7 Ways To Save The Microsoft Surface

It has a more dynamic interface. It has Office inside. It can run two apps on the same screen. And it has a USB port and a built-in kickstand. The iPad has none of these things, and the Microsoft Surface does. So why does Microsoft's first tablet already seem to be on the ropes?

According to one estimate, Microsoft is slated to sell only between 500,000 to 600,000 Surfaces running Windows RT during the December quarter, well below expectations. To put this anaemic performance in perspective, Apple moved three million new iPads and iPad minis in three days.

Hope isn't lost for the Surface. There are some things Microsoft can do immediately to boost sales, as well as some changes the company should make to ensure that there is a second and third Surface. Given that this tablet is a beacon for Windows 8 adoption, there couldn't be more at stake. So listen up, Steve Ballmer and friends.

Microsoft's Surface tablet has potential, but it's not clicking with customers yet. Laptop Magazine's Mark Spoonauer gives Microsoft some advice on how to ease the company's growing pains.

1. Bundle the Touch Cover For Free

When you think about it, the Surface ads are just a tease. Microsoft showcases its Touch Cover in all of the commercials for its tablet, which attaches magnetically to the slate and offers a surprisingly good typing experience given that there's no physical travel. And, like the iPad's Smart Cover, the screen turns on and off like a refrigerator door light when you open and close the cover. There's just one problem.

Microsoft in Australia charges $679 for the Surface if you want the Touch Cover, $120 more than the tablet by itself. Want a colour other than black? You'll have to pony up $140. If you look at iSuppli's teardown of the Surface's components and manufacturing costs, Microsoft is making $215 on each device, making this tablet more profitable than the iPad. But this margin is meaningless if no one is buying. At least through the holidays, the Touch Cover should be free.

More: Top 10 Microsoft Surface Cases

2. Widen the Distribution, Pronto

Let's say you were excited by what the Surface has to offer. You'd want to run out and try one before you buy, right? Well, unless you happen to live within range of a few dozen Microsoft stores, you're out of luck. The good news is that it looks like the Surface will soon become more widely available. According to Microsoft watch Paul Thurott, the Surface should find a home with major retailers very soon - as in days instead of weeks.

Apparently, Microsoft has decided to accelerate its plans to widen the Surface's distribution. Potentially peeved partners be damned, this is the right move for Microsoft. You can't blanket the airwaves with ads and then not make it easy for people to pick a Surface up or at least test drive it. As far as I'm concerned, hitting Best Buy and other big-box stores will only be good for partners, because at least there's the potential for shoppers to look past the iPad aisle.

More: 12 Hottest Holiday Tablets

3. Amp Up the Apps

Recently Microsoft caused a bit of a stir when a Facebook live tile was spotted in a Surface banner ad. As it turns out, the tile was just a shortcut to the website. Never mind the fact that this ad is misleading. Where the heck is the Windows 8 Facebook app? Or the Twitter app? Or Spotify. Or Draw Something? You get the picture.

Despite the fact that the Windows Store stocks some compelling apps, such as Angry Birds Star Wars and UrbanSpoon, there are lots of holes in the lineup. Microsoft is trying to court developers, hosting app labs for them in 30 technology and design hubs around the world. But the clock is ticking.

More: Top 25 Windows 8 Apps

4. Supply a Sharper Screen

Microsoft makes a big deal about the ClearType display on its Surface tablet, arguing that the sub-pixel rendering on this 1366x768 screen makes for sharper images than what you'll find on competing tablets. In reality, the iPad's retina display (2048x1536) runs circle around the Surface. Although the Surface and iPad have comparable brightness (373 versus 383 lux), the Retina display is way sharper, whether you're viewing high-resolution photos or text. The iPad also offered warmer and more saturated colours when viewing the same videos.

The good news is that the Surface Pro will bump the resolution up to 1920x1080 pixels. But Microsoft should include this resolution on the RT version as well without charging a premium. After all, you can pick up an Android tablet like the ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity with a 1920x1200 screen for $US499. Microsoft also needs to ensure that icons and other items don't shrink at full HD to the point they're nearly impossible to target with a finger. The Acer Iconia Tab A700 is a great example of how high-def can be hard on the eyes.

More: Top 10 Tablets Available Now

5. Ditch the Desktop on Windows RT

I'm certainly not the first to suggest this, but perhaps hearing it from more and more critics will drive the message home. Microsoft needs to stick with the Modern (formerly Metro) interface on Windows RT devices like the Surface. That means no desktop. You shouldn't have two completely different computing environments on the same tablet. In order to unify the user experience, though, Microsoft will need to get Office to work within the Modern environment, as well as create a file manager that works in that mode. Microsoft would also need to beef up the settings menu in the Modern UI to obviate the need for a desktop.

More: Microsoft Surface with Windows RT Review

6. Lose Core i5 and Beef Up Battery Life

The Surface with Windows RT lasted a decent but unspectacular seven hours and 43 minutes in our battery test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi on 40 per cent brightness. Sadly, Microsoft says that the upcoming Windows 8 Pro version will have half as much endurance. That would mean less than four hours of juice, which is unacceptable for a tablet.

