Surface = Zune

Microsoft’s announced Surface tablets remind me of Zune and not just because of the Metro interface. Sure, it looks nice. Almost everyone who ever touched a Zune said they were built phenomenally well. But there aren’t that many people who touched one. Why is that?

Of course, the “late to market” problem is obvious. Zune came to market after the iPod had already eaten Creative’s lunch and only a few players like Sandisk and Sony stuck around with new devices, all of which worked with Microsoft’s own “PlaysForSure” system. Network effects will lead to a difficult path for pure Metro apps, now that iPad and Android have years of customer buy-in behind them. Would you leave your current environment, just to buy all the programs you use a second time? This assumes that the programs actually materialize. And a tablet without Angry Birds is no tablet at all.

Besides the network effects, the Windows RT experience duplicates the Zune (and iOS too) in the locked-down nature of the entire ecosystem. You can’t boot anything but WinRT on the tablet (UEFI is locked), you can’t install anything except approved Metro apps from the Windows Store, there is no sideloading and no bypassing the paywall. Anyone who likes that sort of thing already has an iPad. Those who find those restrictions onerous won’t buy an iOS device nor WinRT device.

Competing with your own customers is a very Zune-like move I see in the Surface tablet. Zune tried a completely new ecosystem, ignoring the PlaysForSure ecosystem which had preceded it and annoying Microsoft’s former partners in the process. Surface tablets are going to be competitively priced with Microsoft’s own partners’ tablets. That’s not really competitive, it’s predatory in many minds.

Not Zune-like, but still weird to me is the whole announcement itself. I’d have thought that manufacturers would have learned by now that vapor announcements are just stupid. Look at Apple – they announce something when it’s ready for sale. Those few items which they may “pre-announce” have solid shipping dates and prices. Microsoft says their tablets will be competitively priced and will arrive eventually. Also, nobody was allowed to touch the full Windows Pro tablets. It makes one wonder if they’re hiding something there – not ready for even sympathetic tech media to handle?

Those covers do look neat though. So there’s that.