Surface RT comes to town; Surface Pro delayed, although Microsoft claims phased approach in launch
Jury still out on its adoption in the region; analysts and reviewers say both devices still have challenges
NEWS ANALYSIS THE launch of Microsoft Corp's much-anticipated Surface RT in Malaysia recently was supposed to herald a new era in mobile computing for the comopny, but industry observers are not convinced that the market will embrace it openly as the device still has several downsides.
In a statement to the media last month, Carlos Lacerda (pic), Microsoft Malaysia’s newly appointed managing director, said the anticipation for Surface was exciting to see as the company had already received a lot of interest from consumers, clients and partners.
Microsoft describes the Surface RT as having the portability of a tablet with many of the functionalities of a laptop. It features a Touch Cover that provides a super-thin, spill-resistant keyboard in a variety of colours, ultra-light durable casing and an integrated kickstand for hands-free entertainment.
It can run apps from the Windows Store, has SkyDrive cloud connectivity, games, a full-size USB port, a microSDXC card slot for adding additional storage, a 16:9 widescreen high-definition display for optimal viewing and sharing content easily, as well as the productivity of Office Home & Student 2013.
Battery life is typically eight hours, the company claims, although real-life tests have shown that it hovers at about four hours. The Surface RT retails for RM1,599 (US$513) in Malaysia, without its touch keypad, which adds another RM399 (US$128) to the bill.
As impressive as the specifications sound, industry analysts Digital News Asia (DNA) spoke to were more tempered with their expectations of whether it would be successful in the market.
Lillian Tay, principal analyst at Gartner Asia Pacific, noted that the Surface RT uptake will be challenged by some factors including its high price point, the limited ecosystem and the size of the tablet, which is too heavy and bulky for content consumption.
“If the next release of Microsoft’s device has an about 8-inch screen size and if the price adjusts to about sub-US$300, it will help the sales of Microsoft RT devices,” she said in an email.
Queried as to which segment of the market would take up the Surface RT, Annette Jump, research director at Gartner Asia Pacific, said that Gartner can’t be specific on the uptake of the devices in Malaysia and Singapore.
However, there were slightly fewer than one million Windows RT tablets sold in the fourth quarter last year, and the number for the first quarter from January to March 2013 was significantly lower at approximately 200,000 to 250,000 tablets globally, she added.
“Although the success of Surface RT is not fully apparent, Gartner considers it less successful than Microsoft needed it to be, and there are many challenges for the new operating system (OS),” Jump (pic) told DNA by email.
“Overall, it is generally quite low, as in 2012, the company claimed to have sold over 60 million units,” she said. “Microsoft's tablet market is fairly limited and Gartner expects Microsoft to not have more than 7% to 8% market share by 2017.”
Microsoft Malaysia’s Lacerda said the Surface RT is targeted predominantly at the consumer market, but more accurately, it is best described as having the portability of a tablet with many of the functionalities of a laptop.
“It is a device that allows users to transition between content consumption (play) and content creation (work) -- built to be a tablet and is not strictly a PC replacement,” he said in an email interview.
Lacerda noted that with the rise of the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend in the workplace, the Surface RT is tailor-made to fulfill this need for productivity on-the-go, while maintaining mobility and the capability for entertainment.
Delayed or not?
While the launch of the Surface RT targeted at consumers was welcomed by those waiting for the Redmond, Washington giant to produce a tablet of its own, interest in the Surface Pro – a device more suited to enterprises and corporate executives – has garnered more attention by reviewers and analysts.
The reason is simple: The Surface Pro, with backward compatibility to older Windows programs, is being positioned as a differentiator to rival products – Apple’s iPad and Google’s Android tablets – as a true tablet that has both the power and the portability to replace the laptop in the enterprise realm.
The Surface Pro differs from the Surface RT not only in its hardware specifications but also in its operating system as the latter cannot run older, legacy programs, which the former can.
Next page: Delays in launch; Surface Pro gets tough early reviews