Surface 2 branding, specs, and pricing: Wrong, wrong, and wrong

Microsoft could've hit several home runs; instead, Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 are largely marginal improvements to the originals

Microsoft's rollout of the Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro left me shaking my head. Will these folks never learn? With a few notable exceptions, the 'Softies missed just about every high point they could have possibly reached.

Yes, the longer battery life (compliments of the Haswell processor) is a welcome improvement, and putting the Pro's screen on the Surface RT -- er, Surface 2 is long overdue. The cameras are better. But when a corporate unveiling extolls the virtues of a new two-position stand and batteries inside the keyboard and a real, live docking station ... man, what's the world coming to?

I don't mean to belittle the engineering effort that went into making the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2. They're both worthy, if largely marginal, improvements to the original products. But Microsoft could've hit several home runs, and it whiffed every single opportunity.

Let's start with branding. Who in their right mind would call the new Surface RT a "Surface 2"? Look at it from the point of view of someone who just barely understands that there are two versions of Windows on offer right now -- one that actually runs Windows programs and the other that doesn't. Imagine you're a clerk at Best Buy, trying to explain to a customer how the machines are different. You're faced with five different product names in common use: Surface, Surface 2, Surface Pro, Surface RT, Surface Pro 2. Can you explain to a customer in a hundred words or less which ones run Windows and which don't?

I wrote about the branding hassles facing the Surface team a month ago. Looks like the Microsoft powers-that-be chose the worse possible option. The fact that Microsoft will continue selling the Surface RT -- yet another Apple tactic brazenly stolen -- only further confuses the issue. For the indefinite future (it'll take -- what? -- a hundred years to sell the old Surface RTs at the current burn rate), that harried Best Buy clerk will have to explain the current offerings from Microsoft -- say, a Surface Mini that doesn't run Windows, a Surface RT that doesn't run Windows, a Surface 2 that doesn't run Windows, and a Surface Pro 2 that does run Windows.

Thank heaven the iPad and Galaxy tables aren't far away.

When it comes to specs, Microsoft could've wowed the world with a Retina-class display or a GPU with some guts. Instead we get a Haswell i5 with integrated Intel Graphics 4400, a nice-but-not-spectacular 1,920-by-1,080 screen, improved cameras (although I haven't seen the specs on the Pro 2 camera), one USB port (although it is USB 3.0), and oh boy, a two-position stand.

In case you missed the leak, buried in a Reddit post, LTE is coming next year, but we don't know if it'll be in the Pro 2 or the Surface 2 or both, and we have no idea about the price.

Speaking of which: The prices on the new 2's are way, way, way too high. Surface 2 with 2GB of RAM and 32GB SSD costs $449. That's $50 less than the launch price of the Surface RT, but we all know how well it sold. The comparable old Surface RT will continue to list at $349, a price at which the market has yawned volubly. Expect Microsoft to start giving them away in droves. Buy a Surface 2, get a Surface RT free? That would make sense.

The Surface Pro 2 pricing defies imagination as well; $899 for a 4GB/64GB Pro 2? You gotta be kidding me. All the way up to $1,799 for an 8GB/512GB model -- yes, still with an i5 processor, integrated graphics, and so-so screen.

Add to that $120 for the cheapest keyboard/cover, up to $200 for the battery-supplemented cover, and you're looking at a cool $2,000 for an 8GB/512GB Surface Pro 2 -- with Office not included.

The skeptics in the crowd will note that Microsoft is including one year of Skype/Boingo Wi-Fi acess and two years of 200GB Skydrive storage for free with new Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 purchases. RT buyers -- er, Surface 2 buyers -- get the touch-friendly version of Office 2013. That may end up being a deal-maker for you, but on my side of the cookie, it doesn't look like much. And Windows 8.1 as a selling point? Oy.

Here's my theory: I think the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 were designed -- at least, the high points were set in stone -- while Steve Sinofsky was still in charge and Microsoft had too much momentum going to reverse course. The result is what we see: a badly branded, underspec'd, overpriced white elephant. It's hard for me to believe Surface RT/Surface 2 will survive the oncoming drubbing.

I figure the 2's represent the last of the Sinofsky era. Let's see what Terry Myerson can do.

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