Why does the Surface Pro have such a pitiful rated runtime? Part of the blame goes to the Core i5 processor under the hood, which simply guzzles more power than the ARM chip inside the RT version of this tablet. If I were Microsoft I would switch gears to an Atom CPU. This would allow users to still run desktop apps while offering longer battery life. Sure, you'll give up some horsepower, but the Surface isn't really designed to be your primary PC. Besides, an Atom-powered Surface Pro would also likely be cheaper. For example, Samsung charges $US699 for its Atom-enabled Ativ Smart PC, and $US899 with the keyboard dock. The Surface Pro will start at $US899 without a keyboard.

7. Offer Better Cameras or Don't Bother

Our review probably sums it up best: "If you're planning to take pictures with your tablet, don't plan on buying the Surface." Ouch. The front and rear one-megapixel cameras on Microsoft's tablet disappointed in our tests. The rear camera took blurry photos with washed-out colours, while the front camera captured dull and noisy. What's the point of Microsoft owning Skype if you can take full advantage of the service on its hallmark tablet?

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Comments

    Realistically, the only thing they need to do is to get it in front of customers by putting into retail shops. They also need to get the Pro version on the shelves, because I reckon a helluva lot of potential buyers are waiting for that version.

    I think the screen is fine (same as iPad Mini) and the Pro will have a full HD display. I don't think cameras sell tablets, either, although I did see some moron videoing Devo and Simple Minds on the weekend with her iPad.

      I agree that not being actually able to try it is a pain, but I don't think it'll make a huge difference with the RT. I found it to work well, but it has no killer feature. Or rather, its 'killer' feature is an optional detachable keyboard that costs $120 - something available on every other platform already.

      The problem with putting it in shops is that people can do a direct comparison with the competition - and that could be an even bigger negative if it can be easily seen to be nowhere near the capabilities of other tablets on display. So it's a double edged sword to make it available in the big box shops. But getting it into people's hands is critical, it's just that the Surface doesn't have a killer reason to get it, other than it's not an iPad or Android tablet. Sure, there's the Windows connection, but people with iPad or Android tablets have no problems integrating right now.

        But it is clearly well up to the capabilities of the competition. Its hardware spec is pretty much the same as its main competitors and it has a few aces up its sleeve, like Cleartype, to put it ahead.

        Yea that theory only works if the surface was actually, you know, shit. It's a great device, a lot of people would be surprised, because people have low expectations (fed by the Apple hype machine) when it comes to MS products

    Yeah rip out the i5 in the Pro LOL
    dumbass .

      Yes - I don't get this! The whole point of the Surface PRO (see that, it has the word PRO in it's name, that's a hint) is that it CAN replace your desktop computer for a whole heap of functions.

      I had a lucky opportunity to play with some demo hardware a few months ago for the pro, and we managed to get MS Visual Studio, Office and SharePoint 2010 (!!!) all loaded and up and running on the Surface Pro. I remember thinking to myself, "Finally - a tablet that isn't just a glorified e-reader toy!"

      And now some moron actually suggests they gut the one thing that makes the Surface Pro intrinsically more valuable than every other tablet on the market?

      I feel like telling the article author to go stick their "Angry Birds Star Wars" up their arse at this point.

      Absolutely! That is the whole point of surface pro, having an i5.

    I'm quite a fan of having the desktop on my Surface RT, the full file explorer and networking side of windows on a tablet is fantastic

      I wouldn't mind if they made some more of the desktop features for Metro. But definitely keep the desktop as an option. I'd like to see a metro version of office, but again, they should keep the desktop ARM version available too.

      its easy to open devices like usb drives and copy files and do a bunch of things. it still has all the compatibility with devices that windows has and networking and it picks up media servers from windows explorer. desktop is handy

      something nobody seems to mention is how the surface also has the ability to output 1080p to a TV quite well. as a hd video player it works great. ive been meaning to try it on my 1920x1200 monitor, actually....

    iPad wins. this thing is a zune.. told has months ago it was DOA!

      This thing is a Zune?

      you mean the largest award winning music and video player in history?

      No, it is not a Zune, the Zune was better.

        so hows the zune going?

          Mine's going great, thanks for asking. Beats anything else I've tried.

      I wish this thing was a Zune, I'd have bought one on launch day.

    Why in hell would they sell an atom tablet next to the RT tablet? The RT tablet, while it wouldn't be able to do as much, would almost certainly run better than a bloody atom. I wouldn't touch an atom tablet with a ten foot pole.

    As for classic windows on RT, I agree it's stupid and shouldn't be there. It just confuses users when they can access the desktop but can't do what they normally could on other computers.

    I think the biggest tip for Microsoft is already too late. Release RT 6 months after pro/home so there are actually some damn apps on release!

    “If you’re planning to take pictures with your tablet, find yourself a good mental institute.” Fixed that for you :P

      I agree with you there, my Lumia 920 has a brilliant camera in it, and its easier to access than a tablet camera, why would I take photos with my tablet.

