Microsoft Making the Surface RT More Available to Consumers, But Is It Too Late?


Hot on the heels of news that the Surface RT isn’t selling well, Microsoft has announced that its ARM-based tablet will be available in an increased number of retailers, and that they are actually ramping up production in anticipation of a more widespread release.

Up until this point, the Surface RT was only available in Microsoft’s limited number of retail stores. While Microsoft did push its tablet heavily on consumers through these stores, there simply aren’t enough locations to facilitate a successful product launch. Microsoft seems to have realized their error, and they have taken steps to fix it.

Microsoft supplied the following quote, which is low on specifics:

Our plan has been to expand the retail presence for Surface after the first of the year. Based on interest from retailers, we are giving them the option to carry Surface with Windows RT even earlier

However, The Verge gained word that both Best Buy and Staples will be offering the device starting tomorrow. Obviously, the price remains the same: $499 for a pseudo-32GB device without either of the two covers.

Still, the news is notable in that Microsoft will indeed be expanding the availability of the Surface hardware. The Surface RT is the de facto Windows RT tablet, and is actually a decent product. The largest problem of the device is the price, and (up until now) limited availability. With the second issue seemingly overcome, it will be interesting to see if the Surface RT will see better sales without a price drop.


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Estimate: Windows Phone Sales Surpass Four Million During Holiday Season

Microsoft launched its new Windows Phone 8 platform towards the end of October in an attempt to make the company relevant again in the mobile space. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has noted in the past that he would be happy if Windows Phone could emerge as a third-place competitor alongside Android and iPhone. After the dismal launch of Windows Phone 7 last year, that was a lofty goal for Ballmer to wish for.

But based on early sales estimates, using methods that have proved accurate in the past, Windows Phone sales might actually be surprisingly high. Based on a recent estimate that involves calculating the number of monthly active Facebook users coming from Windows Phone devices, it appears that Microsoft may have sold as many as 4.24 million Windows Phone 8 devices during the fourth quarter.

Microsoft has yet to reveal any official sales figures for its new Windows Phone lineup, but Ballmer did claim that sales have quadrupled year-over-year. The higher number of Windows Phone sales than many expected can be attributed to Nokia’s flagship Lumia 920 smartphone, which has been in high demand this holiday shopping season.

At this rate, perhaps Windows Phone devices can actually give the iPhone and Android smartphones a run for their money. At the very least, Microsoft is fulfilling its goal of becoming relevant in the mobile space, helping to disrupt the two-horse race that has long existed between Apple and Google. And with BlackBerry 10 around the corner, too, the smartphone industry is shaping up to be quite exciting heading into the new year.


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Valve’s Steam Levels Up, Faces Console Competition Directly

While mobile gaming may be quickly moving to the smartphone, the home console business is still alive and thriving. Despite being half a decade old, both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 remained extremely popular gifts this past Black Friday, and Nintendo’s Wii U – the first next-generation console to hit the market – helped boost the company’s sales for the season. Even in a down economy, gaming has thrived.

Part of the equation has always been PC gamers. PC gamers are typically portrayed as a niche audience of people who are geeky enough to build a custom PC in order to get the absolute most performance per dollar. However, with the popularity of Valve’s Steam – an “app store” for PC gamers, which offers almost every major title available – has made gaming on a PC much easier. For years, PC gaming faced a massive distribution problem that the consoles solved. With the widespread availability of high-speed internet across most places in the world, Steam offered a quick and easy way for users to access the latest and greatest games at similar (or, in many cases, significantly less) cost than what games for traditional consoles went for.

Despite this growth and the popularity of Steam, PC gaming has tended to focus on the traditional desktop; in other words, PC gaming never entered the living room, where consoles reign supreme. That is seems about to change, if Gabe Newell – co-founder of Steam – has his way. Steam recently unveiled a way to make Steam use up the entire display, and since then the “Big Picture mode” has garnered a lot of support amongst gamers.

I think in general that most customers and most developers are gonna find that [the PC is] a better environment for them, cause they won’t have to split the world into thinking about ‘why are my friends in the living room, why are my video sources in the living room different from everyone else?’ So in a sense we hopefully are gonna unify those environments.

Steam then announced that it would be releasing a “tightly controlled” ecosystem designed for the living room, and that the company would be shipping a PC of its own that was designed expressly for use in the living room. Newell also mentioned that other PCs would be released that were designed for use in the living room, and that they could possible come preloaded with Steam.

It’s unclear what OS will power Valve’s “Steam box,” as Newell has infamously been very skeptical of Windows 8 and how Microsoft locked it down. Valve recently expanded Steam to support Linux, though not enough games work on that platform for it to power the upcoming Steam box. In all likelihood, it will be powered by Windows (note that Windows 7 is still being sold and supported by Microsoft).

