Surface Tablet Preorders Are an Uncertain Indicator of Future Sales

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-10-17 Print this article Print

One criticism that has been leveled against the Surface is that the included preview version of Microsoft Office is licensed only for personal, non-business use. However, if you have a license for Office 365 or Office 2013, then that license extends to the Surface and it can be used for commercial purposes. There’s a link on the pre-order page that tells how to do this.

So the big question, as it has been since the Surface was announced, is will the Surface be a threat to the iPad? Right now that remains to be seen. It appears that the initial sales of the Surface have been brisk, resulting in a three-week wait time. However, we don’t know how many devices were available in the first place. The two more expensive versions of the Surface were still available for the first day of shipping when this column was written.

The Surface RT spec sheet certainly looks impressive. The tablet comes with features you can’t get on the iPad, for example. It has a fast NVidia T30 processor, which may be somewhat faster than what’s in the iPad (again, we won’t know until we test one) and there’s plenty of included software.

Like the iPad, Microsoft restricts the supply of apps to the Microsoft app store. Right now there’s no way to know how many Windows RT apps are actually in the store, or which apps they are. One presumes that when the first Windows RT devices are delivered we’ll find out. This could be a problem for the popularity of the Surface since Apple has built up a vast collection of apps for the iPad ecosystem over the past few years.

On the other hand, since Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 are built on the same code base, it’s also possible that many of those tens of thousands of phone apps will also run on the Surface RT. Right now, we just don’t know. But if history is any indication of the importance of apps to the success of a tablet, just look at the BlackBerry PlayBook which was delivered with few apps and suffered as a consequence. But there is some hope. Microsoft has announced the winners of its app contest and if you watch the video you can also see some of the apps that will come to the Surface.

So we’re back to the big question again. While it’s clear that the Surface is meeting some initial success, will it have the legs it needs to take on the iPad? Probably not initially given the massive ecosystem Apple has built. But over the longer term all we can say is that it depends. Microsoft has come from behind before. Maybe it can do that again.


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