The Microsoft Surface is (French) Toast

on August 15, 2013
Reading Time: 6 minutes

The Apology

Please allow me to begin by apologizing for the saucy language you are about to encounter. There is simply no way for me to tell the following joke without cursing. I really don’t like cursing (although, I do so love using it for effect), so I’m going to employ a substitute for the curse word. I trust that the savvy and discerning Techpinions reader will be able to pierce the veil and see through my little euphemism. Enjoy!

The Joke

On a Saturday morning, three boys come down to the kitchen and sit around the breakfast table.

Their mother asks the oldest boy what he’d like to eat.

“I’ll have some firetruckin’ French toast,” he says. The mother is outraged at his crude language. She hits him and sends him upstairs.

When she calms down, she asks the middle child what he wants. “Well, I guess that leaves more firetruckin’ French toast for me,” he says. The mom is livid. She smacks him and sends him away.

Finally, she looks at the youngest son and asks him what he wants for breakfast.

“I don’t know,” he says meekly, “but I definitely don’t want the firetruckin’ French toast!”

Excerpt from: “Jokes Every Man Should Know

The Analogy

• The mother in the Joke represents the computer buying public.

• The first two boys represent any one of the several PC hardware manufacturers who made tablets running the Windows 8 software but who have since been booted from the market.

• The youngest boy represents Microsoft.

Microsoft – like the youngest boy in the Joke – has gotten the reaction of the public (the mother) all mixed up. The boy thinks that the mother is upset about the French Toast, not the cursing. Microsoft thinks that the public is upset about Windows 8. So Microsoft has been quick to swear off (see what I did there?) Windows 8 and move on to the brand, spanking, new Windows 8.1. That’s going to fix EVERYTHING!

Or not.

‘Cause the real problem – the problem that Microsoft doesn’t see or get – is with Microsoft’s accursed tablet philosophy. Microsoft thinks that what people REALLY want in a tablet is a PC. And Microsoft thinks that what people REALLY want in a PC is Windows. Thus and therefore, Microsoft thinks that what people REALLY want in a tablet is a PC that runs Windows – a hybrid, that does it all and is all things to all people.

Until Microsoft’s outlook (oh my, yet another obscure reference) changes – and I think it’s unlikely to change anytime too soon – Microsoft, like the youngest boy in the Joke, is going to keep on getting slapped around without a clue as to why it’s happening.

Paul Thurrott’s Analysis

Paul Thurrott, in his article entitled, “Can Surface be Saved?“, is seemingly critical of Microsoft’s tablet efforts but, in the end, he erroneously sides with Microsoft’s take on why Windows 8 tablets are failing in the marketplace.

The Surface Is The New Zune

The parallels with (Surface and) Zune are interesting. In both cases, Microsoft established a new (well, recycled in the case of Surface) brand for a new family of hardware products. In both cases, Microsoft adopted a coopetition model in which it sought to have it both ways by both supporting partner devices and then competing with them head-on with their own.

The fear at the time of the reveal event was that Microsoft would alienate these partners by making its own hardware. ~ Paul Thurrott

Microsoft’s move to “co-opetition” is quite interesting. When Microsoft announced the Surface, the pundits seemed to fall into one of two groups. The theorists suggested that by making their own hardware, Microsoft would harm their relationship with their hardware partners. On the other hand, realists looked at the market and concluded: “Harm their relationship? Nonsense. Where are the hardware manufacturer’s going to go?”

In a way, the theorists and the realists were both right. If the Microsoft Windows 8 Tablet program is the sinking Titanic, Microsoft’s PC manufacturers are the lifeboats and those lifeboats aren’t so much paddling toward anything as they are simply madly paddling to get AWAY from the sinking ship that is the Surface. ((Paul Thurrott: First, of the few PC and hardware makers that voiced support for Windows RT last year and the subset of those that actually shipped devices, virtually all have completely and publicly backed away from the platform. Indeed, the most successful Windows RT device, by all measures, is Surface RT. And that device required a nearly $1 billion write-off because of poor sales.
Second, more and more PC makers are turning to free Google platforms. Not just Chrome OS, which is a super-cheap/low-risk bet, but also now Android.))

