The tablet market has taken a shift, with Microsoft’s announcement of the Surface this week.
Learning from Apple about the virtue of integrating hardware with software design, Microsoft has chosen to build its own product to go to war with the iPad.
War it is, too. The future of Microsoft lies in the balance.
Although the announcement in Los Angeles made great note of the entertainment and information consumption capabilities of the Surface, what really makes the Surface key to Microsoft’s future is that it runs Office.
Office is Microsoft’s core. It’s where the money is. It’s why the renewal of Office licences in your company is the vehicle by which Microsoft introduces other products, such as SharePoint.
For the enterprise market, everyone runs Office.
Break that connection, and Microsoft becomes just another vendor competing on price.
You may recall the $50 per year retail price Google Apps has set. Or, for users who switch to Apple’s product line, the $79 for iWork for Mac, or the $60 for iWork for iOS.
What makes the iPad so threatening to Microsoft is that Office isn’t a part of it. They’ve had a choice: make Office available for the iOS environment, or hope iWork and other apps in the App Store, plus Google Apps, don’t take too much away from Office on PCs.
The trouble for Microsoft is that iPads are flooding into enterprises. With them comes pressure to get off of Office — not just Excel, PowerPoint and Word, but Outlook, SharePoint, the lot.
Surface is Microsoft’s move to stem this tide. That’s why it comes with the keyboard. That’s why Microsoft is willing to risk desktop resistance to Windows 8 (due to the challenges of adopting the Metro interface).
If Apple’s right about this market, information consumption will drive sales. If Microsoft’s right, what we want are better laptops to work on. That’s what Surface really is.
Microsoft just bet the company. In a year, we’ll know who’s right.
If your 2013 Office licence renewal comes with deeply discounted mandatory Surfaces, you’ll know how much they fear losing.
Bruce Stewart is an internationally-recognized expert on IT governance and the future of technology. You can learn more about him, and connect to him on the social networks or via email, by visiting here.