Friday, 17 February 2017

Microsoft's price increases

From the middle of 2012 Microsoft began selling its own computer equipment, not just software, under the 'Surface' brand. Over the last four or five years these offerings have been refined. They are all meant to be high-end devices, to show off in an exemplary fashion what Windows 10 can achieve. They are aimed primarily at business and creative professionals, but any ordinary mortals who feel they can justify the cost are also welcome to buy. And I suspect that these stylish devices have been selling well.

I bought one ten months ago - MS's Surface Book - which is their first version of a 'two-in-one' laptop design, meaning that you can use it as an ordinary laptop, but the screen detaches and can be used on its own, like a tablet. I only wanted to use my surface Book as a laptop, and to this day I have never yet separated the screen from the keyboard. But the facility is there if ever needed.

This is what my Surface Book looked like back in April 2016:


It was slim. It was minimalist and understated. It was a magnesium metal design classic. It was 'different'.

I was very pleased, and continued to be pleased, because setup proved easy and it has since given me faithful service with only minor glitches. Only two of those need be mentioned. I couldn't get it to update the Windows 10 OS automatically until I went into Settings and told my Surface Book a fib - that I was on an 'unlimited' Broadband at home, so that MS would download and install their updates overnight. The other glitch, ongoing but infrequent, is that when using the touchscreen and keyboard together, the screen may after a while become unresponsive. It's only an intermittent problem, and is instantly 'cured' by a restart.

These matters apart, I have only praise. My Surface Book - which (of course!) I have named Verity - has been a hardworking servant, fired up throughout the day, at home or away. Despite this intensive use, Verity continues to function perfectly and look pristine. There are no signs at all of any wear and tear. The keyboard, for instance, has not become grubby. And the screen still blows me away. The screen is - because of Verity's vital photo-editing duties - the number one feature so far as I am concerned. It surely remains the gold standard among laptop screens in this market sector. In TV terms it is a '3K' screen. I'm sure that will soon be bettered with true '4K', but that's a game of almost pointless oneupmanship on a thirteen-inch screen - a bit like the Pixel Wars that used to go on with digital cameras - and I won't be upgrading simply to have a slightly more pixel-dense display. The one I have is bright and vibrant, with correct colour rendition, and just right for my well-defined purposes.

So I love my MS laptop! But my goodness, I'm very glad that I spent half my savings on it last year, and not this. Because MS has just increased its UK prices, giving the fall in the value of the pound as their reason.

The price hike is significant. In late April 2016 I was buying the 256GB-memory Surface Book with an Intel Skylake i5 processor. The online cost for that version was £1,599. The price now is £1,849. That's £250 more. Phew! I don't think I would be willing to find £1,849 now. That would be all but £50 of my current savings balance gone in a flash! I'd have to strike a heavy compromise on cost, and look at a lower-spec model from another maker. And I dare say many other people would be in the same position.

That said, MS must have done their figuring, and they must reckon that despite a number of wannabe purchasers being put off, their product will still sell well. And I suppose another £250 won't be a brick wall to a successful professional, just an annoyance to be lived with.

I should add that the current Surface Book is the same machine that I bought in 2016, and the same as the one first launched in the US in 2015. The design is nearly two years old, and should by now be getting obsolete as a piece of top-end hardware. That it still isn't, that a Surface Book 2 hasn't yet appeared, says much about the original concept. It's amazing that it remains current, and that MS have not only not gradually reduced the asking price, but are now asking even more. Greed? Maybe. MS have always had that reputation for being overly pricey. But times are tough, and I don't believe they would risk a price hike unless they felt assured of maintaining both sales volume and sales value.

One's thing is certain. Had I not taken the plunge last year, and chosen a Surface Book then, I could not aspire to one now. I feel as if I've got something I shouldn't be able to afford. Rather like my car. Indeed, rather like my house. I've been very, very lucky.

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