Microsoft has launched a new device in the Surface line called the Surface Go, the sole purpose of which is clearly aimed at winning over the younger generation to Office 365.
The Microsoft Surface Go is priced at $399, has a 10” HD screen with a density of 217ppi, 64GB storage but makes a big compromise on the processor which is a Pentium 4415Y. Using the Pentium was partly about keeping the price down, but mostly for preserving battery life which rapidly becomes a problem when using Intel’s Core i series in a product of this size and specification.
It is interesting to note that Microsoft decided not to use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipset in this product which would seem to have been an ideal choice given the focus on battery life. Follow-ups with cellular connectivity have been promised and it is likely that the Qualcomm chipsets will feature in those versions.
In designing this product, Microsoft had a problem which is that the main use case for a laptop these days is productivity and Office 365 is by far the best available but also by far the most power hungry. To deal with this Microsoft has optimised Office 365 to be much more tightly integrated with this Pentium processor in order to squeeze as much performance out of it as possible. The result is that Office runs very well but anything else that is installed on the device post un-boxing will be far more sluggish than one would expect.
Microsoft has clearly launched this product with education and students in mind and almost all of these will use the device for productivity and choosing instead to live their Digital Lives on their smartphones. This is obvious in its choice of OS where it is shipping the device with Windows 10 S (see here) for which the use case is clearly education and not much else. Consequently, for the use case for which this has been designed which will be 90%+ of the usage, the weakness of the processor is not a real problem.
This product brings Microsoft into contention with the upper end of Chromebooks as well as iPads across the range. When looking at productivity, a Windows device is far better than iOS as iOS still has no mouse support and does not run full fat Office. Microsoft’s strategy here takes a leaf out of Google’s book which is to use hardware as a means to distribute its ecosystem. This is exactly what the intention behind the Surface Go is. The more accessible the Office apps are, the more likely they are to be adopted and to become the go to place for productivity. Furthermore, because they are the best productivity apps available, once users are hooked on them, they are unlikely to leave (like iOS users).
The best possible outcome will be for other PC makers to copy (or be given it by Microsoft) the design and price point thereby helping Microsoft to drive the adoption of Office more deeply into the user base.
Office 365 is clearly the most valuable asset that Microsoft has and it is doing a good job in leveraging its other assets to maximise the opportunity. Microsoft has had a great run and while the outlook remains pretty good, taking some profits now might be a good idea.