Microsoft Surface With WiFi-Only Is an Easy Bet

By Michelle Maisto  |  Posted 2012-06-22 Print this article Print

Microsoft will ship its initial Surface tablets with WiFi only, according to a report--which makes sense, say analysts. The first to ship will be the Windows RT model intended for consumers, who may be happy to forgo the hassle of a broadband plan.

Microsoft€™s introduction of its new Surface tablet included just enough information to stir up excitement and more than enough question marks to start the industry guessing€”and poking around.

Bloomberg, in this vein, reported June 22 that Microsoft will initially begin selling the Surface without a cellular connection, relying only on WiFi. The Apple iPad, the Surface€™s primary competition, comes in two versions€”a WiFi-only model and another with WiFi as well as access to the Long-Term Evolution (LTE) networks of AT&T or Verizon Wireless.

The report cited two people familiar with the matter who declined to be named since €œthe full specifications of the new product have yet to be made public.€

Initially foregoing an LTE connection is an interesting move, particularly as Microsoft expects Surface to be a strong business offering. It€™s one thing for consumers using iPads at home to use their WiFi connection, but a business user is likely to need a reliable connection whether in the office or traveling.

Avi Greengart, an analyst with Current Analysis, says Microsoft€™s decision is likely driven by one of three factors.

€œFirst, most of the tablet market is WiFi-only, and Microsoft is focusing on the largest segment of the market,€ Greengart told eWEEK.  €œSecond, Microsoft plans to add cellular capabilities in the future, but is focusing on the largest segment of the market first to reduce complexity and get something out the door.€

Indeed, with something out the door, Microsoft can assess how things are going. Endpoint Technologies analyst Roger Kay, in a June 22 post on Forbes, wrote that Microsoft is likely to €œplay it as it lays.€ If Surface takes off, it will support it and build it out, and if it doesn€™t, Microsoft will €œcall it a reference design and market stimulus, and fall back on its old model of supporting its OEM customers.€

A third option, said Greegart, is that €œthere will be Surface variants with embedded cellular modems at the outset, but Microsoft is keeping those details quiet for now€”along with pricing, availability and a dozen other details that the company will not comment on.€

As for what is known, there will be two versions. A Windows RT model will weigh 1.5 pounds, measure 9.3mm thin, feature a 10.6-inch display, include microSD, USB 2.0 and micro High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) ports, come with Office Home or Student, run an Nvidia Tegra 3 processor (at an unknown speed), and come with 32 or 64GB of embedded storage.

Pricing will be €œcompetitive with ARM tablets,€ Microsoft has shared, which could mean something in the $500 range, give or take $100 in either direction.

A more robust version will run Windows 8 Pro, weigh 2 pounds, measure 13.5-mm thick, feature a 10.6-inch display, include microSDXC, USB 3.0 and mini DisplayPort ports, run an Intel Ivy Bridge processor, come with 64 or 128GB of storage, and be priced to compete with Ultrabooks€”which, with prices varying from at least $700 to $1,500, is so vague as to be included among the question marks, not the answers.

The Windows RT unit will ship at some unknown date following the release of Windows 8; whenever it does ship, the Windows 8 Pro model will follow three months behind.  

With the ARM-comparable RT model aimed at consumers and shipping first, this could explain the WiFi-only strategy out of the gate.

€œMicrosoft may just be betting that consumers don€™t want an additional broadband plan, which would be a barrier to adoption,€ Kay told eWEEK.

With the debut date of the more enterprise-friendly model potentially stretching into early 2013, Microsoft has plenty of time to work on an LTE connection.

"Mobile broadband requires a relationship with carriers," added Kay, "and that€™s another whole bag of snakes that maybe Microsoft doesn€™t want to get into.€                         

Follow Michelle Maisto on Twitter

Michelle Maisto has been covering the enterprise mobility space for a decade, beginning with Knowledge Management, Field Force Automation and eCRM, and most recently as the editor-in-chief of Mobile Enterprise magazine. She earned an MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University, and in her spare time obsesses about food. Her first book, The Gastronomy of Marriage, if forthcoming from Random House in September 2009.

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