What’s Beneath Microsoft’s New Surface?
Jay is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.
It’s an interesting time to watch how personal computing is being totally reprogrammed for the first time since its invention three decades ago. The main code of change is of course the move away from legacy desktop computing to mobile tablet computing, with Apple’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPad leading the charge.
In some way, however, today’s mobile computing gives the impression that the new consumption-oriented tablet gadgets will one day replace the old productivity-based PC devices. But few would really argue that productivity computing won’t always have its place in solving complex tasks in work and life. Does anyone dare to speculate that the iPad-like tablets, however fitting they are for play and entertainment, may not be the only answer to the ongoing quest to redefine traditional PCs? Regardless of what the PC transformation may be, no one has a stake as high as Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) does, since more disruptions to the old PC world by any new form of computing means less traditional PC business for the company.
Microsoft has benefited from past PC growth for a long time, ever since the first IBM personal computer was introduced in 1981. As we may recall, during those PC years computer makers would frequently refresh their product offerings with new models featuring more powerful chips and allowing ever-increasing memory capacities. Although the constant PC upgrades might have kept customers’ interests in place, they didn’t seem to have offered what average consumers really needed. The storage usage of my $1,000-plus laptop is only about half its full available capacity, and I consider myself an active user when it comes to productivity computing. How much more unused space might still be there for someone who is more consumption-focused? It’s fair to say that in some cases, highly advanced PCs may have become a mere showing of a device’s intended functionality; but meanwhile, an actual waste of money for consumers, when a PC’s design potential is not fully realized.
So when PCs appeared to have pulled too far ahead of consumers, some in the industry came up with the so-called netbook idea, which was to offer a stripped-down version of the notebook PC. But the netbook experiment was short lived and was seemingly abandoned when the iPad came on the scene in 2010. The intention with the netbook was to make a more portable device, primarily for media consumption with only light productivity. Thus, a netbook would require lower power and less storage, effectively reducing costs and becoming a cheaper alternative to standard laptops.
However, unlike today‘s mobile tablets that all boast agile functionality, the netbook used the same legacy PC operating system and old application software, offering no faster functional access and easier task performing. The netbook was more portable in the physical sense, with its smaller size and lighter weight; but without a mobile operating system and the accompany apps that we now see in every tablet, it was never truly mobile.
Many may say that Microsoft is late coming into mobile computing, but Microsoft doesn’t seem to be following the direction Apple is taking with its iPads. An amazing device, the Apple tablets are nonetheless used mostly for media consumption, and the new iPad mini is intended to capture an even broader base of average consumers who require little productivity. Microsoft‘s Surface, on the other hand, is not only a tablet in all its practical sense, but also has certain PC functions underneath it. This provides the flexibility of some productivity on a mobile device and is seemingly, shall we say, a resurface of the netbook.
It has been reported that the new iPad mini will be a very popular choice for use in schools. But the Surface can really become a default option for those with working needs. The different directions that Apple and Microsoft have taken in mobile computing could create a more versatile post-PC computing field. It also makes business sense for Microsoft to tie features of mobile computing to devices of a PC, as they are already touch-screen capable with Windows 8.
The Surface may not look like a typical tablet at first glance, but it is surely portable, and more importantly, truly mobile, using the same simple and easy apps, the epitome of mobile computing. Through incorporating PC functions into the ubiquitous mobile setting, Microsoft may be able to preserve its PC power and usher consumers into a new era of PCs.
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