Forget Apple: Android, AMD Are Directly Threatened By Microsoft Surface

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News Posted: Tue, Jun 19 2012 8:11 PM
In the wake of Microsoft's Surface unveil last night, much of the buzz has been about Apple, and how Surface will (or won't) challenge Apple's domination of the mobile and tablet markets. This makes some sense, given Apple's recent high-profile unveil of the Macbook Pro with Retina Display, but Surface isn't really meant to go head-to-head against any Apple product. The true potential casualties are Android's share of the tablet market and AMD.

When it launched Windows Phone 7, Microsoft effectively put world+dog on notice that it intended to deliver its own vision for a next-generation, scalable UI. Windows 7.5 and Windows 8 extend and build on that framework. Recall that much of the negative press surrounding Windows 8 focuses on its use in a desktop environment. Switching from Desktop to Metro is still clunky and jarring.

Surface is Microsoft's hardware answer to the question "How do I shift between these different operating modes?" It delivers what the company feels are the necessary fundamentals of the PC while offering new input options (stylus or touch) and an easy, effortless way to switch from keyboard input to fingertip.

Would Microsoft love to take a bite out of Apple? Absolutely. But Steve Ballmer isn't an idiot. Every attempt to attack the iPad to date has floundered. Amazon's Kindle Fire is the only arguable exception, and it competes on a break-even hardware price point and Amazon's huge media libraries.

Surface is aimed at would-be tablet customers who want a Windows-compatible product that offers more tablet functionality than the upcoming crop of ultrabooks does. Apple's iPad 3 customers aren't the target -- but Android probably is. AMD, meanwhile, now has a serious problem.

The Android Angle

After the disasters of last year, OEMs are looking to Windows 8 to build momentum around tablets. Microsoft's decision to push forward with its own hardware will have seriously angered a lot of players -- but not so much that they'll fail to see the potential positive impact on their own balance sheets. Having already committed to W8 in very public ways at CES and Computex, you'll see a lot more companies hurrying to play catch-up with their own products than publicly badmouthing Microsoft.

Android is firmly established in the phone space, but it lacks a killer tablet; Kindle Fire technically uses the OS but Amazon has stripped out virtually all the identifying marks. There's rumor that Google might launch its own low-cost Android tablet but Surface, on balance, seems aimed at capturing a market point above the iPad 3's $500 stomping grounds. As such, it's in an ideal position to scuttle Android's up-market position and leave it languishing as the tablet OS of choice for cheap devices.

AMD's Krishna/Wichita Cancellation Bites Home

If Android faces a threat to one segment of its overall market, AMD is in danger of missing out on the biggest computing transformation in the past decade. We can only assume the company had good reason to kill the 28nm Krishna/Wichita cores it was building with GlobalFoundries, but that delay could prove more costly than anyone anticipated.

Microsoft has outlined plans for two devices, an Intel-powered, Retina-display equivalent and an ARM-based Windows RT device. Exact specs aren't available, but this is where AMD's 28nm SoCs could've belted one out of the park. Instead, the company had to be content with Brazos 2.0 -- a 40nm chip with a few new features, but no new architecture.

Being in at the beginning of a trend is extremely important when you're trying to establish brand strength. In the late 80s and early 90s, Intel tied AMD up in court cases over its right to make a 386 chip, then bullied OEMs into avoiding the company's hardware. By the time the Supreme Court ruled in AMD's favor, Intel had an unbeatable financial lead and a significant brand head-start.

AMD will likely counter this by partnering with an OEM or two to build Surface-like parts. It wouldn't surprise us if Microsoft ultimately licensed the Surface design to other vendors. Still, by opting for an explicitly Intel-based solution, MS has dealt Sunnyvale's aspirations a significant blow. Without a competitive design to field, AMD could end up marginalized and clinging to the bottom of the market in tablets.
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karanm replied on Tue, Jun 19 2012 10:10 PM

That keyboard is brilliant, definitely not for heavy use but that thing looks like it will be a lot of fun. Great article Joel never thought about the AMD angle in all this. With AMD ultrabooks not even in the market how long do you think it'll take them to catch upto this??

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I hope AMD will play their part. I have always bought AMD, we have all relied on them to bring innovation and keep prices in check for years. The product looks fantastic and it brings something missing on the tablet market - utility. So imho it will take a bite from apple's market share. This is because MAYBE you don't want a laptop & a tablet . Maybe you just want ONE thing that syncs and plays well with existing stuff in your house

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Joel H replied on Wed, Jun 20 2012 12:52 PM

Karanm,

Still a lot of questions about that, and it depends on what hardware ARM and Intel field, as well as how quickly AMD can bring its new 28nm chips to bear. If history repeats itself, they never *will* catch up. There are similarities between this situation and the desktop market in the early 1990s, even if the causes were very different.

