Surface Go: Judging a Product by the Market

Microsoft just launched the Surface Go,  a 10” Surface powered by the 7th Generation Intel Pentium Gold Processor, in a fanless design, offering 9 hours of battery, priced at $399.

Size is always a difficult topic to discuss when it comes to tablets. The balance between how much screen real-estate you need to be productive and how little you want to be mobile is a very tricky one and a very personal one too. I always wanted a smaller Surface to better balance work and play. So far I have been treating Surface Pro more like I would my PC/Mac than my 10″ iPad Pro. Of course device size is only one part of the equation when what you want is balance work and play as apps availability plays a prominent role in reaching that balance.

What cannot be argued are the greater affordability of a sub $500 Surface and the opportunity that it opens to create a broader addressable market in the enterprise, the consumer, and the education segment.

Lots changed since Surface RT

I know there is a temptation to think about Surface Go as a Surface RT’s successor and dismiss it even before it launches, but I ask you not to do so just yet. I say this, not because Surface Go is running on Intel and not ARM but because a lot has changed in the market since 2012 and even since Surface 3.

When Surface RT hit the market, Microsoft was responding to the success the iPad was having in the consumer market as well as the hype around tablets taking over the PC market. Beyond early adopters, however, consumers were still figuring out if there was space in their life between their smartphone and their PC – many are still dueling on that today – and enterprises were trying to understand if employees could actually be productive on a device that was not a laptop and with an operating system, Windows 8, that was not optimized for touch. Moreover, Surface was a new brand for consumers and Microsoft an unproven supplier for the enterprise market.

I don’t need to remind you that Surface RT was a flop and Microsoft went back to the drawing board to bring to market a more affordable Surface to accompany Surface Pro. Fast-forward to 2015 and Surface 3 proved to find its place in some enterprises as IT departments were buying more into the 2in1 trend and felt more comfortable with its Intel architecture.

Surface Go aims at providing an upgrade path for Surface 3 users. It also looks at broadening the Surface reach into the enterprise through first line workers and, more broadly, users who might not need all the horsepower of a Surface Pro but do not want to compromise on the hardware design. Adding Surface Go to the portfolio assuring consistency of experience and fidelity of apps were probably the biggest drivers to sticking with an Intel architecture at a time when Windows-on-ARM is getting off the blocks.

The ‘once bitten twice shy’ Surface team prioritized capitalizing on a small but solid base with a known formula for now and will probably wait for the Snapdragon 1000 to broaden the appeal to users who might be prioritizing mobility and a more modern workflow over legacy. As disappointing as this might be for BYOD users and consumers this was the safest bet to get IT buy-in.

Beyond Enterprise

A lot has been written about Surface Go being a reinvigorated effort on Microsoft’s part to go after iPad, and how could it not, given iPad remains, 8 years in, the most successful tablet in the market. While eroding iPad’s market share would be a welcomed bonus, I think there is market share to be had within the Windows ecosystem first.

Considering price and design as the only two ingredients a product must have to tackle the iPad dominance in the tablet market ignores a crucial factor in the iPad’s success: apps. Apps make up a big part of the experience users buy into when using iPad and iPad Pro. This, in my opinion, is still Surface’s weakest link when it comes to broadening its reach into the consumer space.

When we look at the Windows 2in1 market, design still leaves a lot to be desired, especially when it comes to the overall package of screen quality, keyboard, and pen experience. This is especially true of the new Windows on ARM devices which boast excellent battery life and LTE connectivity but do not seem designed with mobility first in mind.  While many Windows manufacturers continue to dismiss the success of Surface based on market share it is clear that brand awareness and satisfaction has grown significantly. Throwing Surface Go in the mix of options consumers and students getting ready for back to school have is not a bad thing.

Looking forward to Surface Go 2

I feel Surface Go landed on a design and price point that offer a lot of promise. Thinking ahead to a more mature Windows on ARM, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 1000 and users finally ready to benefit from connectivity anytime anywhere, it is hard to see how Surface Go 2 (or whatever it will be called) would not offer an alternative to the current Intel architecture. And I must say I look forward to that!

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Carolina Milanesi

Carolina is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc, a market intelligence and strategy consulting firm based in Silicon Valley and recognized as one of the premier sources of quantitative and qualitative research and insights in tech. At Creative Strategies, Carolina focuses on consumer tech across the board. From hardware to services, she analyzes today to help predict and shape tomorrow. In her prior role as Chief of Research at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, she drove thought leadership research by marrying her deep understanding of global market dynamics with the wealth of data coming from ComTech’s longitudinal studies on smartphones and tablets. Prior to her ComTech role, Carolina spent 14 years at Gartner, most recently as their Consumer Devices Research VP and Agenda Manager. In this role, she led the forecast and market share teams on smartphones, tablets, and PCs. She spent most of her time advising clients from VC firms, to technology providers, to traditional enterprise clients. Carolina is often quoted as an industry expert and commentator in publications such as The Financial Times, Bloomberg, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. She regularly appears on BBC, Bloomberg TV, Fox, NBC News and other networks. Her Twitter account was recently listed in the “101 accounts to follow to make Twitter more interesting” by Wired Italy.

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