Microsoft is not exactly a household name when it comes to consumer gadgets designed for watching Netflix movies or chatting people up on Facebook.
The tech giant makes extremely popular productivity software, the Windows operating system, and enterprise software. (Oh, and the Xbox game console.)
Yet, breaking into the consumer market with a gadget we all use on a daily basis--meaning, a smartphone or a consumer tablet--has proved a bit elusive.
Microsoft dropped out of the smartphone race altogether, and the Surface tablets are widely used in business but you rarely see them in the hands of a Gen Z user who only cares about social media, movies, and mobile games.
That honor belongs to Apple, who basically smashed the competition with the original iPad and seems to dominate in that age group with the iPhone. You could say Apple is all about the consumer and Microsoft appeals to business users. That is about to change.
This week, Microsoft made an interesting move with the Surface Go tablet. It comes from the same mindset as the original Surface, giving people an actual Windows 10 operating system that runs desktop apps (although it uses Windows 10 S Mode so you can only load apps from the Microsoft Store) and a price point that is entirely Gen Z-friendly, at $399. The detachable 2-in-1 tablet uses an optional Type Cover keyboard that costs $99. The device will provide 64GB of storage with 4GB of RAM and comes out in August.
Of course, it's simplistic to say Apple only dominates in the consumer market (many startups swear by the Apple MacBook), and Microsoft certainly makes plenty of apps everyday folks use, such as Skype. The Surface Go is a different beast this time around, though. At 9.7-inches, it's smaller than any Surface tablet. It weighs only 1.15 pounds, which means it's ideal for those spur-of-the-moment Netflix sessions. The tablet is also the thinnest model Microsoft has ever made, at just .32 inches. And, while the Pentium 4415Y processor is a few steps behind the latest Intel chips, it's plenty fast.
So what's going on here? Microsoft announced the Surface Go in a blog post by saying it is designed for anyone and everyone. They don't have a target user in mind, which is what makes it so interesting--when tech companies talk about "anyone" using a product, they usually mean the unpredictable types, the ones who might Skype with their family one moment, switch over the Minecraft, then jump over to Google Docs to finish their a work project (or their homework). It's not just students, it's anyone who doesn't want to be pigeon-holed as a business user yet might need to do real work.
In fact, that's why the term "iPad killer" is entirely warranted here. The Surface line was always meant for serious work. Now, the Surface Go is for serious work and casual consumer use.
The question is whether it will work...this time. Many companies--including Dell, Asus, and Acer--have tried to beat the Apple iPad at it's own game, releasing everyday consumer tablets that turn on quickly with a button press, allow you to browse easily, and play games. Many of them didn't quite make the grade. It's somewhat restrictive knowing the Surface Go only lets you download apps from the Windows Store, but after you load up a browser, a few choice apps, and Netflix, you may not need to go much further.
The Go is essentially a generic "screen"--a way to browse, watch movies, check in on your social feeds, and maybe read a magazine. (My personal favorite for that is called Texture.) The battery on the Go lasts nine hours, which is perfect for everyday users. More than anything, it's the low price that makes this one a likely iPad killer.
For real this time.