Developers warned over Microsoft’s “mishmash” Surface tablet

App developers have been urged to think twice before aligning themselves with Microsoft’s new “Surface” tablet, after analyst firm Ovum said the “mishmash” device could be confusing for consumers.


The tablet, which runs on Windows 8, was launched by Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer at a “mystery event” in California.


Weighing just over 900 grams, Surface is less than 14 millimetres thin but, according to Ballmer, has “a full PC” built-in and is the first tablet to come with an “ultra-rigid” magnesium case.


“If you use your PC to design and create things, this is for you. Imagine if we built this so we could use all the apps you’re familiar with,” Ballmer said.


Ballmer said the tablet, which also delivers touch and gesture recognition, would act as the head of a “whole new family of Microsoft computing devices”, although the price is still unknown.


According to Ovum chief telecoms analyst Jan Dawson, there are no surprises in software.


“The Surface tablet uses the same two desktop and RT versions of Windows 8 we’ve been hearing about,” Dawson says.


“As such, nothing has changed there and it still looks like a huge break with the past on the surface but with a jarring switch back to the old desktop world hidden beneath.”


“In theory, it delivers all the benefits of both the tablet-optimised environment and the classic desktop approach and apps.”


“But in reality, the versions available to try at the moment are a horrible mishmash of the two worlds that is likely to be confusing for the consumer.”


On the hardware front, Dawson says Microsoft was either unhappy with the devices out there or not satisfied with only taking a license fee from selling Windows-based tablets.


“Either way, it is a huge vote of no confidence in its OEM partners, who should rightly feel slighted,” he says.


“It is rarely a good idea for an OS owner to start competing with its OEM partners, and this does not feel like an exception.”


Dawson says the device itself looks compelling but, without any pricing information, it is impossible to judge for certain what the market impact will be.


“Windows does have a huge installed base,” he says.


“To the extent that IT managers see this device in one of its versions as a replacement for the Windows computer, it should see some decent desktop adoption.”


“But whether it sees much consumer interest will depend entirely on price and whether Microsoft is able to fix the poor UI experience in Windows 8 and RT.”


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