Nota: la traduzione in italiano è a questo link!; questa pagina è stata scritta nell'estate 2013 ma... qualche mese dopo ho comprato il leggendario Microsoft Surface Pro 2.
Note: this page was written in summer 2013. I eventually bought the mighty Microsoft Surface Pro 2.
LOOK WHO'S TALKING
When talking about Microsoft Surface tablets, I told my friends and coworkers: "first time in my life I am willingly buying some Microsoft product, and I'll surely buy also the upcoming Surface Pro". Some of them even asked me why I appeared to be a Microsoft fanboy (I was hitting the surface.com website to pre-order as soon as I found it available), thinking about some yet unrevealed joke.
I had been a "Linux evangelist" since early 1994, when Men were Men and Windows was a bit less crash-prone if started in 16-bit mode. I still have a number of "mint in sealed box" Windows licenses (including a Millennium Edition) coming from notebooks purchases.
I had great expectations about Surface RT tablets. I was even OK with lack of 3G/4G connectivity and GPS and similar gadgets; I did not actually need a tablet, even less a Windows one: it would have only been some more than a toy to play with, to fiddle with multimedia, to work with Word and Excel while distractly asking coworkers: "huh? your $500 fruit-themed tablet cannot run Excel"? It just was: I see Microsoft seriously innovating and I want to invest some money to try that innovation.
DESIGNED TO WIN, PRICED TO FAIL
Yep, for an unneeded but innovative tablet I was willing to burn some 350-400 bucks. I was willing to try out a Windows RT thing (God only knows how many hours I would have to dedicate to backupping/syncing it with my totally Ubuntified flotilla of notebooks, tablets, servers and even old-school Macs). And investing again and again in future if the thing shows actually some value.
I was even OK with the absurd statement "only Microsoft app-store downloaded software can run on it": I accepted the idea that if it runs Word and Excel, and has some free apps for Facebook, Twitter, blogging, web browsing, photo/video shooting and basic editing, then even an "ubuntista" like me could call it a "go".
I guessed the base version would actually cost some 300 bucks for hardware; a study from Tech-Thoughts confirmed my guess with a near-300$ "bill of materials". With a 300$ BOM and some 30% gross margin, the base model final price was expected to float around 399$, probably a bit less because volume production could well cut 10-15% BOM costs. Ballmer told that retail price was going to hit the "sweet spot" between 300$ and 700$. There were even rumors of a jaw-dropping 199$ entry price (it would not be the first time someone selling at a loss to create an unstoppable momentum), which would have left some fruit-identifiable brand vendor in a cold sweat.
Microsoft entering mass hardware market, with a honestly promising Windows 8 operating system and a gorgeous tablet product, was actually ready to set the new standard. But being the first Microsoft "serious hardware" needs a non-trivial incentive to hit the market. Even a revolutionary one has to have a low entry price to attract people above the "fanbois" and "already willing" users. Also, too many Android and Apple tablets are already out in the wild: you cannot enter the competition with a product that costs more than a well-equipped notebook. A price tag below the 300-350 bucks line could have been the best argument for almost everyone to check it out; and I was even willing to invest a little more: 400 bucks were frying in my credit card... and you can imagine my face when I saw the preorder pricing starting at an absurd 500 bucks without the 100+$ keyboard, which became 600$ for a base unit with "rubber" keyboard, and 700$ for the 64Gb SSD version. No, sir, I don't fall for "x99" pricing; to me 599$ and 600$ both mean 600 bucks.
MICROSOFT FAILS AGAIN
I am sure that MS has lots of "good" reasons for that, starting from not wanting to damage OEMs who placed their Windows RT machines on similarly bizarre price tags (as if "tablet" should only mean "like the ones with the fruit-themed logo... including the x99 retail price"). And, on the long run, to not to hit hard the notebook market.
I think that Microsoft deliberately chose the "safe side" licensing OEMs only to follow their own marketing strategies. This means that MS - which has actual power to create a new standard with a new hardware and software combination (even with a hardware track record limited to keyboards and mice), and make it gain an unstoppable momentum - does not fully believe in Windows RT and Surface.
It seems they want to see ASAP the return of investments in research and development, expecting customers to spend the equivalent of two decently-equipped notebooks (Asus X301E, for example, under 300 bucks) to try its new hardware and software.
Finalizing those prices stated an irreversible policy (and a legacy as well: a 600-priced unit won't quickly drop below 400, if it will ever happen), failing to become attractive for me and -I bet- lots of other people, who know well that the upcoming Surface Pro will hardly follow a different path.
Nice try, Microsoft. Will wait for your next "revolution".