Talking tech since 2003

As you may recall, this coming Monday, Microsoft will be holding a special event in Manhattan to unveil the Surface 2, the company’s second attempt to make a splash in the tablet market. BestTechie will be there to get the latest and greatest from Microsoft, but before Monday comes, we thought it’d be a good idea to try and figure out what might help the Surface 2 become a success.

Other than, you know, “sell some Surfaces.” That one’s a given.

1) For the Surface to take off, Microsoft needs to figure out who, exactly, the thing is for.

By now we’ve all seen this commercial:

The Surface has a kickstand! And a USB port! And a keyboard (sold separately)! “Less talking. More doing,” says the ad. The fact that the Surface RT costs $250 less than the iPad with the same amount of internal storage should make it a clear winner, right?

But it’s not. That’s because people who buy tablets don’t want them so they can do anything. The iPad is popular because it perfects the art of consumption. You can browse the web, listen to music, watch video, and play games, and you can do all of that in the most stylish 10-inch casing around. If you want to actually create content, you can, but that capability is more of a bonus for iPad users, rather than one of the features that drew them in. Microsoft’s insistence that the Surface will let users do more is simply the wrong message if it’s gunning for the iPad’s audience. They don’t want to do anything. If they did, they’d use their Macbooks. Furthermore, its lower price tag is a relatively recent development. When it launched, the Surface RT cost about the same as the iPad, which must have certainly contributed to its drubbing at retail.

2) Microsoft needs to find a way to incentivize making great, must-have apps for its Windows Store.

That’s another way the Surface 2 can find an audience: it needs to have great software. As it is, the Windows Store is a lonely place compared with the App Store and Google Play. A tablet is only as good as the software it runs, and while the Windows Store has some good stuff, developers still avoid the platform. And without good software, users aren’t interested. Because Microsoft flopped with trying to get users in the first place, it’ll have to find a way to populate its store with apps, and that might mean paying developers directly, one-by-one, to fill out its catalog.

My last idea for how the Surface 2 can succeed is a doozy, but I know it won’t happen—at least, not this time around. Simply put…

3)  The company needs to kill the Surface Pro.

That’s not to say that the device itself isn’t worthy of existing, because that’s not the case. What I mean is that the Surface Pro (or the Surface Pro 2, as the next-gen follow up will be after Monday’s event) needs to have a completely new brand. As it is, the fact that there are two devices named “Surface” that both run “Windows,” but have completely different specifications, strengths, and price points has got to be extremely confusing for potential customers.

Imagine this scenario: someone watches the commercial above and decides to give the Surface a try. He walks into Best Buy, takes a look at the Surface, and sees that it costs $900. He then turns around and leaves the store. Alternatively, maybe instead of walking away, he asks the clerk to see a Surface.

“Which one? RT or Pro?” says the clerk.

“What’s the difference?” replies the confused customer.

“The RT runs Windows RT, but the Pro is better and runs Windows 8,” says the clerk. Just before he starts listing the specs for each device, the customer has already left.

Now here’s this other scenario: A customer walks into a Best Buy and asks for an iPad.

“Which one? Regular or Mini?” says the clerk.

“What’s the difference?” replies the not-as-confused customer.

“The Mini is smaller and cheaper.”

A sale is in that clerk’s future.

Essentially, the Surface Pro 2 will be a really cool, beefy, touch-enabled Windows 8 computer. But will it be a tablet? In concept only. That’s why the name needs to change. Call it the Super Tab, or the X-Slab, or the Windows 8 Machine. Calling it the “Surface Pro” will do nothing but fracture its own small market, and drive confused and non-tech savvy customers back into the arms of the competition.

Will any of this happen? Maybe the first two, almost certainly not the third. No matter what, believe it or not, I’m definitely a fan of the Surface in theory—especially the X-Slab. But until Microsoft finds a way to actually get people with dollars to pay them money, the Surface 2 won’t be anything but an also-ran.

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