This morning I attended the Microsoft Surface event here in NYC (you can read our live blog coverage from the event to get all the specific details on what was announced) and I left the building the event took place in feeling good about Microsoft.  It was kind of weird.  I did not think much of the first generation Surface or Surface Pro, which probably put me in the same category as most people, and going into this event I was very skeptical about what was going to be announced.  But again, I left the event feeling good, impressed by what Microsoft had announced and with the impression that the company may be starting to bounce back.

The big question is why.  Why do I feel this way?  I took all day to think about it and this is what I came up with.

Roadmap

This may seem like an odd thing to say, but I got the sense today (more than ever before) that Microsoft really does have a roadmap for the Surface.  The company has big plans for the device and is clearly investing a lot of time, money, and resources into turning those plans into a reality.

Devices and Services

surface-pro-2-in-handThe new Surface tablets are the first Microsoft products to put a real emphasis on both devices and services.  For example when you buy a new Surface you get upgraded to a 200GB SkyDrive account for two years. Additionally, you will receive a year of free international calling with Skype and access to Skype WiFi hotspots.  And don’t forget about the fact that you get Microsoft Office which includes Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Outlook.  This is Microsoft finally leveraging its assets in the right way by giving people the products they need to be successful with whatever they are working on or doing with their tablet.

The upgraded hardware, including the Intel Haswell processors is obviously a nice addition along with the Nvidia Tegra 4 and faster/more memory, however, I got the feeling today that Microsoft is also really paying attention to the small details that make a product great.  This is something I didn’t get or see from the company over the past several years.  The change to the Surface kickstand, allowing you to adjust it in two different ways, is a super subtle change, but one that had a lot of thought put into it.  Lastly, the improved front facing camera on the Surface 2 is just so much better than any other camera I’ve seen on a tablet in low light situations.

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Apps

When the Surface originally launched last year, there were only 10,000 apps in the Windows App Store — now there are over 100,000.  We like to knock Microsoft’s app store, but it’s getting better and more developers are starting to [slowly] make their way in there.  One popular app making its way to the Surface soon is Flipboard, which is actually a pretty big deal, at least I think.

surface-2-remixAccessories

The several new accessories introduced today, including the Surface Remix, Surface Power Cover, Surface Docking Station, and the new Touch and Type covers, all are innovative.  For example, going from 80 sensors on the original TouchCover to over 1000 sensors on the latest TouchCover is an incredible feat.  The Surface Remix is a really neat accessory and is paired with an awesome Windows app that lets you get the most out of it.  The Surface Power Cover will actually charge your Surface and extend the battery life making it last 2.5x longer.

I think the accessories market for the Surface could be a huge deal.  There’s a lot of potential there for both software and hardware makers.

Customers

There are customers who love the Surface.  If they liked the original Surface, they will love the new one.  This is going to be the toughest job Microsoft has: getting people to try the product.

Differentiation

By making the Surface powerful and having a number of accessories available for it, Microsoft is creating a more PC-like environment.  Microsoft is pushing the Surface tablets as products that let you “do things,” as opposed to just being used for consumption purposes.  This is their differentiation tactic and I can hear arguments on both sides. Many people use the iPad (and other tablets) strictly for consumption, however, the iPad does have apps that let you be creative and well, create stuff.  Microsoft wants you to be able to do and/or consume anything with its Surface, just like a regular PC.  That’s the bet they’re taking (it’s worth noting that this was a failed bet around a decade ago).

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surface-2-frontDespite the original Windows tablets failing, I think the technology is much better now for this approach then it was, say 10 years ago.  Now, the Surface is smaller, sleeker, more powerful, has custom apps, and better all-around technology powering it.  Plus, the tablet form-factor is much more common now and people are comfortable with it. Again, I think this is going to come down to getting people to try the product.

Hunger and Drive

Watching Panos Panay (VP at Microsoft, heads the Surface team) present today, it was clear he’s really passionate about the product.  He wants to make it a success, badly.  But while I think he wants it to succeed more than anything else, it appears to me he’s being smart and methodical about it — listening to customers, developing new ways to get people hooked in, differentiating, and innovating.  I think that’s good to see and while I think it’s good to see, I’m sure the Surface team at Microsoft thinks it’s even better because I get the feeling he’s inspiring them to create great products. Microsoft is the underdog in this market, they have to be scrappy and have to fight hard to survive (and eventually succeed).

Will Microsoft find success with the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2?  It remains to be seen (though I think they will, or at the very least, have a better chance), but as I said, it has to find more success with this generation than the previous.


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