On Monday, in a hastily-arranged press conference at the Milk Studios in Hollywood, Microsoft announced it has finally decided to try beating Apple at its own game, unveiling a sleek 10-inch, 9-mm wide, ARM-based tablet called Microsoft Surface. This tablet, Microsoft’s first foray into hardware since the ill-fated Kin phone a few years back, will run the new Microsoft Windows 8 RT OS, a slimmed-down version of Win8 optimized for ARM chips.
While the media and Apple fans ponder Microsoft’s chances in this high-stakes game, our customers – and executives just like them who are responsible for their company’s mobility strategies – are wondering how seriously to take this new entry. Factors like price point, battery life, and pre-installed apps and games were conspicuously missing from this week’s announcement, but they all play a major role in whether this new platform gains traction in the market, or goes the way of the Zune and Kin devices before it.
So, a few initial thoughts from the Kony team:
- The Microsoft Surface tablet is first and foremost a consumer device, optimized for consumer must-haves such as fast startup, touch interface, eye-catching graphics and screen resolution, etc. Its success will depend on its ability to appeal to consumers’ fickle tastes, price sensitivity, and perhaps, brand-consciousness.
- That said, consumers have a notable habit of blurring the lines between their home and business lives, bringing their devices in to work and requesting corporate IT support them with corporate applications and access to the company intranet and other networks. This is sometimes dubbed “Consumerization of IT” or “Bring Your Own Device”
- Because of this blurring, Microsoft’s bundling of Office apps, seamless support for Exchange, and, of course, the security and manageability of Windows itself – may become the features that spur this device’s success, at least among certain demographics.
- Longer term, Microsoft’s goal is to preserve and extend its flagship Windows brand, which means the Surface is part of a broader assault on Apple that will marshal a flotilla of tablet devices, laptops, ultra books, and even – gasp — desktop machines, based on the new Windows 8 OS, starting this holiday season.
- Two days after the Surface announcement, Microsoft unveiled its latest plans for Windows Phone 8, the next generation of its revamped mobile platform. Among other enhancements including NFC and Skype support, Windows Phone 8 will share much of the same codebase with Windows 8, enabling developers to create apps that run seamlessly across phone, tablet, laptop and desktop – all downloadable from the Microsoft Store.
So how should mobility managers respond to all this? A couple of recommendations:
- If your mobility strategy targets consumers, we would recommend you keep an eye on this new tablet and monitor how well it delivers on the key apps, games, etc. consumers look for. Also note whether Microsoft can truly deliver a single app store for all devices, and watch to see whether developers deliver new compelling content on the Microsoft’s store. If you find the Surface gaining some traction in these areas, begin building a strategy for deploying select apps or your entire portfolio to it sometime next year.
- If you need to support mobile information workers who are bringing in their own devices, consider a pilot of the Microsoft Surface and some of the third-party Windows 8 tablets and ultrabooks over the next year. You may find at least some of these devices can meet end users’ need for instant-on, touch functionality while still meeting your need for corporate data security and improved manageability. In the meantime, if you haven’t already, have a look at Kony’s new Mobile Application Management technologies for provisioning, managing, securing and analyzing corporate mobile apps.
- For specialized mobile workers such as field service technicians, mobile pharmacy reps, transportation/logistics workers, and insurance agents, keep picking the device that best provides the form/function/ruggedization required – and don’t forget to check out Kony’s array of pre-packaged mobile business apps for these functions, available for all the major channels including – very soon – Windows 8.
Will Microsoft’s latest move be enough to stem the flow of iPads, iPhones and Android devices under our Christmas trees and into office environments this year? Probably not immediately, but Microsoft appears to be in this for the long haul. For our part, we don’t think this game is necessarily over yet.