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Latest Surface Commercial Suggests Microsoft is Caught up in the Tablet Bubble

Microsoft has long been enamored of the idea that tablets are the future, something I’m sure you noticed at the Surface unveiling some months back.That’s part of the reason why the new Windows OS first showed up on the Surface (before laptops and desktops), and it’s also why Win8 is centered around the execrable Metro UI (great for tablets but bad for any device without a touchscreen).

Have you ever considered whether MS has a plan besides "tablets are cool"? I’m beginning to suspect they don’t. Check out the latest Surface commercial (or the first one) and tell me I’m wrong.

The commercials can be summed up pretty simply: Tablets Are Cool.

Note that the ads don’t say tablets are capable, or the Surface is better than the iPad, or even vaguely describe what you can do with it (I’m not sure Microsoft even knows). But one thing we can learn from these commercials is that MS wants you to think the Surface is a cool tablet.

If that’s not a sign of being caught up in the hype, I don’t know what is.

Over the weekend I posted about the late Spring Design Alex, and I used that funky looking ereader to discuss the eReader Bubble which was sparked by the launch of the Kindle.  I asked for suggestions about what bubble might we be in now, and one of my readers responded with a convincing argument that we’re in a Tablet Bubble.

Look at that commercial again, and tell I’m wrong. MS doesn’t seem to be able to explain what tablets are good for or why they are the wave of the future; they’re just cool. It’s almost as if MS is obsessed with tablets because Apple is successful with the iPad – a sure sign that MS is caught up in the hype. And while I’m sure some readers will comment that the Surface is a great tablet and quite useful, that doesn’t mean MS got any further than tablets are cool.

If you accept the premise that we’re in a Tablet Bubble then there are a lot of assumptions which need to be reevaluated. The current prediction that touchscreens will supplant keyboards or the belief that tablets will surpass laptops as the dominant mobile work device might be true, but they might also simply turn out to be nuts when we look back from 5 years hence.

What do you think?

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Mike Cane November 27, 2012 um 10:46 am

Of course we’ve been in a tablet bubble. Hello, Pandigital! Just look at all the shit Android tablets that are out there. Hello, Cruz Tablet (the returns of which probably single-handedly killed Borders)!

But MS is a thing unto itself. Whatever Sinofsky had mapped out is now gone. What he planned as the cleanup for RT is now gone. MS has never had a real clue about mobile, just witness what it lobbed against PalmOS back in the day. (And I owned a GENIO PPC, so STFU fanboiz). MS keeps trying to attend to legacy instead of moving forward. As Apple has shown, you can cut the cord to legacy and be massively successful. RT in its current state is going nowhere. And that devs haven’t announced RT version after RT version of their legacy apps tells me it’ll go nowhere in its current state. People will be stuck in a zombieland of half-touch and half-no-effin-good-for-touch Windows 8.

oj829 November 27, 2012 um 11:35 am

They’re not even trying, just spending.

Steve Ballmer’s pledge of only a few weeks ago? 'Wherever you go, you’ll see ads for Windows8.'

Uh, gee. Thanks.

Logan Kennelly November 27, 2012 um 11:53 am

(First, I really like the Windows 8 interface. People love to complain about things that are different, and I know that is a part of it. However, I sat down and spent an hour learning the new interface, and I think the changes work quite well, even on non-touchscreen systems. Some operations do require a little more mouse movement, but it’s not so bad I’m tearing my hair out.)

As to Microsoft’s marketing campaign, they are merely going after the reason people buy tablets in the first place. They are not as quick to work with (for most tasks) as laptops, they are not as powerful, and they didn’t (initially) have reasonable software support. However, they are kind of cool, kind of fun, and the Microsoft commercials clearly highlight their two big advantages: the kickstand and the integrated keyboard.

Is this really any worse than Apple proving the viability of the tablet market by simply describing it as "magical" (and giving no other justification to buy)?

Tablets definitely have their place, and touchscreens are the future, but the tablet market as it exists today is built on hype and promises.

Nate Hoffelder November 27, 2012 um 12:07 pm

The latest iPad commercials all talk about what it can do, not how wonderful it is.

Len Feldman November 27, 2012 um 4:21 pm

Nate, that’s the key: Apple always demonstrates apps (usually multiple ones) in its commercials which show what its tablets and smartphones can do. Microsoft doesn’t yet have the apps, so it shows how cool its tablet and keyboard are. That didn’t work for either Motorola or RIM. If you recall their TV ads for the Xoom and PlayBook, they were very similar to those of Microsoft–heavy on the eye candy and special effects, but no demonstrations of apps that people will actually use. The new Microsoft commercial flashes the words "Word" and "Excel" at the very end, but doesn’t show the apps in use, because they’re effectively impossible to use in tablet mode, and to show them might suggest that you can run other legacy Windows programs on the Surface RT, which you can’t.

