My first impression of the recently announced Microsoft Surface is that it exhibits perhaps a better understanding of device needs of consumers than much of the rest of industry.

Ever after the Apple iPad phenomenon, the tablets market could witness little innovation, and the competition was mostly driven by followers and me-too devices. Indeed, the gaps were perceived to exist, mostly addressed by offering various form factors. That did help identify the seven-inch devices and further led to the discovery and coinage of a new genre called phablet—the five-inch device that sits pretty between the smartphone and the tablet and is best illustrated by Samsung’s Galaxy Note.

Surface manages to look beyond the realm of form factors and bring about innovation using concepts that are both refreshing and intuitive. It recognizes the merits of having a physical keyboard handy for productivity and compute centric needs of users, while keeping the device light and trendy.

Earlier, Galaxy Note had brought about convergence of the phone and the tablet to a significant extent. Surface too holds a promise to deliver the so-far elusive convergence of the notebook and the tablet. Yes, that tempts me to coin the term “notelet” for the device to-be.

One finds it interesting and somewhat ironic though that while the world’s largest maker of software could succeed at creating hardware magic, it is yet to see app developers enthused about its upcoming Windows 8 platform. 

Surface may have in it to raise the interest of OEM partners and developers, but for it to really succeed well, building a vibrant ecosystem around the new Windows platform would be critically important. And from a consumer standpoint, the pricing would also need to be attractive enough, to cause both notebook and tablet users to gravitate towards the Surface.

(As published in Deccan Chronicle, Bengaluru, 21 June, 2012.)

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