You can’t fault Microsoft Corp. for creating hype around the launch of its second-generation of tablet hardware since entering the market one year ago.

A Toronto-based unveiling event put the tablets and accessories on display alongside trained demonstrators at a downtown club. Blue lights shone through smokey air and DJs spun tracks while invited media milled about, poking at the new hardware. A contest was held by Microsoft Canada’s social media accounts to give away tickets to a deadmau5 concert that would immediately follow the media demo. The electronic music artist came out to give an intimate Q&A session for the assembled VIP crowd.

Demonstrated with various accessories, the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 look good. The unique built-in kickstand is improved to snap out to two different positions and feels sturdy, giving that satisfying click sound when its locked in place. The tablets are responsive to touch gestures and support a new Bing-powered universal search feature that instantly creates a specific content portal for any query that is gorgeous to look at and goes well beyond Google’s “10 blue links” experience. Loaded with Windows 8.1, the pains felt by many who missed the Start Menu will be soothed – it’s back in the bottom-left hand corner and you can boot directly into the classic desktop mode on the Surface Pro 2.

But look beyond the hype and its apparent a few hangovers remain from the first generation of Surface. We know Microsoft had to take a $900 million write-down on unsold Surface RT devices. It’s less clear how the Surface Pro is selling, but that device came out only months after the Surface RT hit the market. According to at least one partner who is selling the tablets, only a smattering have been sold for testing purposes – no mass deployment deals on it yet.

Here’s why the Surface’s second coming may not herald a golden age for Microsoft’s tablet business:

Limited Channel Program

Perhaps one of the more likely hurdles facing good sales numbers for the first Surface was Microsoft’s insistence on selling it directly. Using it as a lure to bring customers into its new retail store locations, Microsoft kept the tablet away from partners and retail shelves. It was a questionable move for a company known for providing the operating system, not the device.

With the Surface 2, it seems Microsoft has learned its lesson, or at least in part. It has created a channel program that will see five large partners in Canada selling the device. In November, Microsoft will be putting its tablets into the consumer retail space by opening dedicated Microsoft hardware sections within certain Best Buy locations. That will go a long way to putting the tablet in front of more holiday shoppers and through the channel, more businesses looking for a mobility solution.

Still, Microsoft hasn’t opened the floodgates on Surface 2 distribution by allowing for a wider channel program in Canada yet. Why not let the smaller guys sell the tablets too? The Redmond-based firm should know by now exclusivity isn’t a game that adds up to profits in the technology market.

Lack of Windows Store apps

The Windows Store just has a dearth of apps compared to other app stores accessible via Google Android and Apple iOS tablets. The apps that are there often feel rushed and lack a good user experience, or take a long time to load. The success of Windows 8 and Surface tablets is directly tied to this virtual storefront and it’s looking pretty bare.

You can talk about numbers – 100,000 apps in Windows Store compared to the 1 million in Google Play or 900,000 in the App Store – but the weakness goes beyond the quantity of apps. Major absences that are most painfully felt in the Windows 8.1 RT experience, where users have only the Windows Store to rely on for software, include:

  • Any other Web browser besides Internet Explorer 10
  • YouTube (although third-party YouTube options are available)
  • Social media apps for Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Path, Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine are still absent. As are more advanced social media management clients HootSuite and TweetDeck
  • Windows Store versions of cloud storage apps like Dropbox, Evernote, etc. don’t offer locally-stored copies of your files, requiring constant connectivity to access your files

Size and price

The Surface 2 with Windows 8.1 RT hits the right mark starting at $449 for the 32 GB version. That’s competitive with other tablets with a similar screen size and storage, and noticeably undercuts Apple’s iPad. The body is also a bit slimmed down and weighs just a smidgen less than the previous generation Surface RT. Coming in both black and silver colours is a nice touch.

But the Surface Pro 2 starting at $899 for a 64 GB model seems like a harder pill to swallow. The fact it’s the same chassis as the first generation Surface Pro doesn’t help – the size and weight hasn’t changed. Granted Microsoft has already pulled off an engineering feat in packing laptop hardware specs into a tablet-sized form factor, but it’d be nice to see it improved just a bit over last year’s model.

Amazingly you can spend as much as $1,799 on the Surface Pro 2 when the model packing a 512 GB SSD is eventually available. You have to wonder what sort of market that model will find, if any.

