Microsoft uses accessories to appeal to consumers
Like fashionistas, tablet and smartphone users have long been fond of accessorizing. Having a good foundation isn't enough. One should augment what one has -- whether it be our faces or our devices -- to make it the best possible version.
Microsoft has taken that trend to heart. The company today announced a variety of tablet covers that promise to make its Surface tablets more appealing to the masses. There's the updated Type Cover, which now features a backlit keyboard; the new Power Cover, which is said to extend the Surface's battery life; and the Surface Remix Project, which promises to help aspiring DJs make music without having to carry heavy (and expensive) equipment.
Oh, it also announced the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, the first updates to its Surface tablet line. Both tablets feature updated processors, better battery life, and a newly-designed kickstand. (The Surface also features a nice, silver magnesium back.) The products will be available in 22 different countries starting October 22.
The new tablets seem nice enough. But the Surface product line has never been about the tablets themselves. It's about showing the world that tablets didn't peak with the iPad.
Microsoft has used the Type Cover and Touch Cover to advertise the Surface line since the products were first announced. Television spots featuring breakdancing office workers and students emphasized the satisfying "click" of attaching one of the covers to the tablet. Microsoft wasn't trying to sell a tablet, it was trying to sell a personal computer that happened to be built from a tablet and a keyboard accessory.
The covers also received special attention during the Surface announcement, where Microsoft executives joked about their fondness of the accessory as it relates to their wives and lumped the covers in with Windows and the Surface tablets themselves. A good portion of the presentation was also devoted to showing Surface's compatibility with a number of styluses, external storage, and displays.
That is the Surface's main advantage against the iPad, which features limited support for external devices. Apple seeks to control every aspect of the experience -- Microsoft simply wants people to purchase its tablets, and if it has to offer novel accessories and support for external devices to do so, it will.
Accessories also allow modestly-updated products to appeal to consumers constantly searching for the latest-and-greatest devices. Microsoft demonstrates this with the Surface tablets, but it's hardly alone -- Apple has used accessories to make the iPad 2, iPhone 5c, and iPhone 5s more appealing in the same way. Like flashy jewelry, a tablet cover goes a long way.
Will the strategy work for Microsoft? If the past is any indicator, probably not. The company previously took a $900 million write-down because the Surface RT failed to meet its expectations. Reviewers dismissed the device (though the more-capable Surface Pro fared slightly better). Microsoft has failed to make Surface a viable alternative to the iPad. It's doubtful that a few accessories will change that.
[Image courtesy Microsoft]