Isles November 27, 2012 um 12:07 pm

Yeah! Tablets are cool! They can spin around in a circle on a table, they look shiny, and you can type on a felt keyboard! The Surface even comes with its own kickstand that was specifically designed to make a pleasing 'click' sound when you open or shut it (not that’s attention to detail).

The Windows 8 advertising blitz is really overpowering the airwaves. I see ads for Windows 8 everywhere: ads the Windows 8 OS, for OEM Win8 tablets and transformers, ads for Windows 8 phones, and tons of ads for the Surface every time I turn on the TV. In fact, as I am typing this message right now, I see a sidebar ad for the Lenovo Windows 8 Pro tablet/laptop.

There are a few things I like about the Surface; the physical design of the device is sharp, I like the type cover idea, and the full USB and microSD slots are great, but, overall, I haven’t been convinced that I need to run out and buy one. Surface ads never talk about specs, only the supposedly incredible convenience of the user interface. Any detailed information I have learned about this device has come through YouTube reviewers.

The lack of a high-definition display is the biggest strike against it in my book, but I guess I’m really just not interested in adopting another new tablet OS with a barren app store. iOS and Android are King and Queen, and I don’t see much room for a Windows challenger in today’s market. I’m sure a lot of Windows fans are happy though.

fjtorres November 27, 2012 um 1:03 pm

Actually, Windows 8 is probably the most keyboard-optimized version of Windows ever.
An enormous amount of the system functionality is available through the Windows and function keys for power users.
So what you get is both a table-and-newbie friendly GUI atop a power-user friendly hidden shell.
While MS may or not be caught in a tablet bubble, let’s not forget they’ve been pushing tablets since the last century. With Win8 MS isn’t really going after the exact same market as iOS and Android but rather going after a productivity-focused audience. They are, in effect, changing the subject from content consumption to getting things done.
It is no accident that what most attracts people to the SurfaceRT is the keyboard covers.
Surface may or not end up being a mistake but I’d suggest we give the darn thing a bit more than a month before burying it.
They haven’t even released the *real* Surface flagship: the Surface Pro with x86 legacy apps, full pen-and-ink support, and a Full HD screen. Cheap it won’t be but it will definitely go places where nothing but Win8 will suffice.
Let’s wait and see where things stand a year from now, especially if the (android) tablet bubble does pop.

Isles November 27, 2012 um 2:39 pm

" . . . I’d suggest we give the darn thing a bit more than a month before burying it."

Oh I agree. It will be a number of months (especially after the Pro version is released) until we can tell what impact it has made.

Thomas November 27, 2012 um 1:43 pm

Well, what else can they do? It costs more than the Ipad and has fewer apps than Blackberry. It’s not able to run real Windows programs. They’re currently fourth in a two-man race. They don’t really have anything worthwhile to promote yet.

Nate Hoffelder November 27, 2012 um 1:46 pm

They could have posted this commercial:

At least that one tries to imply that the Surface tablet can beat up the iPad.

Isles November 27, 2012 um 2:37 pm

Hahaha! I loved that video Nate.

Jon Jermey November 27, 2012 um 3:15 pm

Well, in all seriousness, what else can Microsoft do if they want to stay solvent? Their old software already does 99.99% of the things that 99.99% of its users want from it, and it doesn’t wear out, so if they’re going to sell any new software they have to find some way to explain why it’s better than the old software that was so fabulously wonderful two years ago.

Ultimately we’ll all be on a Spotify model, and consumers renting software from the cloud will provide the main income stream for those manufacturers who survive. But Microsoft has a long way to go before they come to terms with that.

fjtorres November 27, 2012 um 3:40 pm

Office365 points the way.
XBOX Live, too.
Skype, LiveDrive,…
And Windows Azure.
MS is very much aware of the re-mainframing of computing. (AKA, "The Cloud".)
Oddly enough, the number one player in Cloud Services (revenue-wise) turns out to be AWS.

A.J. November 27, 2012 um 8:47 pm

My guess is that the proliferation of smartphones and tablets has created a generation that spends more time using a touchscreen than a physical keyboard and mouse. I think that many people today choose a combination of "portable" devices (laptop/tablet/phone), but laptops still take precedence over tablets for consumers who don’t want (or can’t afford) more than one primary device.

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