Microsoft's Surface tablet is a real work of art. I'm not one to get excited about mobile computing, but the Surface is the first tablet that made me want to get into mobile computing. The integrated cover/keyboard had a lot to do with that, but I've also been excited over the rumored $199 price point. It appears that I, and many others, may have gotten our hopes up.
Microsoft CEO and celebrated chair thrower Steve Ballmer recently talked to the Seattle Times about a number of topics, but the Surface did come up early on in the conversation. Ballmer was asked if the Surface would compete with the iPad on features, price, or both. His response, while illuminating, doesn't inspire that much confidence.
I think most people would tell you that the iPad is not a superexpensive device. ... (When) people offer cheaper, they do less. They look less good, they're chintzier, they're cheaper.
If you say to somebody, would you use one of the 7-inch tablets, would somebody ever use a Kindle (Kindle Fire, $199) to do their homework? The answer is no; you never would. It's just not a good enough product. It doesn't mean you might not read a book on it....
If you look at the bulk of the PC market, it would run between, say, probably $300 to about $700 or $800. That's the sweet spot.
I do agree that cheaper tablets look bad, but to discredit the Kindle Fire or Nexus 7 as being cheap is a disservice to the great work those two tablets are doing in the 7-inch arena. Granted, you can't do homework on those tablets, but you can't do homework on most tablets. That's still the specialty of laptops and desktops. It's a moot point.
Therein lies the problem that Microsoft is facing with the Surface. They want to price it like a PC. That works for the iPad because it has the software that justifies the price for many loyalists. Microsoft doesn't have that level of brand loyalty and the software shown off for Surface so far is less than inspiring. It's great that I can get Office on the Surface, but where are the new entertainment options? Will Surface feature connectivity to the Xbox 360 in a meaningful way? These are the questions that Microsoft will have to answer in the coming month.
I think we can all give up on a $199 Surface at this point in time, but a $299 Surface wouldn't be that bad. Here's hoping Microsoft keeps things cheap instead of trying to market the Surface as being worth the price of a mid-range Intel-based desktop. Competing with the iPad in terms of pricing would be about the worst thing Microsoft could do at this point. They have to undermine Apple's device somewhere and price is about the only thing they have at this point.
I expect we'll get an official price on the Surface later this month. With the tablet launching at the end of October, Microsoft can't afford to keep things in the dark for much longer. People have to know whether or not they're going to have the money to put down on the admittedly sleek and beautiful piece of hardware that Microsoft has designed.