Surface changes everything: why Android is headed for a world of hurt

Microsoft have done what they do best: they’re the Borg – and they assimilate others. Yesterday they announced their new Surface tablet, and speaking as someone who all-but-hates Microsoft, it just changed the game.

Like many I left the world of Windows behind years ago for brighter, shinier pastures. I saw Microsoft as a company on an inexorable decline, losing to the new and nimbler kids in town: Google and Apple. It’s a done deal for mobile, and surely tablets would seal their fate.

Yesterday’s announcement changed my mind. Unless Microsoft blows this entirely, I believe they’ll be in a two horse tablet OS race with Apple within a year.

Here’s why.

Microsoft’s masterstroke

They’ve made a genuinely desirable product.

In a total reversal of what made them successful – and a damning inditement of their hardware partners – Microsoft are making their own tablet hardware; even more shockingly, it looks pretty good. They even managed to get faux-dubstep into their advert without it looking like a sad joke:

Surface accomplishes something Android tablets have thus far failed to do – it gives enough people a good reason to consider it better than the iPad. It does that with features that Apple don’t or won’t have: a physical keyboard, kickstand, stylus option (Pro only) and of course it runs Windows (Pro only).

Android has struggled to make a strong case for their tablets, other than “we’re cheaper”, and “you-don’t-want-to-be-one-of-those-sheeple-using-Apple, do you?” Microsoft can genuinely make a stab at saying “we’re different, we’re better”.

You hate it, and it’s going to succeed anyway

But everyone knows Windows 8 is an abomination! It’s Windows Vista 2! STUPID M$ LOLZ!

There is no way that Windows 8 doesn’t sell at least 300 million copies (they’ve sold 600 million of Windows 7 to date, even Vista sold 400 million). Every one of those installs will be putting the Metro platform in front of paying customers, where Metro replaces the Start Menu. Every one of those people will grow to recognise and use Metro.

Developers will notice too. Metro is about to become a ripe marketplace – millions of users, and no software – and developers love to sell to ripe markets. Microsoft have great development tools and are smart enough to fund some big names too. Expect an explosion in Metro apps even faster than iOS or Android are now.

In millions of stores across the land, shiny Surface tablets will occupy spaces alongside your regular Windows laptops and tablets. Even if Microsoft fails to sell much of their own hardware, they’ve done the job of leading by example – other manufacturers will take care of the cut-price market, and they have a premium offering to vie for credibility with Apple.

Microsoft can continue selling Windows 7 to businesses until the next release, and that’s fine with them. They’ve found a way to migrate people to a whole new clean OS (Metro) whilst baiting them with Windows – and if it works, it’s frankly kind of brilliant.

Android dropped the ball

Android has been in the tablet game for over 2 years, and boasts of 39% market share – but 40% of that is from the virtually incompatible Kindle Fire. Excluding the Kindle gives Android around 23% of the market.

Unfortunately they’ve done this mostly by competing on price. The only tablet manufacturer not competing on price is Apple.

23% is not to be sniffed at, but Android has no-way near the brand cachet of the iPad or Windows (ask your grandmother which she’s heard of). Pretty soon Android will be competing against a new platform that sells over ½m units a day, and there’s probably not much room for 3rd place.

How Microsoft can truck this up

Well this is Microsoft, so let’s not rule this out.

There are two versions of the tablet: a lighter, less powerful one that only runs Metro (an iPad equivalent, essentially) and a Pro model that runs native Windows apps and supports a stylus.  It’s possible that this split will confuse people too much.

It’s possible developers are just too far gone with iOS and Android to care, and Metro is ignored by consumers after a long period with no apps.

Of course it could have a ridiculous price. I expect it’ll match the iPad for the base model – Microsoft would be wise to sell these things at cost if it gets their brand started.

It’s also possible Google announces their own game changer. I virtually guarantee they will try (they did buy Motorola after all). However against Microsoft’s virtually cemented Windows sales, they need to do more than equalise on features if they’re going to win this. 

What does this mean for Blackberry?

Ha. Just kidding.

So what next?

How this plays out for mobile – where Windows enjoys a meagre 5% market share – remains to be seen. I suspect Android is pretty safe there, but maybe tablet sales could bleed into mobile.

Microsoft’s volte-face marks the conclusive end of segregated operating systems and hardware, a trend Apple and Amazon have long exploited. I expect Google won’t be far behind with their own tablet.

As for the moral of the story? Never discount the Borg. Just ask Sony and Netscape.

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  • Chris Lu

    1 million a day?  are you smoking crack?