      Maybe I'm one of those mythical non idiots on the internet?

        i use my ipad to take photos directly into apps i am using (ebay ect) and it is great to have a camera worth using on there, it does only get limited use though so the rear camera isnt a huge issue for me.

      Yeah, i hate people that use tablets for photos. It's as cumbersome as those old timey picture boxes from the states fair in the 1890's.

        OMG an old timey picture box tablet holder for those people to use to take pictures with their tablet #milliondollaridea

      Well if its past 6pm and you plan on using your smartphone to take photos chances are the battery will be dead so you will need to take it with your tablet.

        Maybe after 6pm on Day 2 but I charge it every day so it will never be an issue.

    Apple got a foothold in the PC market way back when by marketing it to creatives. I'm surprised Microsoft aren't selling this as something like a Cintiq alternative to get the cool kids using it. The sheep will follow as they did before.

    Surface Pro shouldn't be compared against tablets - it's effectively an Ultrabook.

      ...but Microsoft will market it as a tablet hybrid. Smarter consumers will know the reason for the dip in battery life, but others will see it as a huge negative.

        Half the battery life for a massive bump in performance and the ability to run any Windows application out there is a pretty reasonable tradeoff though.

          Like the 3DS? With great 3D capabilitiees - comes 3:00 hour battery life!

          No - don't get the Surface Pro - get a laptop with bigger battery packs for now. You're not paying for battery life because its a lot more beefier (which it is) but rather because you want it to stay almost at the same size as the Surface RT.

          The RT is well and truly a tablet - but this one - im not so sure. But I am sure that Microsoft wants you to think its a tablet that can run desktop apps albeit with a slightly crappier battery life rather than an ultrabook that can has a touchscreen and has terrible battery life.

          So youre right' effectively it is an ultrabook - but thats not what its painted out to be.

            Apple says the 11-inch macbook air has a 5 hour battery life (http://www.apple.com/macbookair/features.html), whereas the Surface Pro will apparently have a battery life of 4.5 hours. Not too shabby.

        It's a negative because it functions as a tablet AND a notebook?
        fanboy logic
        /facepalm

    Not having the tablet in stores is a complete joke. They needed a more cohesive launch. All products launching at once with clarity. Maybe even do some bundles.

    Getting it into retail is IMHO the #1 thing. Most users aren't nerds like us. My flatmate has seen the Surface ads, sees that my PC running Win8 is miles faster and better than hers (although, to be fair hers is a fairly mediocre PC) and really REALLY wants one. But can she see it, touch it, hold it anywhere? No.

    I have no doubt whatsoever that if she, and people like her, saw the gorgeous Surface sitting near the iDevices and Android tablets as they wander through JB HiFi, they would be flying off the shelves and already piling up under Christmas trees.

    I'm waiting to see what the Pro will be like... screw getting the RT

    All these comments tell you exactly what's wrong with the Surface - no-one has a cohesive understanding of what it's meant to be. By which I mean what it is meant to do well. It should be gimped down because it is a netbook replacement, it should be beefed up because it is an ultrabook in disguise, it should be lightened because it is a tablet, it needs better battery life, it needs to get rid of the desktop, it needs metro apps, it's got all the desktop apps you'll even need, the kickstand is awesome for, the kickstand sucks for typiong on your lap etc.

      Im surprised it didnt come with the stylus actually.

        The Pro comes with a stylus, presumably because of the HD res screen.

      Actually, only th eauthor thinks it should "gimped down" and no-one has suggested it should be "beefed up", they are just waiting for the "beefed up" version. Absolutely no-one has mentioned the kick-stand.

    Harvey Norman an JB will have the surface this Friday ! Advertising will start at midnight Friday morning

    Facebook and Twitter are built into Win8, twit!

    It doesn't need saving, it's a good product.

    To sell better it needs to be in stores (this was obvious from the start) and it needs a wider app selection (ditto). A slightly cheaper price would be nice, but it's not like Apple bundles keyboards with the iPad. And they don't need to be messing with the hardware. It's nice stuff.

    What a bias article, again..

    the surface has been out for what... 2 months? give it a bit of ramp up time, a lot of buyers are simply waiting for the pro.

    how about an article about how to save the ipad mini, the device steve jobs never wanted?

      ipad sold 3 million in 3 days, they say the surface will be 500000 to 600000 in the first 90 days, I think that may be why they chose to write the "how to save article" on the surface.

        The original iPhone sold only 1.3million units in its first year on sale but it eventually found its feet. Comparing Surface to another device that has been around for several years already is a stupid comparison. A better comparison would be to know how many Nexus 7 Google sold through their on-line stores in the first weeks after it went on sale.

        So is Mac a failure then? Since they only sell a pittance compared to Windows devices? Is iOS a failure now? Now that Android has overtaken iOS, and is running away with the prize?

    Great business advice in this article...

    Basically, improve the quality of the hardware and sell it at a lower cost.

    Winner :-/

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