Microsoft’s New Tablet: Surface Warfare Torpedoed

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.

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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.