Microsoft thinks BYOD with Surface 2 tablet and Windows RT 8.1

Microsoft loads the Surface 2 tablet with Windows RT 8.1, VPN and mobile-device management features

Though consumers are a big target audience for the new Surface 2 tablet, Microsoft is also hoping to woo businesses with features that could make the device easier to secure and manage in IT environments.

The software maker introduced new Surface tablets this week -- the Surface 2 with Windows 8.1 RT and Surface Pro 2 with Windows 8.1. The new Surface 2 features that could be attractive to business users include mobile-device management and virtual private network (VPN) support, said Cyril Belikoff, director of Surface, during an interview at the tablet launch event.

The Surface 2 tablet also has remote lockdown and stronger security features compared to the earlier Surface RT, Belikoff said, adding that the device will be easier for IT administrators to manage.

The tablet's starting price is US$449, but enterprises buying Surface 2 in bulk could get a discount, Belikoff said. Belikoff also showed a charging cabinet -- targeted at hospitals and schools -- in which multiple Surface tablets could be charged simultaneously.

It's true that the number of business features in the Surface 2 may not match those of the Surface Pro 2, which was also announced on Monday. The Surface Pro 2, which starts at $899, has a host of multimedia and connectivity options that may make it a better fit in enterprises. For example, a Surface Pro 2 docking station provides more network and display connectivity, features that are not available on Surface 2. However, the Surface 2 now has a USB 3.0 port, which is an improvement from the USB 2.0 port in its predecessor.

Also, the Surface Pro 2 -- which Microsoft officials called a PC replacement -- will run applications that previously ran on Windows 7 because the tablet is powered by Intel's fourth-generation x86 Core i5 processor, code-named Haswell. The Surface 2 runs on an ARM processor, which is widely used in mobile devices but does not support older Windows x86 applications.

Tablets are increasingly being seen as alternatives to PCs, so it makes sense for Microsoft to target the enterprise market with Surface 2, said Roger Kay, principal analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates.

IT administrators are usually open to bringing in personal tablets and smartphones with different OSes, and Surface 2 could easily fit into existing environments that rely on Microsoft software, Kay said.

"When you start structuring in communications and security, it will likely appeal to IT managers to put the tablet into the field," Kay said.

The Surface 2 may also appeal to business users as a lighter-weight, lower-cost device than Surface Pro 2, said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates.

"There will be a few that will buy it because they want to save bucks over the Pro," Gold said.

Microsoft made a smart decision to package Surface tablets with Microsoft Office and Outlook software, which are widely used by individuals and businesses, Gold said.

"You can't do Outlook on Android and iOS," Gold said.

But analysts also agreed that the Surface 2 faces an uphill battle as iPads and Android tablets are widely accepted by IT managers. A lot of applications are also moving to the cloud, and are easily accessible through a browser.

Dell has targeted its XPS 10 tablet with Windows RT to enterprises, but found few buyers. The tablet, which was priced starting at $499.99 at the time of its launch last year, was considered too expensive for consumers, especially for a device that did not run the gamut of Microsoft applications. Microsoft took a $900 million charge resulting from slow sales of the Surface RT device. Lenovo, Asus and Samsung stopped selling tablets with Windows RT after poor sales.

Another challenge could be to get users to accept the Windows 8.1 RT OS, which is an update to the failed Windows RT. But Microsoft is trying to break off from the legacy Windows software used in PCs and thinking ahead with Windows RT 8.1, which is a highly mobile and modern OS, Kay said.

Microsoft officials are expected to talk about more enterprise features on the Surface tablets next month.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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