Even as a Mac only guy, I don't see how Surface is thought to be underwhelming. I think the tablet gestures they have, especially using the edges, are steps beyond the iPad and iOS and I expect Apple to copy them at some point in time. And then the actual interface is pretty nice as well: distinct, clean, beautiful. Again, I wouldn't be surprised to see Apple riffing on them.
How do you hype a product, and release the lesser of the two variants (RT vs Pro)? How do you go months without announcing a price, and then don't price it competitively? How do you release a product where your flagship apps (Office suite) doesn't run in the new paradigm? How do you not have a working email client? Need more...?
I think the gestures are cool, and in a world where everyone was really into "neat" interfaces it'd be the way to go. They score particularly high on efficiency.
But designers tend to drastically underestimate discoverabity, particularly discoverabity by novice users. Many entire software companies exist purely because the market leader's product lacks discoverabity of a feature. Twitter, in some ways, exists because blogging software doesn't make it obvious that you can use their platforms for microblogging.
If you think of usability as a funnel, with discoverabity feeding into learnability feeding into usefulness feedin into ease of use feeding into efficiency feeding into fun, discoverabity is like your home page. It's where you have the biggest drop off of engagement typically, and it's where problems can absolutely make or break you.
Offscreen and corner gestures, while useful and efficient, are often so undiscoverable that they almost exist only for power users. On the lates Build and Analyze, Marco Arment said he has to include a button to show the side navigation on The Magazine because so many people have no idea they can swipe in from the left.
Apple typically gets this better than most companies, and will use a text button instead of a gesture because they know that even if 80% of users discover the gesture, they just can't rely on it for your core interaction. Because the 20% will just walk away and tell all their friends the product is crap.
My prediction is that over-reliance on gestures and hot corners will put a serious damper on Windows 8 and Windows Phone's network effects. It's good design for power users, but it's in no way universal design and for an OS universal design is a must.
I think your vision is wrong because you criticize traditional idea of hiding power features and exposition of basic, but Microsoft did opposite. They exposed power features (see Ribbon) and hid basic. Every user will learn gestures because this is the only way to call Start screen with mouse and without it there is nothing to do. Beginners will search internet with "How to shutdown Windows 8" and will find about settings charm this way. Many will hate Windows 8 but in the end everybody will learn.
I think you're forgetting about Windows 7. As long as that's "good enough", there's no reason to switch to Windows 8 for the average user - especially if the new UX is confusing. Heck, there are still tons of Windows XP installs out there for this very reason.
Ok you both said underwhelming, but I'm curious in what ways you think so?
Personally I think the product is incredible in many ways, and overall very overwhelming/impressive relative to my expectations, however to me it has two very core faults:
1. Performance. Many actions are perfectly fine, however v things like videos can be choppy, and even reading a Kindle book is choppy.
2. DPI of the screen. It's a nice screen, and the responsiveness even beats the iPad (incredibly), though after using new high-res displays, the Surface screen looks pixelated (primarily when rendering text).
I think you're grading the product on a curve, relative to expectations of what Microsoft could produce in a few years, starting from scratch.
A friend with $500-600 comes to you and asks what tablet he should get. Can you recommend a surface over the latest iPad? We can't say "oh, give it time, the ecosystem will get better, hardware will improve" -- your friend needs something today. (That's why it's underwhelming to me. It isn't a good deal against its competitors.)
What does that friend want to use the tablet for? Anandtech found the screen on the Surface to be superior for watching video, despite its lower resolution. Does the friend want to share his tablet with other people in his household? The multi-user support in Windows RT is obviously superior to the complete lack of such functionality in iOS. Does the friend need to occasionally edit Office documents?
I don't think there's an obvious answer to which tablet provides more value - it's very context-specific.
Well, I don't know about that. I pretty much recommend Windows 7 computers to people because I expect they can buy one and get it to work for their definition of work. I might think a Mac or Linux would be better for them for what they want to do, but not for their ability to actually do it.
In the same way, if someone wants a top of the line tablet, it just seems obvious it's an iPad. That's what almost anyone with a tablet is going to have. It's just going to fit the expectation of what a tablet is for a naive user. Surface doesn't. Just like Linux on a desktop may be better in your context-specific suggestion, but it isn't what a naive user thinks a computer is.
Unless the friend also wants to pay me regularly to teach or tech support their computing device, in which case I might go outside the expected zone, but I've yet to find this to be the case.