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  • ScubaNitrox

    Can’t wait to pick up the new Surface 2. I already have a desktop and a laptop, but I want something more portable. I am going to buy the 32GB version because of the 200GB of free Skydrive and the ability to add SD cards to increase capacity if needed. The Windows market place is getting better and better. Yes, I know it doesn’t have as many apps as Apple or Android, but it has what I need. Having Office 2013 is a great selling point as well. I go to school and work, so I can use Citrix for work and a web browser and Office for school.

  • Martijn Koldijk
    • Thanks for pointing out the typo Martijn. I’ve corrected it. Did you really need to link me to the dictionary though? ;P

  • Martijn Koldijk

    “The Windows Store just has a death of apps compared to other app stores accessible…”

  • Daft Crunk

    i Just bought the Surface RT yesterday (didn’t really go in to buy the windows tablet in particular but went in to buy Hybrid and it caught my eye) I love the idea of it but don’t like that particular model, I think I need the Pro and after doing some post buy research looks like I’ll be returning the RT and getting the 32Gb Pro 2, the RT is super laggy and slow a opening almost everything, especially when compared side to side with the Pro so if the Pro 2 is any improvement will be fine for me.

  • gisabun

    I would get a Surface Pro primarily because it can run the same apps as that on a desktop or laptop but it is still to pricey. I think there is a Chrome browser for RT but is in beta. As for some of the others, why not use your web browser. Finally, it’s not the quantity of apps available but the quality. Many apps in Apple’s AppStore(TM) barely sell because they are junk. Not saying the Windows Store has all great apps.

  • notaphanboy

    You work for Google or Apple? You sound like such a fanboy. You really had to dig deep to find some worthless criticism. The distribution channel has no relevance where product review is concerned. My wife has an ipad mini. I have to say, I am not all that impressed. Most of the million apps are worthless as I have used both Android and Apple products. MS is most certainly lacking apps, but in the two years I have had a windows phone, I haven’t really found myself wanting. Even the cost of the surface pro comments don’t seem relevant. I am willing to bet the PRO 2 flies off the shelves at that price. If I was still working and air traveling every week, I would likely buy it.
    I will buy the best product that provides best value. Not let corporate marketing do my thinking for me. Right now Apple is lacking in innovation and has fallen behind both MS and Google. I won’t buy anything Google because of their flagrant disregard for their customers and their privacy. On top of that, they are absolutely horrible to do business with.
    Review the product and leave the business matters to those of us who know. You only serve to discredit your opinion.

    • I work for IT World Canada. We’ll see if the Surface flies off the shelves as you say, the first generation certainly didn’t and the message I’m getting across here is I’m not seeing any big reasons that will be different this time around.

  • Cordell Lawrence

    @brianjackson, Thanks for the article. Really not much news going around about what’s been happening with the Surface devices since the launch event, so thanks for the news.

    I am a developer on the MS platform and there is some desire to see their products succeed. I think your perspective was interesting on a couple of things.
    1. I agree that the channels have some part to play with poor sales on the consumer side
    2. I also agree that the Windows Store Apps or lack thereof is another problem often highlighted by user, writers, bloggers, haters etc. This point is valid and even more so for the RT versions of the OS
    3. I see size and price as less of an issue though. I believe that if Microsoft had delivered highly performant devices with good base software (browser, Email, Productivity / office tools, games etc) that successfully differentiated itself between other devices on the market don’t think this would have been as big an issue as it has become.

    I also think that the price argument against the pro is also not really justified, here’s why: If you go to the Apple’s website right now and configure a Mac Book Air, you’ll be hitting prices identical or higher to those of a similarly configured Surface. I think the surface usually comes in a $100 less actually and you also get Skype and SkyDrive services with Surface (not sure if you get any free services on the Mac side) – Granted thogugh that you don’t have a keyboard on the Surface at that price – throw in a keyboard and you get a device that more portable, lighter and just as powerful as the Mac Book Air.

    • Interesting to compare the Surface 2 to the iPad and the Surface Pro 2 to the MacBook Air. Pretty much the same form factor, but the different specs set them apart into different categories of media tablet and ultrabook.

