Why Microsoft's Surface 2 doesn't fix what's really broken

Microsoft had a real opportunity to make positive change with the Surface 2, and instead it made a few superficial changes.

Microsoft’s announcement on Monday of the new Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 tablets made the existential distinctions between the two devices even clearer.

Earlier this month, I wrote about how Microsoft could have fixed the Surface tablet the second time around, and now we know what the new models will be like when they become available on October 22. With the new enhancements, the Surface Pro 2 has a chance to make the laptop/tablet hybrid a mainstream business device. The enhancements for the Surface 2, on the other hand, do nothing to address its core flaws.

What’s wrong with the Surface 2?

Let’s start with the Surface 2. Microsoft claims to have made it lighter and thinner, and given it a longer battery life. Oh, and given it a new color.

Woo-hoo!

Unfortunately, size and speed and battery life – not to mention color scheme – were not the issues that doomed the original Surface. The problem is that the Surface’s Windows RT operating system is a misbegotten mish-mash stuck between full-fledged operating system power and mobile ease-of-use. It looks like Windows 8, but doesn’t run Windows 8 programs, only apps specially rewritten for RT. And since the Surface is pretty much the only device using RT, you can’t be surprised that the selection is limited.

Sure, Microsoft announced that the Surface 2 comes with a Windows RT 8.1 and an RT version of its Outlook email program, but that is a long way from making it a truly useful device with an ecosystem of apps sufficient for real-world needs.

The Surface Pro 2 Get Serious

The Surface Pro 2 picture is much brighter. The new version gets a faster, lower-power Intel Core i5 chip that can keep it going “nearly a full workday,” up to 512GB of flash storage, and an improved kickstand so you can actually use it on your lap. But the most important steps toward making the Surface Pro 2 a legitimate business laptop replacement come in the form of new accessories: the new Power Cover combines the existing Type Cover keyboard with a built-in battery to provide more than 10 hours of use. And the new Docking Station (which also works with the original Surface Pro) adds a Mini DisplayPort video output, four USB ports, an Ethernet port, and 3.5mm audio jacks.

Since the Surface Pro 2 uses the full-version of Windows 8.1, the docking stations create a perfectly credible PC that you can also carry around as a laptop or a tablet. (It’ll work even better with an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse.)

So there you have it. One new Surface gets spiffed up in ways that still won’t let it compete with industry-leading tablets from Apple and Android, while the other gets better at carving out a new market niche where competing tablets don’t deliver the goods.

Care to guess which one is likely to be more successful?

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