With all due respect: If you pre-ordered Microsoft's Surface with Windows RT tablet on Tuesday, you're a foolhardy optimist.
I’m sorry I said that; I’m not really trying to be antagonistic. Nor am I saying that you’ve necessarily wasted your money. But I’m certainly not convinced that the Surface RT is going to be your best buy. In fact, because Microsoft still hasn't divulged all the relevant Surface details, it would be hard for anyone to be convinced of that yet. And that is Microsoft’s own fault.
Full disclosure: Like you, I’m on the outside looking in. I wasn’t flown to Redmond last week for a six-hour presentation on the Surface, where Windows chief Steven Sinofsky rode it around like a skateboard. But I have attended press conferences by Dell and Intel, and I covered the initial launch of the Surface tablet. I said it then and I’ll say it now, again: I was impressed by Microsoft’s Surface, and its Windows 8 operating system. I think that Microsoft could have a winner here.
But that’s just a guess.
Drip, Drip, Drip
The problem is what InfoWorld’s Galen Gruman called Microsoft’s “long tease” - the slow, steady drip of information leading up to the launch of Windows 8. This isn’t just Microsoft’s strategy; this is the way everyone handles corporate PR these days. If a company offers just enough information, someone will bite. All a news story needs is a tidbit of news that can float above a tide of regurgitated background. And I’m as guilty of this as the next guy .
To its credit, Microsoft does a wonderful job of seeding betas and previews of its new software to the tech community, so that users have a chance to become familiar with the new operating system before it's official launch. I’m still not convinced that putting the Metro UI front-and-center within a Windows PC environment was Microsoft’s best move, but at least everyone who wants to has had a chance to try it out.
But the way in which Microsoft and its partners have rolled out Windows 8 and Windows RT on tablets and convertibles is annoying at best. Few manufacturers have actually disclosed the pricing of their Windows 8 and RT tablets, preferring to show them off now, then release pricing at launch. One exception is the Acer Iconia W700, an 11.6-inch tablet with a 64 GB SSD, priced at $799.99; We just found out that Microsoft’s Surface RT is priced at $499 and up.
Where Are The Reviews?
And though there are numerous hands-on reports, we have yet to see any formal, in-depth reviews of Windows 8 or Windows RT hardware. I haven’t found any obvious glitches in playing with the tablets for a few minutes, nor did I expect to. But if the Whizzy WinTab 879G blows up when trying to print a document, a quick hands-on won’t discover it. And, of course, there's the Windows apps question. How many will there be? And how many will run on Windows RT?
As you might be able to tell, I was a bit offended by Microsoft’s limited-time preorder offer on Tuesday. You want me to put down $500 for a tablet no one - outside of a few select invitees - has been able to play with for more than a few minutes? Of course, as the recent Saturday Night Live sketch proved, we technology pundits can be upset by the smallest, inconsequential things.
But I think that it’s fair to compare Microsoft’s Surface rollout with the way in which Apple - or Samsung or HTC or Lenovo or most technology vendors - roll out their products: They’re announced, they’re demonstrated, the prices are disclosed, the press has a chance to play with them and write a hands-on report, the products are reviewed, and then they’re launched. The public is teased, yes; but the public is also informed. This smacks of what happens to dud movies - where the studio declines to screen it for critics to avoid devastating reviews before the flick hits the theaters.
Launch? Or A Flood?
I get it. Windows 8 and Windows RT launch next week, and Microsoft needs to do everything it can to keep Windows 8 in the limelight, so it's carefully doling out information. But you can't avoid the real reviews forever. Come Friday, or Monday, or some arbitrary "Review Day," we'll suddenly see five billion reviews of five billion Windows 8 tablets and convertibles. Microsoft’s partners have been heads down building more than 800 different devices that are now certified for Windows 8 and Windows RT, Microsoft says. 800?! And we don't know anything about more than say, a dozen?
Maybe this is a good thing - the wheat and the chaff will be tossed into the air simultaneously. But it's only at that point I would consider putting money down for a particular Windows 8 tablet. Not now.