Microsoft Surfaces amid Apple hype
JUST a few hours before Apple held the world's attention with its slick new offerings, Microsoft launched its Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 tablets in the United States on Tuesday morning.
The reception was lukewarm at several midnight launch parties across the country, and so were the reviews leading up to the launch.
CNet reported that Microsoft's launch in San Francisco "didn't drive droves of people to pull out their wallets when the clock ticked 12", and that there were few people who actually wanted to buy the tablets that night.
Mr Ernie Pang, chief executive of mobile-games company Bake450, immediately answered "no" when asked if he was interested in buying a Surface 2. "Who is?" he was quoted as asking. "The hardware is great, but it doesn't complete the package."
Microsoft says otherwise. The two tablets, which were unveiled last month, corrects some of the hardware problems of its predecessors, as well as software issues for Windows 8.1.
The Surface 2, which is aimed at business users, is now thinner and has a high-resolution 1080p display. It also has double the battery life and is priced competitively at US$449 (S$560).
The Surface 2 cannot run the full version of Windows 8.1, but Surface Pro 2 - touted as an alternative to a laptop - can. This is because it runs on a more powerful Intel Core i5 processor.
The catch is that it is thicker, more expensive (US$899) and battery life is reduced.
"Buy a convertible ultrabook instead," one review recommended.
When the first-generation Surface tablets were launched last year, they generated so little demand that Microsoft said in July that it took a US$900-million inventory write-down. It then slashed prices to move its inventory - with limited success.
But at least one company is not writing them off yet. Apple, which saw its share of the tablet market contract to 32 per cent in the second quarter, from 60 per cent a year earlier, is still wary.
This is because Microsoft is focused on the high end of the market, as opposed to cheaper devices that run on Google's Android software.
"In the tablet-PC market, they do think Microsoft is a bigger threat than Android," said Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi. "The iPad Air will compete with Surface Pro, not some rinky-dink Android tablet."