  • shmed

    Apple sold us the idea that a tablet needed native apps. You have to get back to the initial reason why we needed apps. Apps were useful on a smartphone. Since most website were not touch friendly, and didn’t look good on a small 3.5 inch screen, apps became really popular on the iPhone. Apps were made as a replacement for the full fledged websites since those didn’t work well on a phone. The Surface RT has a real browser. You can run as many internet explorer instance as you want in desktop mode, just as you would do on your laptop or your desktop. You can hook up a bluetooth or usb mouse, a keyboard, hook it up to an external screen, anything you would on your laptop. If you want to use it on the move, internet explorer 11 is amazing with the touch screen. You are not stuck with a dumbed down version of chrome or safari like
    you would on a android or ios device. You can open up 5 instance of
    explorer and put them all side by side. You can run web pages in the
    background and have a full html5/javascript/flash experience. You can have access to the real Linkedin website, real youtube website, real facebook, twitter, everything. You dont need to use an app because you have access to the original experience. Apple sold you the idea that a device needed to use a different app for every need, while in reality apps were only introduced because mobile device couldnt provide a real desktop experience.

    • Stephen

      one caveat in your IE argument… is that IE on RT does not allow plugins or run Silverlight… this limits things like streaming video from my Windows 2011 homeserver when i remote log in,

    • There’s something to be said for a customized native UI experience that an app gives you. Surface RT will render desktop web sites, not always convenient to browse around in touch mode.

  • orangeandblueaussie

    I can’t wait for this machine. I’m going to buy the 512Gb. This is going to be my computer and tablet in one so it’s cheap. I’ll be able to carry all my files everywhere and only need to back them up to skydrive. No more transfer issues and needing special apps to have every file I own at my finger tips. I’ll be able to have my entire library of documents, music, photos and movies with me always. No more selecting the ones I may want to edit/watch/listen to.

    I’ll be able to go to any website and watch whatever media is available. No more issues with flash. No more needing special apps to view things i want to see. No more cut-down operating system. That’s the thing about the “lack of apps”. I won’t need a huge range of productivity apps. I’ll have microsoft office + outlook! We’ll have full a operating system and all programs that work on windows.

    I’m now going to use a stylus and take notes that convert my handwriting and go straight into my work files instead of having to sync them through various apps.

    I’m not a gamer but i have loved my apple tv. It’s given me the appetite for the getting the XBox One and use it, with my new Surface together. I’m hoping to be able to throw my ipad and apple tv away eventually. I’m interested in what microsoft has in mind for its new phone range through nokia in the future. Should make my life better.

    I think I’ve just gone from:
    – needing docking station, laptop, tablet, pen+notebook and phone to
    – just needing a docking station, tablet (and stylus) and phone.

    I think this is going to be a massive step forward. I hope I’m not setting this up on too high a pedestal.

    • techforall

      “We’ll have full a operating system and all programs that work on windows.”

      Good post however i’m under the impression that RT can’t run the whole gamut of X86 programs. Having mentioned this it doesn’t affect me much as my needs are covered bw office and outlook. The tablet has no pretenses in terms of the use cases its targeting and seems to be well executed and priced to address the same.Your point concerning value of the browser is spot-on.

      The original article leaves a lot to be desired in terms of ‘quality’ especially when the caption so emphatically reads – “Judging Microsoft Surface 2 beyond its cover”- what a joke.

      • orangeandblueaussie

        Thanks. Well in the size and price part of the article, the author discusses the Surface Pro 2 which I took to mean that the whole article was generically about both models. So, when talking about the Surface Pro 2, it is actually capable of running a full x86 operating system

    • Ed

      Excellent point! That’s simplified things to some degree.

  • Lumia920

    The reasons you are mentioned are all crap. I do not agree with that at all. People just do not want to get over Apple and Android and it is always hard to break the monopoly.

    Apply has been trying since years and now it is able to grab some market share from Windows. It always takes time and now when people will get bored of Apple and Android they will shift in the coming few years. Having said that doesn’t mean Surface Pro 2 is not good, its is the best tablet I can see in the market. It beats a lot of those slim laptops available in the market in the price range of $900 – $1400.

    I don’t know what has happened to the quality of reviews these days. When a person is reviewing a product, it should be about what he thinks, what he likes or dislikes in a product. But these days as there are a lot of websites, forums, reviews are now based on reviews by other people. Reviewers go to other websites, read other reviews, find out the content from the internet and do a review. I believe this is misleading and if you cannot do justice to a product then please do not review it.


    • Jacob

      I think the one problem I agreed with had to do with the app store.

      As a minister, I use an app called Olive Tree. It’s convenient because it syncs what passages I’m reading with commentaries and dictionaries and such. It’s on iOS and Android but not on the MS Store.

      I’m frustrated by it because I actually love these tablets and love Office 365 and using skydrive but that app is essential for me.