    If you want to put money where you mouth is, I’d be happy to bet you $10k that the Microsoft Surface does not sell more than 20 million units in 2013.  We can use an escrow service. 

    Let me know when you are ready to stand by your convictions instead of spewing more BS.

    • John Conroy

      This is a juicy bet 

    • James Banner

      He did not meant just Microsoft tablets, he meant PC sales overall. Even IDC estimates something like 400 million PCs will be sold in 2013. Guess what atleast 90% of the PCs will have pre-installed?

    • oliveremberton

      Typo – should have read half a million. Fixed, and I’ve added a link to the source (650,000 licenses sold / day – ).

      My point was that sales of Windows, and hence Metro are essentially assured. Not that *Microsoft Surface will necessarily outsell* their rivals, just that *Metro will*. I doubt Microsoft care if HP or Dell or Acer combined make up the total units – they’re all pushing the OS.

      It appears MS conceded that the best way to do that is Apple-style, by selling their own hardware. If nothing else, it gives their hardware partners a higher bar to shoot for. We’ll see how it works out.

    • Mandy

      you forgot about the emerging markets in africa – here is 300 million potential users of the best priced tablet – its against the likes of huwaie aswel (typo)

    • Jayden Lawson

      Now that we can look back… what did they actually sell?

  • Kim

    It’s not how many surfaces will be sold, it’s how many tablets with windows 8 will be taken up by consumers. 

  • barrkel

    I don’t know. I don’t use computers because they’re “bright” or “shiny”. It seems that those are the most important things about a piece of hardware for you. We haven’t learned anything new here about software; the only thing we have is some specs and PR photos of a hypothetical device. If that’s all it takes to convince you, you’re either incredibly shallow, or a shill.

    • oliveremberton

      Image does matter. Although it may be distressing to hear, for most ‘casual’ consumers the look and feel of their computer is one of the most important factors they consider. Otherwise we’d still be shipping beige boxes.

      With modern form factors – mobile and tablet – the form is HUGELY important. Weight. Thickness. These things matter more than clock cycles nowadays. 

      As for software – Windows 8 is already widely available. Early signs suggest it’s not bad as a tablet OS, and as I say above I expect developers to follow where the users go, and I expect users to adopt Windows in huge numbers.

      • barrkel

        It’s not painful to hear. Rather, look and feel of hardware isn’t enough, and is seldom the critical factor, so changing one’s mind drastically on the basis of this press release is premature.. Software is usually paramount at the end of the day.

        I expect this tablet to be about as successful, or perhaps slightly more so, as the Lumia.

        • James Banner

          I believe you should be busy predicting future of Delphi as your profile says! With the looks of it, IT will be irrelevant in next couple of years as there won’t be “desktop” market anymore.

  • James Banner

    So you are suggesting it’s FAKE ? Time to go back to work bro!

  • Mathew Thomas

    Without knowing the real prices, it’s too early to predict sales.   I know a number of Apple fanboyz that are seriously fed up with paying through the nose for Mac products.   Some of them are seriously interested now in the the new Lenovo notebooks as well as Surface.

  • Chris Longley

    M$ have always leveraged success with uncompetitive practices through its OS. Very much like Google are doing now with its search domination. Buts thats Americans for you. They hate outside competition and run restrictive practices in the US for any market. The only one who has done it on product design, software and hardware alone is Apple but I still hate them. Jobs plagurised most of his “concepts”. Its their marketing team that wins the best recognition from me.

  • MuffinTopper

    Hey Olly, how do you feel about your ‘game changer’ predictions now that Surface is a huge flop?

  • LollyRofl

    So Olly, now that Microsoft is forced to liquidate millions of unsold surface devices, how bad do you think Android is “hurting” now? Oh BTW, Android’s taken 20% of the dominant iPad’s marketshare in the past quarter.

  • s

    Man, what are you talking about? I mean, you have to be talking about the US market only (and your predictions are impossible to turn real even there).

    You can clearly sell that businesses don’t buy W8, conscious customers don’t buy W8, power users are not buying W8 and most of their casual customers (according to consulting groups) feel like switching to a new OS.. but now Windows 8. The biggest wave that Microsoft started with Windows 8 (except of people raging) is a wave of people switching from Windows to Mac.

    • s

      -> “see” (instead of sell), “not” (instead of “now”). sorry for those.

  • Chris M

    Heh…guess this analysis was waaaay off. Samsung is selling Android tablets as fast as they can make them and MS can’t give away the Surface RT tablets. Well, maybe the Surface 2 will do better.