Redefining “Superior”

Killing off Surface would just deprive customers of some of the only truly superior PC hardware out there.

And these devices really are superior. We can debate specifics around battery life, the keyboard choices, the number of ports, the non-adjustable kickstand, or whatever. But these are beautiful and well made products. ~ Paul Thurrott

Okey dokey then. Let’s take a step back for a second and examine that bit of analysis. I have no argument at all with the hardware quality of the Surface. Beautiful and well-made? Yes. But nothing is truly “superior”unless it serves its intended purpose.

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all. ~ Peter Drucker

The “Pro” Tablet

I previously described (the Surface) as what a “Pro” line of iPads might look like if Apple were to make such a thing. ~ Paul Thurrott

This is where Paul’s analysis and Microsoft’s tablet philosophy go right off the rails. They both think that what the world wants – that what the world needs – is a “Pro” line of tablets.

…I still believe that this kind of hybrid device—one that combines work and play thematically and tablet and laptop physically—is the future of the PC. Not just the Ultrabook, but the PC. The ability to use and travel with just a single device that does it all is still a dream today. ~ Paul Thurrott

Yeah, not so very much.

I can see the appeal of Paul and Microsoft’s “dream”. But – as Microsoft has demonstrated – merging a tablet with a PC is not a “dream”, it’s a nightmare.

Not One Hybrid, But Multiple Screens

Ironically, Bill Gates predicted the future of computing back in 2007:

I don’t think you’ll have one device.

I think you’ll have a full-screen device that you can carry around and you’ll do dramatically more reading off of that – yeah, I believe in the tablet form factor…

…and then you’ll have the device that fits in your pocket…

…and then we’ll have the evolution of the portable machine. And the evolution of the phone will both be extremely high volume, complementary–that is, if you own one, you’re more likely to own the other.

[pullquote]The one, unifying computer is not the hybrid, it’s the Cloud.[/pullquote]

What’s actually happening is that we’re moving toward owning multiple windows (Ironic, eh?) to view and interact with our centralized data in the Cloud. One screen for our pocket (smart phone), one screen for the desk (PC), one screen for the wall (TV) and one screen for walking and lounging about (tablet). The one, unifying computer is not the hybrid, it’s the Cloud.

So if Bill Gates predicted this so very long ago, why doesn’t Microsoft get it? Well, as Upton Sinclair so rightly put it:

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

A hybrid computer that runs Windows is not the consumer’s dream, it’s Microsoft’s dream. And the bulk of the computer buying public is having none of it.

Black or White Thinking

Am I saying the the Surface isn’t good for anyone? Absolutely not. There are literally millions upon millions of users who will need it, love it, absolutely adore it.

But that’s not enough.

In today’s marketplace, millions of computers is a niche. The goal is to sell in the BILLIONS. And I’m not being hyperbolic. Android is closing in on a billion activations fast. And iOS isn’t that far behind.

The pertinent question isn’t whether Windows 8 tablets are good or bad. Like all products, they’re good for some people and bad for others. The pertinent question is one of proportion. Will enough people want enough Windows 8 tablets to make them a majority or even a plurality? All the evidence to date says that they will not.

The Surface Is Firetrucked

So let’s tie this into one nice, neat package and put a ribbon on it.

In the Joke, the mom’s problem isn’t with the French Toast. It’s with the kids’ cursing.

In reality, the public’s problem isn’t with the quality of the Surface hardware or about tweaking the Windows 8 software. It’s with Microsoft’s cursed belief that tablets really want to be PCs.

As long as the kid in the Joke doesn’t understand the problem, he’s going to keep getting smacked around by his mother.

As long as Microsoft doesn’t understand the problem, they’re going to keep getting smacked around by the marketplace.

If Microsoft doesn’t start getting the joke, instead of being the joke, their tablet ambitions are going to end up as (French) toast. ((Urban Dictionary: Toast – Destroyed, terminated, ceased functioning, ended abruptly by external forces.))