The console wars are about to get interesting. Many believe that Apple may move to compete with Sony, Microsoft, and now Steam by opening up the Apple TV to developers next year. At the same time, both Sony and Microsoft are on track to release next-generation consoles before the end of 2013, and Nintendo is already out of the gate with its Wii U, which has seen at least moderate success. Valve may be able to put its foot in the door, as they hold a special place in the heart of most gamers, but it remains to be seen if they can appeal to a mass audience in the same way that Nintendo and casual games on iOS and Android do.


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Surface RT Sales are “Lousy”

Microsoft’s holiday season is shaping up to be memorable, but not in the way the Redmond company would prefer. John Paczkowski of All Things D has a piece up that slams Microsoft’s tablet strategy. Quoting an analyst from a Boston brokerage firm, Paczkowski makes the point that the retail strategy for the Surface is making it a non-mover for the holidays:

Microsoft is likely to sell just 500,000 to 600,000 Surface RTs in the December quarter, far below its previous expectation of one million to two million.

Compare that to the millions upon millions of iPads being sold, as well as the decent performance of other tablets, and the market is painting a rather dreary picture for Microsoft.

Many assumed that such exclusives as the Microsoft Office suite would make the Surface RT a strong performer going in to the holidays, though that doesn’t seem to be the case. The lack of distribution along with the high price and relatively disappointing technical specifications (lower resolution screen, in particular) have severely harmed the device.

The Surface Pro seems unlikely to turn this trend around, either: it will also be restricted to Microsoft’s retail stores, and the price of the device is even higher than that of the Surface RT. Ironically, it seems as if Microsoft will have to depend upon third parties to make a dent in the sales of the iPad and other Android-based tablets, though even those third parties aren’t as inclined to put an unproven OS and an unstable ecosystem on their tablets when Android is so readily available.

Until the second generation of Surface tablets comes along, it doesn’t look as if Windows RT will be the premier OS for tablets and other mobile devices. Microsoft desperately needs a flagship tablet, but one doesn’t seem ready to appear.

[All Things D]

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Do You Think Windows Phone Can Become a Legitimate iPhone and Android Competitor?

Microsoft launched Windows Phone a few years ago as a much improved successor to its previous Windows Mobile lineup of mobile phones. Windows Phone is a true mobile operating system for smartphones. Windows Mobile, at best, was an also-ran platform; although, it did have respectable market share during its time.

As much of an improvement as Windows Phone is, the launch of Windows Phone 7 did not garner significant attention. The platform was released over three years after the iPhone and Android smartphones had been on the market, giving Microsoft a huge gap to chase. To this day, it still lags behind significantly in what is still a two-horse race in the mobile space.

While both the iPhone and Android devices continue to dominate the smartphone industry, do you think that Windows Phone can become a legitimate third-place competitor? Windows Phone does offer some unique and intuitive features such as Live Tiles, alongside an emerging Windows Store app ecosystem, so it’s possible that the Microsoft platform could take off.

Moreover, the Windows Phone devices available on the market look great and have powerful hardware specifications. Both the Nokia Lumia 920 and HTC Windows Phone 8X are flagship Windows Phone smartphones available this holiday shopping season, and they’ve both seen respectable demand; at the same time, it’s hard to gauge exactly how much interest the devices have garnered due to supply shortages and constraints.

What are your thoughts on Windows Phone?

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Microsoft Surface Pro Coming January for $899, Battery Life Lacking

Microsoft today announced the prices of their upcoming line of Intel-based Surface tablets. The base price is $899, which nets one a 64GB Surface with a Core i5 processor. The Surface Pro features a 1080p display, Windows 8 Pro, one USB 3.0 port, and a Mini DisplayPort. Since it is running Windows 8 Pro and not Windows RT like the Surface RT, it will be able to run traditional desktop apps which haven’t been updated for Windows 8. The base model will not ship with a Type or Touch Cover, which is disappointing given the higher price. The covers are available for another $99, or are bundled with the more expensive, $999 version.

The Surface Pro will be available sometime in January – no specifics were given.

While the price is high, the battery life is relatively low: while Microsoft didn’t give specifics (again), they did reply on Twitter to an interested customer inquiring about the battery life of the upcoming tablet. According to Microsoft’s Surface account, the Surface Pro will have “approximately half the batter[sic] life of Surface RT.” That’s rather disappointing, although we’ll have to wait for reviews to judge the device further.

[The Verge]

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Ballmer Thinks Microsoft Should Have Done Surface Earlier

Apple pioneered the modern tablet industry when it released the original iPad in early 2010. Up until that point, tablet computers were largely unpopular and did not offer nearly the same ecosystem that the iPad delivers. Since that point, a number of tablets based on the Android operating system have been released, but have largely failed to compete with the iPad. In fact, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 was probably the best competitor that the iPad faced before it was temporarily banned in a number of countries worldwide.

