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July 12, 2012updated 19 Aug 2016 9:28am

Did Microsoft’s Surface announcement fall flat?

Google Trends suggests Microsoft has at least created some buzz

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Surface vs iPad vs Android
Search volume and news reference volume for listed terms, last 30 days, all regions worldwide. Source: Google Trends.*

I’ll come on to the chart above shortly. But news yesterday that Microstrategy CEO Michael Saylor believes Microsoft’s Surface tablet announcement was the worst in a decade, made me wonder just how much buzz the Redmond firm had managed to create. Was it in fact a misunderstood bit of marketing genius, sowing the seeds of doubt amongst potential iPad buyers that maybe, just maybe, they should wait and see what the Surface, or Windows 8, is all about?

It certainly seems that by pre-announcing the tablet before it is ready to ship the firm was hoping to stall sales of rival tablets such as the iPad or Android-based offerings. The question is whether it did enough to win any mindshare whatsoever when faced with the iPad and Android juggernauts.

One problem was that Microsoft’s Surface announcement was, to be fair, a little light on details. While there will be ARM and Intel variants, we don’t know the exact chipsets. We know it’ll sport a 10.6 inch screen but we’re not sure about likely resolution, and we don’t know much about battery life either. We don’t know if it will support Wi-Fi, 3G and/or 4G, nor do we know about cameras.

Finally, we don’t know about the price – a rather vital statistic in the ultra-competitive tablet space. We already know that the iPad is likely to remain at the higher end of the price curve, with some Android tabs like the Kindle Fire attacking the lower end. Where will the Surface sit?

But we do know that it’s likely to come with a keyboard and ‘kick-stand’, and be able to run newer Windows 8 apps from a touch-screen as well as your dad’s Windows apps using a more traditional mouse and keyboard. That’s all well and good, and anticipation is certainly building for the October release of Windows 8, Microsoft’s touch-compatible OS. Some early reviews have for the most part been positive.

So how did the announcement go down? A quick look at Google Trends shows that even with the might of Microsoft behind it, and CEO Steve Ballmer getting up on stage too, Surface barely made a difference to the number of people searching for the terms Android or iPad (see chart, above). Few people have searched for Microsoft’s Surface more than a few days after the announcement.

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In better news, the lower graph shows the amount of news references for Surface. This is encouraging, because it shows that Surface was well-covered in the days around the launch, but just as importantly that it has now entered the news outlets’ coverage – it gets about as much coverage as the iPad and Android, and sometimes more. That will surely help to grow anticipation for the October launch of Windows 8.

Of course, almost every story about Surface also referenced the iPad and often Android devices too; but if Microsoft wanted to take some column inches from Apple and Google, its strategy looks to have worked.

But what do you think? Was the Microsoft Surface announcement a mistake or clever marketing? And what impact, if any, do you think it will have on Microsoft’s hardware partners like Dell, Acer and HP? The chart above also shows that Windows 8 at least got a bit of a boost in news coverage from the Microsoft Surface news.

* The ‘surface’ data on the chart above includes people searching for any ‘surface’, not just Microsoft’s Surface, so genuine searches for Microsoft Surface would be somewhat lower. However the general trend, particularly around the Surface launch on June 18th, is clearly visible.

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