Microsoft has a rather spotty record when it comes to hardware, so it's a little strange to see the company ploughing forward with a new tablet despite the consequences that may follow. That said, if Microsoft really wants to capture the hearts and minds of average people as well as the tech enthusiasts that write about this stuff all the time, a change of tactics may be necessary. One of the tactics that seems to bite them in the ass more often than not is the excessive lead times they have between announcing and shipping a product. This needs to stop.
Don't Pre-Announce. Ship.
Microsoft has a habit of pre-announcing their plans months and years in advance of any product shipping. While this might be great from a developer and corporate perspective, it's awful from a consumer's point of view. People are so impatient that waiting 90 seconds for the microwave to heat their lunch is deemed a war crime, so what makes Microsoft think people with disposable income will gladly wait months or years for something that, in the case of the Courier, might never see the light of day?
Instead, Steve Ballmer might want to take a book from Apple and say something along these lines:
"Today I am very pleased to tell you about something that we are very proud of here at Microsoft. It might upset some of our close partners, and it might upset some of our competition, but we wanted to bring you something unparalleled in mobile computing. We wanted to bring you a window to your world that you could bring around the world. We wanted to bring you Surface."
Then, after a bit of polite applause and camera flashes, Ballmer continues.
"You might be thinking to yourself 'Who would want to use a big Windows Phone?', and you'd be right to ask the question. But this isn't a big phone. This is a phablet. This is portable computing done right. It comes with the latest version of Windows. It comes with the latest version of Office. It has support for millions of applications written on the dynamic .NET 4.0 framework. It can do anything you need a tablet computer to do and come back asking for more ..."
From here there would be a bunch of hyperbole about what specifications the hardware comes with, what it will take for current software to be ported over to the ARM branch of .NET, battery life, touch screen sensitivity, pen input, and anything else the marketing guys want to pitch. Then, right before Ballmer wraps up, would be the final punch:
"So when will this be available? It's been available since 30 minutes ago. Starting today, you can enjoy Windows 8 Pro Surface and Windows 8 RT Surface anywhere and everywhere. You can be productive on the go. You can be entertained on the go. You can have all of your media, and the flexibility to do what you want with it. Want to run Linux on the tablet? Knock yourself out. But it won't come anywhere near what we offer you."
A pause ...
Then, with just a single wave, Ballmer drops the mic and walks off stage1.
No crazy dancers. No silly videos of over-ambitious rookie actors over-acting and pretending they know what the hell they're doing with a tablet at the cafe. Nothing like that. Just a professional presentation, a bang at the end, and an unexpected walk-off that speaks volumes to the attendees. Let people buy the product. Let people put Windows 95 on the darn thing if they choose. Let the reviews fly. But don't turn down the volume. Keep pushing out software titles that help people enjoy all that a modern mobile operating system has to offer. No compromise, if you will.
If Microsoft is serious about this huge change to their product line, and it's clear that they are, the volume needs to be set at 11 the whole way. That means that they can't pre-announce things like hardware. Software is only announced when it hits the RC2 stage. Things are kept under wraps until they're ready to go. Microsoft doesn't need to be, and shouldn't be, another Apple. They do need to get out of this habit of announcing one thing and doing something completely different.
Otherwise, the Surface Tablet may face the same fate as Microsoft's previous consumer-minded phone, the Kin.