Being late to the game hurt them badly long term back then. It could hurt them equally badly here. Then again, 12 months ago, everyone thought MS would be terminally late to the tablet party, not leading a second wave after the first one died. So it's dangerous to get too prophetic. ;)

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3vi1 replied on Wed, Jun 20 2012 1:14 PM

I'm not seeing it. What exactly has you guys drooling for this thing?

The main feature is a floppy keyboard that you can't actually use in a mobile environment. It'll fall through your lap; you need a desk. And, it has no give, so it's not going to be much better than typing on glass - unlike all the real keyboard/covers people can already buy for their iPads.

The resolution of the screen is inferior to the iPad, so it's not going to compare well, side-by-side.

The OS is the main liability, unless you're enthusiastic about a history of exploits and now being locked in to Internet Explorer. Both Apple and Android are way ahead in their marketplaces and app selection, and only metro apps will be available via the Windows Store.

Finally, I feel quite confident that the pro version is going to be more expensive than the iPad and have horrible battery life. That's the most logical reason that those specs were conspicuously absent from their presentation. I will be more than happy to say I was wrong if this turns out not to be the case, but Microsoft seldom surprises me.

Also, looking at that keyboard is like staring into the sun.

What part of "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" don't you understand?

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karanm replied on Wed, Jun 20 2012 8:31 PM

3vi1,

this tablet has a few things for it on my opinion

1) windows instead of apple- now like you said its not android or iOS so the apps wont be there but i'm not a huge app user anyways so some basic functionality and a few apps and i'm good. This is the first windows OS that is designed for touch and this tablet is the perfect medium to evaluate it, right now I would say its a given fact the windows 8 is a fail on the desktop but on this who knows?? It might be crap or it might be great but I want to try it because it's new and unique, it peaks my interest more than another android tablet or the new ipad because i don't know what it can and cannot do.

2) this is a leap forward in the way that we interact with the digital world, its a tablet that has a keyboard instead of a laptop that's also a tablet (not my words). This key difference should make it very user friendly and also help integrate all the difference devices that geeks like us would want to carry around.

3)You've read Seth Colaner's article and the comments so you know the content creation aspect.

As far the flaws in this tablet, yea the screen resolution is not the greatest and there is no mention of the battery life but then how much does apple reveal before they release the actual product. Plus there are benefits like usb 3.0, the displayport and the microSDXC slot, none of which are available on the ipad. Although like you said if this tablet is another MS disappointment then we'll know before its available because of HH. As for the keyboard itself you are right again about needing a desk personally i feel pretty comfortable about typing on a touchscreen but the option of a keyboard with a trackpad makes this tablet a little better.

Joel,

I figured as much with AMD not being able to catch up unless they have an ace up their sleeve with Vishera or w/e their next apu is. I just hope all these setbacks don't cause a serious problem for the company and they decide to call it quits because we need competition for Intel and nvidia.

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3vi1 replied on Wed, Jun 20 2012 9:55 PM

1) I don't know what the perceived benefits of running Windows on the device are. Are people thinking they're going to game on it? Can they game well on a super-low-end Windows laptop with a non-reflexive keyboard? A real laptop would be a magnitude better for that. This device brings nothing new that other devices won't already do well, except maybe propagation of viruses.

2) There are keyboards, and tablets with keyboards already on the market. The Asus Transformer has a much better keyboard solution, in my mind, and there are flexible roll-up keyboards for the iPad as well.

>> but then how much does apple reveal before they release the actual product.

The release the battery life and price when they announce their products: http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/12/03/07/apple_announces_new_ipad_hd_31_million_pixel_retina_display.html

>> Plus there are benefits like usb 3.0, the displayport and the microSDXC slot, none of which are available on the ipad

I'm hearing "expensive". I do like that it has a microSDXC slot, but I doubt I'm going to buy one either way - since Microsoft will certainly lock down SecureBoot so that it can't be turned off - and I prefer devices I can hack around with. Plus, I'm never buying first-gen MS hardware again - The bad Phillips drive in my XBox1 and the RRoD on my XBox2 saw to that.

What part of "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" don't you understand?

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karanm replied on Wed, Jun 20 2012 10:59 PM

I do agree with the faults of first generation hardware and that's probably the biggest reason I will not buy this tablet, also if anybody is planning on gaming with this device then they are seriously deluded. However if you don't think that Apple devices are expensive beyond their specs then I'm done debating with you because you are an apple fanboy and I'd rather try and run through a brick wall, I don't mean that Apple products are bad in any way it's their cult followers that I have a problem with. Regardless the main reason that I'm excited for this tablet is integration between devices, this is proven with the release of the new windows phone 8 os. Again I don't know how well this tablet or the ecosystem that Microsoft is trying to build with this device is going to be but it's a step in the right direction.

