Microsoft: You Can't Touch This

Too little, too late:

Microsoft is planning to cut the price of its Surface RT tablets. Sources familiar with Microsoft’s Surface plans have revealed to The Verge that the price cut could occur as early as next week, with each model being cut by $150.

Microsoft’s move to cut prices on its Surface RT tablets follow slow sales, and efforts to sell the devices elsewhere at lower rates. The software maker recently launched an education program to sell the Surface RT to schools at $199, and it has been clearing stock of its devices at its Tech-Ed and Worldwide Partner conferences recently.

The price cut will come just days after the company hinted at replacement Surface RT and Surface Pro models during its Worldwide Partner Conference on Wednesday. Microsoft is expected to refresh its Surface Pro with a Haswell processor, and the company has been testing Surface devices with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 processor.

The problem with Surface isn’t the price and it isn’t the processor, either. The problem is the Surface RT runs an orphan operating system that isn’t fully optimized for touch, and the Surface pro runs a popular operating system that is even less optimized for touch. Surface is still “The tablet that needs a keyboard!” and taking $150 off the price won’t fix that. Microsoft could give these things away and most of them would find more utility as doorstops.

I remember all the talk from last year about how Surface was really just “reference hardware” to show OEMs how to build a really good Windows tablet. But Windows sucks for tablets. The fact that Microsoft always pushed how great the keyboard was told most of story. The rest of the story was told by the silence from the OEMs — they simply refused to make any. If Surface was a reference for anything, it was how to fail at tablets.

For what it’s worth, I called all of this over a year ago when Microsoft first demoed the Surface. Just about the only detail I got wrong was that I figured that the discounts would come in time for last Christmas:

You hold a tablet in your hands, you work your fingers across the screen. Everything about a tablet should invite you to touch it, because that’s how you operate it. Making and marketing a tablet in ways that say “Hands off!” is like trying to sell steak by showing how it can be used to treat black eyes. Sure, that’s useful on rare occasion, but it’s not why people drool at the marbled ribeyes in the cooler at Whole Foods.

The Surface is a confusing product from a company which is seems confused by what a tablet is supposed to do, and why people want them. The very last image MS leaves you with is a sales pitch for all the pretty colors the keyboard comes in. We’ve been scrolling for hours, and they’re still talking keyboards.

Assuming it doesn’t turn out to be vaporware, you’ll see bargain bins full of unsold Surface tablets before Christmas is over.

What Surface needs now is what I said it needed then: To run a version of Windows Phone optimized for tablet-size screens. Instead it will run Windows 8.1, which really isn’t optimized to run on anything. But, hey, there will be a faster processor and better battery life, so the marketing guys can put checkmarks in a couple more feature boxes.

Welcome to Surface Fail 2.0.