Nevertheless, Microsoft decided that it would enter the tablet almost three years late with its new Surface tablet. At Microsoft’s annual shareholder’s meeting on Wednesday, AppleInsider reports that CEO Steve Ballmer admitted that his company was late to the tablet market and added that the Surface was something that “maybe [Microsoft] should have done” sooner. “Sometimes getting the innovation right across the seam between hardware and software is difficult unless you do both of them.”

The Microsoft Surface runs Windows RT, a stripped-down version of the traditional Windows operating system for PCs, specially built for ARM processors. Microsoft is set to launch the Surface Pro running Windows 8 Pro next year, but a number of critics find the operating system’s new modern interface to be rather confusing. Nevertheless, Ballmer notes that Microsoft is continuing to be aggressive with its integrated hardware-software approach, much like Apple has been doing for decades.

“And from a hardware-software perspective, we are really pushing forward aggressively on that boundary,” Ballmer said, seemingly contradicting his earlier statement, “What we say now is there is no boundary between hardware and software.”

It will be interesting to see the official sales numbers for the Surface tablet at the conclusion of the holiday shopping season. At this point, it does not seem that consumer demand for the Microsoft-branded tablet has been high whatsoever, especially when you consider that Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster found no Surfaces being sold at a Microsoft Store for the whole two hours he observed it during Black Friday. For now, despite declining market share, the iPad continues to dominate tablet sales.



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Windows Blue: Microsoft’s Upcoming Low-Cost Update to Windows 8

Microsoft is transitioning, folks. While the “Windows” brand persists, it seems clear that the company is willing to make changes that would have seemed insane to anyone with an interest in the Redmond company even two years ago. Microsoft is planning to ship an update to Windows 8 with various UI tweaks and new features, as well as the traditional bug fixes, next year. That’s 2013 – typically, Windows updates come about three years after the previous version shipped. And, further breaking from tradition, it won’t be a service pack.

Because of the increased competition from Apple and Android, Microsoft is moving forward with a more aggressive cycle, and they hope that both consumers and their bottom line will benefit from this move. According to both ZDNet and The Verge, Microsoft will be shipping an update to Windows every year. While Windows releases have previously been expensive, the updates will be cheaper (rumored prices vary, though the consensus is that it will be cheaper than Windows 8 upgrades).

The details of this new strategy are sparse, and nothing has been officially confirmed by Microsoft, though both ZDNet and The Verge have historically excellent sources and are rarely incorrect. These confirmations also solidify the various rumors that were being whispered throughout the internet that Microsoft had similar plans.

[The Verge]

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Microsoft has Sold 40 Million Copies of Windows 8

Microsoft’s Windows 8 is off to a respectable, if not staggering, start, with now over 40 million copies sold after just a month. This compares favorably with Windows 7: Microsoft reported two-month sales of Windows 7 at 60 million copies. With the 40 million figure, Microsoft is on track to break the Windows 7 record.

However, this isn’t particularly surprising  Windows 8 was both cheaper and easier to (legally) obtain than its predecessor, with Microsoft slashing the prices of the OS to drive adoption, as well as by making it easier to purchase online, and then simply download the OS. Microsoft is trying to drive adoption of its new OS, as Windows 8 has various new features which make it more comparable to the rising stars in the computing world.

The only disclaimer here is that Microsoft didn’t clarify what this number was, exactly: it could be just upgrade licenses, or it could be how many licenses have been sold to both OEMs and consumers, or it could be the actual number of copies that have been installed. Still, congratulations Microsoft.

[Windows Blog]

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iOS Surpasses Android as iPhone 5 Demand Remains Strong

iOS Surpasses Android as iPhone 5 Demand Remains Strong

Dan Graziano for BGR writes:

Following the successful launch of the iPhone 5, sales of iOS devices have overtaken Android in the U.S., according to Kantar Worldpanel. The research firm found that in the past 12 weeks, sales of Apple (AAPL) smartphones accounted for 48.1% of the market compared to Android’s 46.7% share.

It’s important to note that these numbers only apply to the United States, where iPhone demand has always been particularly strong. iOS last surpassed Android stateside when the iPhone 4S launched, retaining that lead for three consecutive periods. Research firm Kantar Worldpanel expects Apple to break its previous iPhone share high of 49.3 percent with the iPhone 5.

Nevertheless, it might not be a two-horse race in the mobile space for long. Microsoft is seeking to make its Windows Phone smartphones a competitive third-place runner, while investors have been showing at least a glimpse of hope in BlackBerry maker Research in Motion lately. It’ll be a very interesting year for smartphones in 2013, that’s for certain.

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