and related topics throughout Lane county. We got banned for several years from Springfield for mentioning evolution. Finally after I had gone on to other fields I heard that money for the program had been cut. Science education was considered a luxury, even though we worked in a number of schools where our visit was their whole science curriculum. Now the multi million dollar facility sits abandoned in Eugene. After leaving education I’ve run into more and more people in the US that rejected Climate Change, Evolution, saw no reason for a space program, I’ve even talked to a fair number of people that saw the Earth as a gift from God to be used up before the Armageddon. The US is coasting on the science education from decades ago and it is running out of steam.


Surface is great, only thing it needs now is those apps to start pouring in. Microsoft made a slight mistake with the price because the TouchCover should be included with the device and the TypeCover could have been priced at an additional $50. Time is their enemy so RT version should have been released earlier (September would be late for the WP8) and now we would be waiting for the Pro version and official desktop os premiere.
With the next gen model the display should also get a full hd resolution (and could gain an inch since it’s also made to compete with notebooks), the device should get a bit lighter (especially the Pro version), better battery life and maybe they’ll improve the ports to usb3. Since it’s the end of the year it’s surprising to sell a model without those ‘details’ for $500, with iPad you’ll get almost 30GB free storage but with Surface you get only 20GB and considering the fact that next year Apple will finally upgrade the storage to 128GB the Surface really won’t look superior (when you think about all of those aspects maybe Microsoft doesn’t want to win this fight with Apple).


AAHHHHHHHAAAAAaaaaaaa !!!! As Bomber goes up in green smoke and the final streaks across the sky of the remnants of the failing meteor descend to the sea, POOF! goes the hopes of Bomber’s monkeys and the falling flag on the crumbling hillside…



“Back in the ‘80 I was a science teacher for public schools in the US. It was frightening the amount of opposition we got. Our program was a travelling show that taught astronomy and related topics throughout Lane county. We got banned for several years from Springfield for mentioning evolution.”

[Warning: What follows is a bit off-topic.]

Before sending my kids to the US for their secondary school education, I had mental images (in black and white, undoubtedly) of villagers with pitchforks and torches amassing outside of schools where teachers dared breathe the word ‘evolution’. Your narrative of your experience is not dissimilar.

That said, my experience was, thankfully, different. Every school we interviewed taught real science, no apologies, no nod to anyone’s literal interpretation of their religious scripture. Granted, these were expensive private schools, but they were committed to teaching science. My further study of the situation in the US public school sector (these mean different things in the US vs UK context), was more mixed, but seemed region-specific. In the Baltimore/Washington area, the schools did not appear to be under pressure to drop philosophically/politically contested teachings of science, like the origin of the universe, evolution, climate change, etc.

I would like to think that such opposition to evidence is from a vocal, indeed socio-poliitically charged, minority, but a minority nonetheless. If so, then it suggests that my observation of the US secondary school educational system is valid, and that it continues to quietly go about its task of grounding kids in science, and far importantly, how to think for themselves and how to use available sources for finding and evaluating facts.

History has shown that knowledge is power and trumps ignorance in the long haul. Afterall, we’ve moved, as a race, from a geo-centric universe revolving around a flat earth to a multiverse of infinite duration and possibilities. I remain optimistic about humanity’s future and the role of science.


Go to school in the Northeast, any school, public or private, poor or wealthy and they teach real science. I went to catholic grade school and high school in WNY and we got full, real science; genetics, evolution, earth science, physics and astronomy. Probably better than the public schools here. Nothing ever had a religious connection or filter. It’s the Bible Belt you have to watch out for which has unfortunately been growing. I’ve heard plenty of horror stories from friends who have moved down south for work and been shocked at how bad the schools are and how ignorant the locals are.

Log-in to comment