BY | November 20, 2012

Microsoft’s Surface tablet is set to give tough fight to Apple’s iPad 4 and Google Nexus 10. Meanwhile Oprah Winfrey says she bought 12 units of the tablet to give as gifts

Television diva Oprah Winfrey is a great fan of Microsoft’s Surface tablet. She loved the tablet so much that she recently tweeted about it and its usefulness. But oops she tweeted not using a Surface tablet that she has been praising so much for weeks, but from her beautiful iPad that she doesn’t forget to take along.

A few weeks ago too, the billionaire had said that she had fallen in love with the Redmond-based software giant’s first tablet, launched in the market just a month ago. Though the first Windows RT tablets haven’t witnessed record shattering sales, but they have witnessed moderate sales. Microsoft is set to launch its more powerful and better tablet Surface Pro early next years, and that may prove a benchmark in the market.

But Oprah Winfrey’s latest tweet has attracted scorn from many quarters as people have mocked the idea of loving something and using something else. Her tweet read, “Gotta say love that SURFACE! Have bought 12 already for Christmas gifts. #FavoriteThings”.

To be true, so far impressions about the tablet have been very contrasting. Microsoft’s Surface RT is a tablet which behaves something like a traditional computer, and somewhat like a tablet. It is built with the same kernel that Windows 8 is built with, yet it will not be able to run legacy software that you currently run on your Windows. That is something that the full version of Windows 8, which will come with Surface Pro will be able to do. It is therefore in a class of its own. Partway tablet and partway a traditional PC, but fully neither. On top of that put in the learning curve that traditional Windows users will have to go through and you get even more reason for being in two minds about its success.

But it is going to take some time to make its impact felt in the tablet market. Intel CEO Paul Otellini thinks it will take at least a year for that to become clear. While Evercore analyst Kirk Materne thinks that the initial demand for the Surface is likely to be “muted”, while Barclays analyst Raimo Lenschow was more worried about the traditional platform for Windows, that PC. The sales have been plummeting and he thinks that “major snapback in shipments from such a large decline is difficult to imagine.” Others are not so pessimistic. Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Holt said in a note that Surface should indeed sell 3 million units, something that Microsoft is also hoping. He thinks that the fact that Surface RT will be able to run Office would be a huge draw for potential customers. What is still more worrying is  that Microsoft’s sales team itself is either not conversant about the differences between Surface RT and Pro, or they are unwilling to spell them out for potential buyers.

Verge’s Sean Hollister phoned in various Microsoft stores and talked to salespeople asking them whether he would be able to run legacy software on Windows RT, or what was the difference between Pro and RT. Mostly he did not get a straight answer.

If users go out and buy RT thinking they would be able to do all that they can do with Windows currently, they would be in for a big surprise. However this could also be Microsoft’s strength. At 10.6 inches the size of the device is convenient for both uses –tablet and desktop. And they might like the ability to do productivity tasks with the RT even if they do not get all their legacy software to work with RT. Also, there are alternatives in the Windows app store for a wide variety of the softwares that currently run on Windows.

David K. Johnson while reviewing Surface tablet in Forbes says, “The combination keyboard/cover is genius. The keyboard on the one I used is the flat, non-tactile one instead of the one with chicklet keys, but like the iPad it cleans the screen when it’s closed. I got used to the feel quickly but would still prefer a tactile keyboard if I bought one…The performance is smooth and quick. I find RT to be very responsive on the Surface. It’s not quite as fluid as iOS on an iPad but it’s close, and the touchscreen is precise. The screen is also bright and clear with rich, vibrant colors – at least to my eyes”.

Another fact that is going to be attractive for many people is the new form factor, the ability to use the Surface as both tablet and PC. It would seem like the logical next step to the transformations that have been happing in the tech industry. Already the Windows devices had been slimming down, and losing hardware parts like a disk drive and spinning hard disk – swapping them for flash drives – it was only a matter of time before attacking the keyboard also became optional, and allowed users to jettison it when not needed. The point needs to be conceded that indeed Surface is a redefinition of an emerging category and one would not know, until the sales figures come in, how it fared.

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