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June 21, 2012

Microsoft Innovates in the Tablet, Hardware Market

The pre-unveiling of Microsoft's Surface tablet has the world abuzz this week. In one fell swoop, it has people comparing its concept/vision of tablet to Apple and Android manufacturers, has Google (News - Alert) execs muttering snippy comments about Microsoft's "complicated strategy" to integrate tablets and PCs and has pundits cranking out comments by the thousands.

Hardware manufacturers are among the most affected, though.

Consider that Microsoft has been asking for tablets forever. What it has received is a repacking of the PC into a touchscreen form factor with a stylus, while manufacturers pour most of their promotional energy on tweaked Android (News - Alert) tablets. 

Put side-by-side on a price and performance basis, and there wasn't much to shift people to buying a Windows Tablet over a Windows Ultrabook, while Android devices usually came up better in terms of lower cost and better battery life.

Microsoft Surface's announcement makes it clear that the company is tired of waiting for hardware manufacturers to deliver better solutions. And Intel (News - Alert) has to fall into the no-innovations camp as well, given its Ultrabook/Macbook Air-clone push and focus on pushing its chips into smartphones.

Clearly, Microsoft put some thought into the user interface beyond the touchscreen with a cover that doubles as a keyboard – with a touchpad. Anyone who's used an iPad to do "real work" – word processing, spreadsheet and other tasks requiring keyboard work – knows the biggest weakness of the device is the lack of mouse/pointing support. You type, you have to lift up your hands to put your fingers all over the screen to do some cut and paste. You type some more, hands up again, followed by some screen cleaning as you get rid of the smudgy fingerprints.

Anyone making Android tablets and keyboards totally missed the concept of a touchpad integrated into a Bluetooth keyboard, instead content to add a mouse as a separate device. Who wants to bet we'll see "new" Android tablet keyboards incorporating touchpad support at CES in January, if not sooner?

Beyond the user interface, Microsoft also clearly defined a line between entry-level and business Surface tablets – another wakeup call to Intel and device manufacturers.  Surface for Windows RT provides an affordable tablet for consumers and businesses with the bundling of Office 15 to make it an out-of-the-box, ready to go device – we don't know how affordable, since Microsoft is being coy with pricing; if Surface is app-tied into Microsoft content outlets for books, music, games and video, the company might be willing to take a break-even or loss on the device.

Surface Windows 8 is the tablet Avaya, Cisco (News - Alert) and/or HP should have built for the enterprise. It's got full-blown pen support and should be able to run the full suite of apps of Intel apps. It's got slightly higher flash storage – 64 GB or 128 GB – so it can keep those stand-alone biz apps onboard for speedy and stand-alone operation when there's not a big broadband wireless pipe available when traveling.   

Google has yet to "get it" when it comes to mobility. Access to the cloud is not a consistent resource in this day and age and simply cranking out Chromebooks won't make rock solid wireless connectivity appear overnight.

And if anyone thinks Microsoft is really breaking with tradition by making its own hardware, they need to look back at its entry into the game console world with the XBox. That's more of a model I think is applicable here – and one hardware manufacturers need to start thinking about.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2012, taking place Oct. 2-5, in Austin, TX. ITEXPO (News - Alert) offers an educational program to help corporate decision makers select the right IP-based voice, video, fax and unified communications solutions to improve their operations. It's also where service providers learn how to profitably roll out the services their subscribers are clamoring for – and where resellers can learn about new growth opportunities. For more information on registering for ITEXPO click here.

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Edited by Braden Becker
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