The Impact of Microsoft Surface on your Mobile Strategy

Should you wait?

There's been a lot of discussion on the newly revealed Microsoft Surface - mixing what is known, some speculation on the unknown, and the impact on the consumer market. But what about the Enterprise tablet user? How does the Microsoft Surface impact your plans for mobile use in the Enterprise?

We put some of our thoughts down on the Microsoft Surface itself and the impact on your mobile strategy. Check out our Mobile Advisory services if your team is looking to understand the tablet and smartphone landscape. In addition, learn how organizations are beginning their mobile roadmaps.

The Devices

Microsoft SurfaceMicrosoft announced the Surface last week - in two forms. A Tegra 3 ARM based device running Windows "RT" - the Windows for ARM version of Windows which has the Metro interface, and an Intel i5 x86 version that will run a full version of Windows 8. If you're unfamiliar with Windows 8, it's the Metro UI combined with the traditional Windows Desktop in one package.

For the ARM version, the weight and thickness are similar to an iPad, a 10.6" screen running a "1080" resolution (no details released), coming in 32 and 64gb versions. The i5 version is thicker, heavier, has a fan, heat vents, and the other things you would expect from a "ultrabook" squeezed into a tablet frame. Releasing with 64gb and 128gb versions. Both devices sport a new "VaporMG" case construction, integrated kick-stand, and the possibility of two keyboard options. A more traditional keyboard with chicklet style keys, and the new Touch Cover - which is basically a non-moveable keyboard that responds to multi-touch input - both keyboard and mouse area. Battery specs and pricing were not released or discussed.

The Presentation

Watching the Microsoft Surface event video, it felt eerily familiar to, as they say, "other tablet manufacturers" presentations. The layout of the presentation, the content, the rotating presenters - all meant to show a packaged solution - not a framework or an OS that their OEM partners can also deliver. This was a presentation that focused heavily on the hardware, spending significant time on the case materials, the clicking of the cover, and how the kickstand had to sound "just so". The presenters attempting to show the passion in the development of the device and how the time spent not participating in the "tablet wars" has resulting in a device that has "re-imagined" how the tablet experience should be.

The software was hidden, however. And when it was shown, there were plenty of issues. Both in the presentation and in the post-presentation journalist "hands on".

One thing was very clear, it was the presentation of a company that has realized that the next wave of computing devices requires a marriage of hardware and software that requires that these components come from one company.

The Market and Marketability

Laptop v. SurfaceRumors are arriving that the pricing of the RT device will start at $599 for the 32gb version (comparable to the iPad 3) and $999 for the i5 version (comparable to a base-model MacBook Air). In the consumer space, the common commentary around the web is that these devices need to be be in the $300/$600 range for them to "be competitive" in the tablet space - while we feel that is extreme, the rumored pricing seems in-line with our expectations. We don't feel these prices will deter Enterprise buyers, although the rumored lack of any 3G/LTE radio option will be a large deterrent for many of our customers.

The challenges for Microsoft and the Surface are great, however. For all the focus on the hardware and keyboard in the presentation, we feel the real success of Apple has come from the marriage of the software and hardware combined with the ecosystem around the device. The fluidness of the OS and response from the touchscreen will be something to watch with the Surface. Now that Microsoft will be manufacturing their own devices, they also have the ability to craft a more direct ecosystem. We feel this will initially focus on the XBox, since this is the other ecosystem that they control, but eventually this may include functionality targeted more at the business user, including tighter integration to their cloud offering (SkyDrive), as well as a similar offering to Apple's AirPlay.

The Impact on Your Mobile Strategy

So should you wait? The ARM version of the tablet will require the same App, integration, and other development challenges as what we're seeing today on the iPad. Organizations will build custom (or buy packaged) Apps able to run in Metro, or use a mobile application development platform (MADP) to build for a multitude of devices.

However, one of the biggest selling points of the Surface for i5 is the fact that it can run x86 apps. It's a PC after all, and with that is the promised ease of integration into Enterprise systems and the deployment of current Windows applications on these mobile devices. We feel that many CIOs are thinking about holding out for these devices - believing they're able to solve two challenges with one device: 1) satisfying the business' push of "tablet devices" and 2) able to repurpose current applications to these devices. A simple solution.

Not quite.

We feel this solution is short-lived and will not deliver the business benefit we're seeing in more traditional mobile app development. The reason for the tablet push in the Enterprise has little to do with the form factor alone. The success for Enterprise customers has been in creating Apps that solve business challenges simply and easily - delivered in an instant-on, elegant form factor. Pushing desktop apps to these devices might solve some problems, sure, but not to the level of ROI we've seen with purpose-built Enterprise applications.

At this point, on an unproven device, we just don't know if the Surface is going to create a better and easier user experience than the iPad. We also don't know if it will be as accepted by the business (we're assuming that the iPad will still garner much more consumer cachet). We also don't know if the integrations to the enterprise, which we see as the biggest benefit of the Surface, will be much easier and more seamless.

What we fear will happen due to the news of Microsoft launching an iPad alternative: it will give businesses a reason to delay the formation and execution of their mobile strategies. Any time there is uncertainty, conservative businesses may lean towards letting the market play out before they make a move. In the case of mobile, we strongly suggest you avoid this tendency. There are far too many variables today to "wait", and we are very much in the first inning of the tablet in the Enterprise.

Businesses today, maybe your competitors, are building out new use cases for mobile devices, re-defining the ways they interact with their employees and customers. They're finding unique and groundbreaking methods in delivering content and value to their partners, resellers, distributors, and retail channels. The learnings received from these first applications will evolve over time into further releases. These applications are driving back-end changes to Enterprise systems, making data more accessible and simplifying complex internal processes. These are not AppStore applications that other businesses can "copy" easily to catch up. These are private applications that organizations are building today to have a significant impact on company (and partner) financials.

Our advice is to get moving. Businesses today cannot afford to wait for all the lights ahead to be green and the road to be straight. Even if it's beginning a small App pilot to a subset of your user team, every organization should be thinking how mobile is going to change the way they interact with their employees and customers.

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Eric Carlson

Partner at Propelics
Eric is a seasoned leader with a keen eye for emerging technologies. He is well respected in both technical and business circles, due to his ability to match up the right amount of technology "geekiness" with business understanding to craft truly unique solutions. As a seasoned executive, with startups through successful exits to his name, Eric has the experience to advise companies on the discipline and objective approaches that are needed to turn ideas into reality. Eric can be reached at eric.carlson@propelics.com or on twitter at @ericjohncarlson.