Microsoft Might Finally Have a Winner in the Tablet Market. But Is It Too Late?

Microsoft announced pretty good earnings yesterday:

As the tenure of Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer winds down, the company delivered a surprise of the pleasant kind on Thursday when its second quarter earnings came in stronger than expected. Among the more notable items, the company said sales of its troubled Surface tablet doubled to $893 million from $400 million in the first quarter.

That’s interesting. Obviously a billion dollars is still small potatoes in the overall tablet market, but it’s possible that this means Microsoft may have finally turned a corner. I haven’t used the new Surface tablet, but I did buy a Dell Windows tablet a few weeks ago and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by it. The combination of Windows 8.1 and Bay Trail processor technology seems to have finally produced a Wintel tablet that’s truly usable and—potentially, at least—popular.

The app ecosystem is obviously still anemic compared to iOS or Android, but I managed to find apps to replace every single one on my Android tab, and they mostly work really smoothly. Performance is good; touch implementation is good; and of course, I also have easy access to a standard Windows desktop to run any Windows apps I want.

On the downside, although the UI is fairly slick once you learn the basics, I can’t say that it really has any huge advantage over iOS or Android aside from access to Windows desktop apps. That might make it a winner for business users, but I don’t know how many other consumers care about this anymore. If you mainly read Kindle books and update your Facebook page, it doesn’t really offer anything you can’t get elsewhere at a lower price.

Still, I think Microsoft has finally created a viable tablet. The only question is whether they’re too late.