Now that the smoke has settled and we've all had a chance to take in Microsoft's sudden Surface tablet announcement, we need to ask ourselves, can the Surface live up to its hype? Here's three things Microsoft needs to get right if it wants the Surface to have any chance of success at disrupting the iPad and Android-dominated tablet market.
1. Wi-Fi-only Surface Tablets At Launch
Wi-Fi is great, and oftentimes faster than 3G or 4G LTE, but there are times when hunting down a Wi-Fi hotspot is just impossible. That's when you realize how convenient it is to have a cellular data signal — either through a Mifi hotspot, USB dongle or by tethering a smartphone.
If this Bloomberg report about the Surface being a Wi-Fi-only device at launch is true, it could be a deal-breaker for many. True, there is a full-sized USB 3.0 port on the Surface for 3G/4G LTE USB dongle attachments, but the device is a tablet; who wants a dongle sticking out of it? If the iPad could launch with 3G and Wi-Fi models back in 2010, surely, the Surface can do the same, and maybe toss in 4G LTE?
2. $600 Price Tag Of Doom
Monday's Surface announcement was light on pricing and availability, with only the vague "priced competitively" and "Fall 2012" release as the official word from Microsoft. To refresh your memory, the Surface will come in two models: Windows 8 RT and Windows 8 Pro. Surface RT will be a Metro UI-only affair with punier specs and Surface Pro will come with the full desktop view of Windows now dubbed "classic view" along with beefier specs.
To crunch some numbers, the iPad starts at $400 for an iPad 2 and $500 for the new iPad (third-gen with Retina display). According to a report from DigiTimes, Microsoft might price the Surface RT at $600 or higher and the Surface Pro at $800 and up. At those prices, Microsoft better toss in that Touch Cover or Type Cover for free if it expects people to bite. In order for Microsoft to convince everyone to hop off the Apple Kool-Aid, it needs to either sell the Surface RT at $500 or under. Any more and the Surface will look too expensive.
3. Less Than Stellar Battery Life
Battery. Battery. Battery. As our lives become ever more mobile, we can't afford to have our tablets chug along until mid-afternoon only to have to charge it up. It's super important that a mobile device can last an entire day without it conking out. Once again, the iPad is the benchmark that all other tablets are running against because it can last a good 10 hours on a single charge.
While it's still too early to determine how long the Surface's battery will last, Computerworld did some watt-hour crunching based on existing devices and Microsoft's own Surface watt-hour ratings and came up with some conclusions. CW believes the Surface RT might last only 7.5 hours and the Surface Pro could last only six hours. Those aren't official numbers, but if you look at CW's math, it certainly seems plausible.