Microsoft partners and application developers are set to be the main drivers of the Surface device uptake in Australia, but all hardware sales will be done direct.
The announcement was made during Microsoft’s official launch of the Surface product in Sydney. The software giant highlighted education, public sector, retail and finance markets as target verticals. The basic model costs $21,000, while software development kit (SDK) models are $24,500.
According to Microsoft’s entertainment and devices division president, Robbie Bach, partners and developers were key to the Surface’s success.
“Australia will be the 19th market we enter…our partners are doing a great job of encouraging applications because the device itself is cool, but without the applications it really doesn’t get you anywhere,” Bach said.
“The goal here is to make the technology so natural that you don’t even notice it. Today, surface is mostly provided by businesses. It enables them to build their brand, it enables them to interact customers in a different way, it enables them to allow their customers to find information and export them.”
Object Consulting national practice and productivity manager, Kevin Francis, said his company was already a Microsoft Gold partner and required little extra work to be cleared for Surface application development.
“Companies like ours see it as an emerging market so we’re going to push down that innovation path, make that investment, skill up our people and then take it to market,” he said. “Small organisations will baulk at the cost…they’ll [developers] be your traditional custom development organisations who say ‘we’ll wait for a customer to come and ask us to build this sort of thing’.”
nsquared team coach, Kristen Kosmala, said non-Gold partners could also develop applications for the Surface.
“The Surface partnerships are done a little bit differently,” she explained. “We are a Surface strategic partner, which means we’ve proven that we understand the technology and are able to train and deliver it to the rest of the world…we can’t wait to get it to the schools and we’re already talking to education organisations.
“The concept is the hardest thing to develop for. The collaborative experience is not hard to sell at all – the minute people touch it they want more because they love it.”
One less positive for local developers is the dramatic price difference between the local and international SDK set-up costs – despite the strength of the Australian dollar.
“The reality is that the custom technology in there can’t be found anywhere else. I’m disappointed that it’s so relatively expensive compared to the US market – I would prefer to be able to buy it in US dollars but I don’t think it’s a sticking point,” Kosmala said.
However, she said the cost was not spectacular when compared to popular home entertainment systems and cutting-edge displays.
“People spend $30,000 on a home entertainment system…even when plasma televisions first came out they were $20,000 a screen. It’s not expensive when you look at it that way. There’s no reason not to invest in this when it makes such a difference to your bottom line,” she said.
An important point made by Microsoft was that it wouldn’t change or refresh the hardware to ensure expensive applications aren’t rendered obsolete.
“I don’t see a reason to take away this model…the technology is easy to work with and the only thing that would make it obsolete is if the market doesn’t use it and that’s not going to happen,” Kosmala said.
According to Automatic Studio consultant, Shane Morris, the key challenge for programmers developing Surface applications was to design software to its full potential.
“You can’t just take an existing application, lie it on its back and make it a surface app. It really requires re-thinking of the experience so organisations need to give more time to design activities and allow for exploration,” he said.
Microsoft managing director, Tracey Fellows, forecast hundreds of sales, rather than thousands, in the next 12 months.
"This is about how we see this technology being exploited by our customers so I think we're fairly conservative," she said.
The device is identical in all 19 geographic markets. Its operating system is based on Windows Vista SP1 and five cameras sit beneath a ruggedised 30-inch multi-touchscreen with object recognition built-in.
The Surface unit is driven by a 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU and 2GB of DDR2 RAM with a maximum resolution of 1024 x 768. It weighs 90kg and measures 108 x 69 x 54cm.