The Microsoft Surface has been a non-event in the two years it’s been on the market. Now the company has a new boss and a second chance to turn its tablet into something consumers care about as it heads into a press event this week to announce major changes to the Surface lineup. The most persistent rumor is that of a Surface Mini, which is a good start in light of the fact that sub-eight inch tablets now outsell their full sized brethren. But there’s more work to be done. Here are five changes Microsoft must made in order to save the Surface and become a real player in the tablet market.
Pick a battle
Microsoft is still pushing the notion that the Surface should be a tablet-PC hybrid, an idea that the general public has soundly rejected. The rubber keyboard and dual layer operating system need to go, but that’s the easy part. Microsoft must decide whether it wants to morph the Surface into a sleek high end ultra-intuitive tablet to compete with the iPad, or a less expensive value play to compete with the Android market. Those are the only two recipes that have worked in the tablet market, and Microsoft needs to pick one.
Ditch the nerdiness
Microsoft’s original Surface marketing campaign tried to pass it off as being an faux-iPad, which backfired when consumers learned that the two products had little in common. Having failed on the cool-factor front, Redmond then went to the old fallback: it hired the nerdiest guy it could find to appear in its TV ads, under the belief that consumers could be swayed by geek think. But it’s been at least a decade since the mainstream consulted geeks for tech buying advice; now consumers just ask each other. Since almost no one owns a Surface to begin with, almost no one recommends it – which leads to the single biggest change Microsoft must make.
Stop being so precious
The Surface was an attempt by Microsoft to cut out the hardware vendor middle men who had been a core part of the Windows PC market, and instead produce the entire widget itself. That may work for Apple, but clearly hasn’t for Microsoft. Instead the Surface has simply been left with no allies in the marketplace, and belated attempts at licensing Windows 8 Mobile on a limited basis haven’t helped. It’s time for Microsoft to bite the bullet and ink some major partnerships in the tablet market. Short of that, the Surface Mini has little chance of selling any better than the full size Surface has over the past two wasted years.