"Cool" isn't a term frequently applied to Microsoft or its products. In fact, its enterprise-focused efforts have some claiming Microsoft is becoming the next "IBM," or a background provider of cloud, development and software platforms with little consumer appeal.
Consequently, Microsoft is a well known but not necessarily "cool" brand. Smartphones, Apple's iPads, and some Android tablets are the cool products that have excited users for years. Microsoft's defunct phone platform and expensive productivity-focused Surface Pros haven't done the same for the masses.
Surface Pro is excellent for leisure and productivity, but its high price makes it inaccessible for most. Furthermore, its positioning as Microsoft's "most versatile laptop," places it more inline with Ultrabooks than portable and cool iPads. Combined with its "Pro" title, Microsoft pushes Surface Pro as productively efficient, powerful and versatile but not fun nor cool.
Surface Go, which is essentially a mini Surface Pro with a cooler name, lower price and consumer-focused marketing, changes that.
Surface Go: What's in a name?
A products name is important to its success. If it doesn't communicate what the product is, isn't easy to say or remember, and isn't "catchy", even a great product can fail to capture consumers' attention. The name must also work seamlessly with the broader marketing message.
Microsoft says Surface Go is for everyone. That encompasses millions of consumers who love their iPads, iPhones, Android phones, and tablets. Thus, Surface Go must win hearts and minds that have been shaped by aggressive marketing and "trained" to eagerly anticipate yearly upgrades to the iOS and Android devices they've committed to.
That "shared" upgrade experience and the sense of belonging to groups that use particular devices cements the "coolness" of Apple's and Android OEM's devices in the culture. This intangible emotional tie is an asset that is hard to combat. It is within this context Microsoft is positioning Surface Go as a cool consumer-focused alternative.
"Go," is a term that communicates a fun, not-all-business device. "Surface" conveys the familiar quality PC category capable of getting down to business when needed. "Surface Go" communicates a powerful ultra-portable device that goes everywhere with a user for everything he does. The name is also catchy and easy to say and remember. Combined with Microsoft's marketing for leisure activities, like watching movies, listening to music, taking pictures and web-surfing, it potentially has the feel-good and productivity ingredients to generate the mass consumer appeal that makes products cool.
Surface expectations and quality matter
Effective marketing can backfire if a product doesn't meet expectations. Fortunately, Surface Go has the context of Microsoft's standard-setting Surface brand backing it. Microsoft's Chief Product Officer Panos Panay is known for painstaking attention to detail and perseverance toward getting a product right. For example, he made Surface the successful family of devices that it is today after two failed iterations and a billion-dollar loss.
Our Executive Editor Daniel Rubino's Surface Go review confirms Microsoft brought the same quality standards Surface is known for to Surface Go. In fact, Surface Go exceeded Daniel's expectations.
Microsoft's marketing of Surface Go as a device with tablet mobility and laptop productivity, without locking it into either category, flexibly positions it so consumer expectations are not too rigid. The Type Cover-less $399 base model serves the common tablet expectations of web-surfing, listening to music, watching videos and extreme portability at a price consistent with Microsoft's "Surface Go is for everyone" message. Adding a $100 Type Cover gives users an ultra-portable and affordable high-quality $500 laptop that's still consistent with Microsoft's messaging. For an additional $100 the Surface Pen makes this tablet-laptop an optimally-sized digital notepad.
Is Surface Go cool enough?
Surface Go has its shortcomings, namely a less than optimal Tablet Mode and a deficit of mobile apps when compared to iOS and Android. But its ultraportability, laptop mode and capacity as a digital notepad are standout features.
Microsoft's consumer-focused marketing, accessible pricing, and high-quality Surface design may be enough to appeal to the masses. If so, Surface Go's cool factor will be its key to success.
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Jason L Ward is a columnist at Windows Central. He provides unique big picture analysis of the complex world of Microsoft. Jason takes the small clues and gives you an insightful big picture perspective through storytelling that you won't find *anywhere* else. Seriously, this dude thinks outside the box. Follow him on Twitter at @JLTechWord. He's doing the "write" thing!