With Windows 8 now complete and sent to the manufacturers that will build the devices that run the new OS, the waiting game begins between now and its official public launch on October 26. On the same day, Microsoft will also launch its stylish new Surface tablets, which the company announced in June.
Microsoft’s decision to build its own tablet has proved to be a contentious issue, with even Microsoft itself acknowledging that its “Surface devices will compete with products made by our OEM partners, which may affect their commitment to our platform”. There’s clearly some risk here, but Microsoft evidently believes that it’s worth the effort; CEO Steve Ballmer has said he expects the company to sell “a few million” of the new tablets.
But Tim Coulling, from leading technology market analysts Canalys, doesn’t think that Microsoft’s efforts will pay off. “The information available to date suggests the prices of both [the Windows RT Surface and Windows 8 Surface Pro tablets] will be too high to capture significant market share, and a direct sales approach will prove inadequate,” he explained, a reference to Microsoft’s plans to only sell the devices via its website and physical Microsoft Stores.
Worse still, Canalys believes that Surface will “have a similar impact on the PC industry as Zune did in portable music players”; despite being on sale for years, Microsoft’s Zune music players failed to sell in any great volumes, while Apple’s iPod went on to claim much of the market.
As Information Week reports, Canalys also believes that Windows 8/RT tablets from other manufacturers will struggle to compete effectively. Canalys adds that it has recommended to Microsoft’s hardware partners that they “postpone launches of Windows RT pads until Microsoft rethinks the high license fee," according to Canalys’ Chris Jones. Microsoft is believed to be working closely with only a handful of OEMs on Windows RT tablets - which will precede the arrival of full Windows 8 tablets by around three months - so it's unlikely that Canalys' recommendations will have much influence on device manufacturers anyway.
Without being privy to Microsoft’s strategy for Surface, it’s difficult to know exactly what would count as a success for its tablets though, and a recent post on The Official Microsoft Blog by the company’s Frank Shaw offers little clarity. In it, he refers to Surface as “our new family of PCs built to be the ultimate stage for Windows”.
Does this mean that Surface is little more than a product showcase, a reference design to show off the potential of the platform? Or does this hint at even more Microsoft-branded devices on the way, a sign that perhaps Microsoft is serious about making a dent in the consumer hardware market? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.