      The day that app is made for the Surface I will buy one.

      I could buy the Pro version and use the legacy app but I don’t want to pay that much for a tablet (especially when I know the price of other tablets) and using the legacy version feels like a waste when you have to tablet.

      I’m sure there are many others that find themselves in my position.

      • Hi Jacob. Perhaps you could make your request of Olive Tree. If you add your voice to the requests, they will soon see it’s worth their while.

  • Anastasia Yeager

    I’m that surface pro 2 512GB market. I’m always on my laptop (now five years old with missing and worn keys). I ordered mine back on Sept 27. It shipped this weekend. I’ll have it by the 22nd at my door. Can’t beat that. Need full blown office. I needed a solid tablet but didn’t like anything I used at best buy or apple stores or Fry’s until Microsoft surface pro and keyboard option. I need a keyboard (type 90 wpm). I type as fast as I think and multi task like crazy but never liked a 5 lb laptop on my lap. I waited until the second edition because I am a wimp. I want someone else to go through all the “new tech stuff” glitches. I’m hopeful this won’t disappoint.

  • anthony

    Theres an app that lets you run android apps. So that solves that weakness.

  • mitchellvii

    Microsoft has lost their minds on pricing. Dell and Sony are going to eat their lunch. My God, MS wants to charge $200 for their power cover and $50 for a car charger? Meanwhile Dell’s power keyboard for the Venue Pro comes in at $99.

    MS learned nothing from the failure of the first Surface line.

  • ElkPajamas

    Respectfully Mr. Jackson,

    I have always wondered why the Windows store is viewed as being less than stocked when it has more than 100,000 apps. While in raw numbers it is pale in comparison to the competitors, I can tell you with certainty that most of the apps on the other stores are either poorly developed duplicates of a few that actually work well, useless and thus you lose interest in them within a few uses, or just plain unecessary. Rankings show that most apps in the other stores are only there for numbers but actually are not even being downloaded. So again, with much respect for your viewpoint; do not encourage the onslaught of garbage apps in this store. I even think 100,000 is a bit much; don’t you think? How many apps dou you actually use daily or even weekly?

    With regards to size and price; this is not Costco. The 512 GB version is clearly premium and most users will gladly take the 200 GB free skydrive as an alternative. Also, any other tablet or portable computing device with this spec and refinement will command that price; think Sony or Apple. The price is not an issue for what you get.

    It generally appears that MS is being measured against PCs and not against other “social networky” portable devices. Had Apple created a device with the same specs people would be camping in Syria to get their hands on them. MS basically reinvented the stagnant pool of discount recycled PC devices which is nothing less than stellar. The channel will catch up once the vendors figure a way to make profit and define a way to stand out. Unfortunately the downward trend of design stagnation will start again.

    Say something nice about MS today 🙂

  • KevenD

    I will vote with the only thong that matters, my wallet. My wallet and I are off to get a Surface Pro 2 – 256gb today.

  • I agree with your tweet Brian. The support for Surface in these comments has to be a good indication of growing interest in owning a Surface.

  • Chris D

    Surface Pro, now just replaced with Surface 2, is my 1 device. The iPad 2, Kindle Fire HD 8.9 are now used mostly by my kids. The only app I really want that’s not available is Flipboard and it should come out in a few weeks. Other “missing” apps work perfectly fine in IE. Remote Desktop is there for occasional access to full Windows desktop apps.

    • On the topic of Remote Desktop, a major bank here in New Zealand fitted their staff out with iPads. When the iPad didn’t have an app available to perform the job, the user connected to a Remote Desktop server farm. As I understand it, many of the users were using Remote Desktop a lot of the time. If it’s good enough for iPad, then it’s good enough for Surface (RT & 2)

  • Christopher

    Think you might have missed the second point! Who cares about the app store with a surface pro 2, you can install millions of windows programs (.exe), who needs apps? Yes, if you want the device to play silly games and read a comic book. In that case it’s all about cost! This isn’t a budget machine, it’s not competing with Kindle Fire or over priced Apple products. I can run my company’s financial software as CFO of a multi-million dollar organization, use RDP to access our Electronic Medical Records securely with TPM, use Dreamweaver to make website changes, edit my family videos with Adobe, and play WoW. Lack of apps? Really! What app is it missing? What Andriod or iOS device can link up with a server, run financial business software, Word, WoW, be mobile, drive my multi-monitor displays with spreadsheets and a half dozen other programs running at the same time with decent battery life and not weigh a ton?