Microsoft has released the first Surface commercial (look up) and pricing information (look down). The commercial is interesting in that it's musical and fun, like an iPod ad, but also focuses on what Microsoft probably perceives to be differentiators against the iPad -- the keyboard, the kickstand, and dancing people in suits (i.e. business users using Office).
John Gruber of Daring Fireball is positive on it:
Surface is an iPad-size tablet with a magnetic keyboard cover and it’s fun. That’s a pretty good message.
Jim Dalrymple of The Loop not so much:
The Surface ad sucks balls
Early BlackBerry Playbook ads focused on differentiators as well, like smaller size and the ability to run Adobe Flash, as did early Android tablet ads, as well as Tegra2 processors, you know, for the wives. This is better than that. It does lack the power of Apple's original "technology is not enough" iPad 2 ad, and the magic of most of the series of "look what you can do with iPad" commercials that followed, however. It also splits Microsoft's focus, the same way RIM split the PlayBook's focus, between commercial and business users, even if they're dancing in suits.
That's not new for Microsoft, though. Unlike Apple who's recent success has been predicated on not mistaking their products for their business, Microsoft's past success has been all about Windows everywhere. That "no compromises" focus has been a cangue around their neck for years now, only a few interesting products like Xbox and Kinect escaping its gravity.
Which brings us to the convoluted part, and Surface pricing. Apple isn't innocent here, with 2 generations, 2 colors, 3 sizes, and Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + cellular models in several carrier and region specific flavors. It starts at $399 (for now, wait for the mini), then goes up in $100 increments for more storage, with a $130 surcharge for cellular. That's a voluminous, but still a fairly simple product grid.
The Surface seems similar, on the surface (sorry), starting at $499 for more storage but lower resolution, but given it has two keyboards -- flat multitouch and less-flat clickety-clackety type -- and one comes with it but a different color is an additional charge, and the RT (what does that stand for?) version won't be the only one on the market, and it quickly makes my brain bleed slowly.
No compromises is the ultimate compromise -- it's surrendering authorial voice and dumping decisions onto users. Whether it's which keyboard to get, which operating system version to get, which mode to use it in, etc. etc. it's piling indecision on top of indecision, and it's making murky what should be crystal clear.
I've heard both great and terrible things about the Surface, other Windows 8 tablets, and Windows 8 in general. Some seem to love it and see limitless potential and others see it as iOS 6 Maps writ large across an entire operating system and product category. The truth, as usual, likely falls somewhere in between.
Next week the first look at the iPad mini will be followed almost immediately by the second look at the Surface, and the next great stage of the tablet wars, such as they are, will begin. And I don't think Microsoft is really ready. (Where's my Xslate with exclusive Halo 4 and Office Touch?)
The commercial and the pricing, like Windows 8 and the Surface themselves, are audacious yet hobbled, aspiring towards a post-Windows future yet stymied at every turn by the fears and complexities of a regime still shackled to the past.
I hope I'm wrong, I want the Surface to be great. I want Apple and the iPad to have as much competition in tablets as the iPhone has in handsets, but right now the Surface and Windows 8 look to me like the product of lesser angels, the heartbreaking hint of what Microsoft could, but can't do.
We'll find out more next week.