NEW YORK -- Microsoft introduced its next-generation Surface tablets this week with features that may appeal to consumers who use their personal devices for work, but the pricing may stop them in their tracks.
The two new tablets include the Surface Pro 2, a Windows 8.1 device geared toward business users and the Surface 2, which includes an RT version of Windows 8.1.
Industry observers here at the company's launch event said it's clear that Microsoft focused on consumer-facing features in these releases.
"In order to get their tablets into the enterprise, Microsoft is doing what they should be doing: Going after the hearts and minds of consumers," Chris Voce, research director at Forrester Research Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass. "Plus, the Surface 2 tablets address a lot of past challenges."
Surface Pro 2 offers 46% more color accuracy to improve HD viewing, improved speakers and a dual-angle kickstand that makes it easier to prop the device on your lap, according to Microsoft. Surface Pro 2 also increases speed with an Intel i5 processor and up to 512 GB of flash storage.
A mediocre battery life was an issue many users had with the original Surface tablets, something Microsoft said it has corrected. The Surface Pro 2 will improve battery life by 75% according to Microsoft, and the Surface 2 improves by 25% over previous versions.
Those improvements -- plus the upgrade to Windows 8.1 -- should make Microsoft's tablets more appealing to users that want to bring their devices into the workplace, Voce said. In fact, BYOD Surface tablets may make organizations take a second look at Windows 8, which hasn't seen widespread adoption in the enterprise yet.
"Windows 8's greatest chance for adoption is when it's in the hands of individuals," Voce said. "Its best chance of success is people bringing those [Surface] devices to work."
Business incentives to use Surface
In addition, Surface tablets include an Office application, where non-Windows tablets do not. Familiarity with the Windows OS is another reason for users to adopt the Surface, said Lucas Wilson, vice president of business development at Assimilate Inc., a Digital Intermediary software provider based in Santa Clara, Calif.
"Windows owns the enterprise market already," he said.
And with the Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2, Microsoft did even more to integrate with itself. As added purchasing incentives, both tablets come with 200 GB of SkyDrive storage for the first two years and free international calling and Wi-Fi hot spots with Skype for the first year.
But are those incentives enough to make consumers bite? Some analysts don’t think so.
Microsoft did not bring the cost of the devices down enough to make it worthwhile, said Jack Gold, president and principal analyst at Northborough, Mass-based J. Gold Associates. The Surface RT with Windows 8.1 included is now $349 -- the Surface 2 comes in at $449, while Surface Pro 2 costs $899.
Plus, there are many free cloud storage offerings, and even Voice over IP is going that direction with Google Voice, Gold said.
"The 'freebies' have very limited value in my opinion -- you have to stand on the merits of the platform, he said." I don’t think anyone would go out and buy a tablet specifically because it offers VoIP."
Even if those freebies do send users to the Surface shelves, it’s likely enterprises won't adopt Microsoft tablets as corporate standards, said Chris Silva, principal and founder of High Rock Strategy LLC, a consulting organization based in Melrose, Mass.
"At their price point and with extended battery options [for laptops], I don't see a major factor for these devices to displace laptops, especially since many enterprises are still standardized on Windows 7 and haven't made the jump to Windows 8 yet -- making this device a likely member of a BYOD program, not an enterprise standard," he said.
Surface 2 drops the 'RT'
Although the Surface Pro is Microsoft's business-focused tablet offering, the company has also worked to make the Surface RT device enterprise-worthy.
The next generation of the Surface RT drops 'RT' from the name and is simply called Surface 2. With this tablet, Microsoft said it doubled the bus speed for Wi-Fi and memory, and halved the reflectivity of the screen -- making it faster and easier to see.
For the many users that use Surface RT for personal use, i.e. watching videos or gaming, its graphics are improved. Surface 2 includes a NVIDIA Tegra 4 processor and can run 72 cores on GPU.
Both new Surface tablets are available for purchase on Oct. 22 or for pre-order on Sept. 24.