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RiCoFrost replied on Wed, Jun 20 2012 11:50 PM

Finally a table I could have a uses for.

I looked at both apple and android tables nether could do what I would like. I simply find apple to restricted and had nothing really to offers my needs(sorry apple fans). Even tho Android is far less restrictive it also didn't interest me enough to get. Although I love the android phones (moved away from iphone) I am very interested in the windows 8 phone now. To have all this integrated for work would be awesome.

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actually there is also a keyboard option with depressing keys so ... then you could search the net to see what win8 does with a touch screen interface , the UI i mean, miles ahead your beloved iOS. I really liked the Asus transformer as concept ... really brilliant.

To get a glimpse at the price of "surface" we should look at the already selling ultrabooks not the iPad. I think it will cost more than the iPad, for sure the i5 ivy bridge version can't be iPad money ....

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digitaldd replied on Thu, Jun 21 2012 1:30 PM

I'm not drooling over the Surface tablet, & I am certain it will be overpriced. but what I want out of a tablet is the ability to work with text/data well. As things are now working on a document with an Android tablet/phone / Apple iPad/iPhone or a Windows Phone is a complete kludge from hell at manipulating text. How about basic text selection for copy/paste its a PITA even with a full keyboard attached to the device. Having used one of those Slate devices with Windows 7 I can say with a keyboard attached text and data manipulation is the same as on a laptop computer because it is a computer. 

 

Price the things right and Microsoft could have a winner. That keyboard isn't going to win any users over who want to do any extended typing but if it works well enough to type up a quick email, post an update to a social network etc. That's all it needs to do when you have it in an office or at home it could be docked and connected to a real keyboard/mouse.

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JDiaz replied on Thu, Jun 21 2012 2:41 PM

1) Yes, there are benefits of running a desktop based OS over a mobile OS. Mobile OS are minimalistic by design and apps made for them are too. Even with just the Windows RT version, despite its limitations, it will support more features and capabilities than what we are used to with mobile OS solutions.

Just running MS Office natively instead of through remote desktop or service like Citrix offers is one of the obvious pluses for productivity users.

Windows tablets will have a minimum of 2GB of RAM and will use faster SSDs than used in most other tablets.

Hardware support for peripherals will be more consistent and wide ranging than what is supported by most tablets.

People are more likely to use a Windows RT tablet as a laptop replacement than either Android or iOS based tablets.

While the Windows 8 Pro version will be powered by a Ivy Bridge Core i5 that is perfectly capable of running Photoshop and similar range higher end programs. Along with what games are playable under the Ivy Bridge GMA.

Along with the benefits of the Digitizer Pen the Pro version also gets.

2) Yes, the Asus solution has a few more benefits but the design of the Surface is to maximize portability and stay out of the way when not needed. While the Asus solution adds weight and bulk that makes it more like a laptop than a tablet when carrying both.

But like any product, it's a choice and it'll depend what people want from their mobile/portable devices as to which solution they'll prefer.

As for this being a first generation product, only true if you ignore all the work they've been doing the last few years. The Origami Project, the canceled Courier booklet, etc. Along with the high level of engineering they showcased for the Surface tablets indicate the hardware shouldn't be a issue.

Though I agree we should wait and see how Windows RT/8 evolves a bit before diving in.

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JDiaz replied on Thu, Jun 21 2012 6:28 PM

AMD has had to deal with delays significant enough to even cancel some products they had planned for this year but they seem to still be on track for the 28nm updates for 2013.

For now they just don't have anything with a low enough TDP to go into fan-less designs that are fairly critical for making a successful tablet design, given the power consumption and size issues those effect.

The present Desna Z-01 is a 5.9W version of the 9W C-50 that's specifically for PC Tablets, but they need to get to 2W to start offering their own ARM alternatives.

Though Desna's planned replacement Hondo seems like it hasn't been canceled but won't bring in much improvement aside to lower the TDP to 4.5W, but it's next year's Tamesh that claims it'll reach the 2W mark and it'll also start adopting a more SoC design like Intel has already done with Medfield and the upcoming Clover Trail.

In the meantime though we should see AMD Trinity go into Ultrabooks, HP has already released one but calls it a Sleekbook, and other companies have showed off demos of future products that will offer Ultrabook Hybrid Tablets based on AMD Trinity. So they're starting to get market penetration, but still need to do more.

We'll just have to wait till next year to see whether they can start doing more or not.

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