Microsoft’s Surface Ads: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Microsoft has introduced three new ads for its Surface Pro 3 tablets called “Power,” “Head to Head,” and “Crowded.” You can view them HERE.

The Good

The ads are well done. Clever, funny, short and to the point.

I’ve seen some griping that the ads are entirely negative:

      “I don’t know why they would compare themselves to someone else, instead of saying just why people should be buying yours,” said Joe Balsarotti, president of St. Peters, Mo.-based Microsoft partner Software To Go. “By doing that, it’s admitting that Apple is the standard. Way back when I took marketing classes, that would have been a big no-no.” ~ via CRN

I disagree. Negative ads work. Further, I see these ads as differentiating and defining Microsoft’s products. That’s a good thing.

      (O)ne Apple partner told CRN the ad campaign is “smart.”

      “It positions the surface as a hybrid touch-laptop device, which I think is very smart,” said Michael Oh, CEO of Boston-based Apple partner Tech Superpowers. “The advertising is more of a positioning move. A brand awareness tool. It would be obvious to compare [the Surface Pro 3] to the iPad, but the MacBook air is smarter to go after, because the Surface is a bridge device to get people over to the Windows 8 side of things.” ~ via CRN

I like that Microsoft is defining its product and I think the ads do a good job of explaining the advantages of a 2-in-1 product. However, as we’ll see below, I don’t think 2-in-1s are where Microsoft wants to be.

Finally, these ads are SO much more tasteful than many of the older Microsoft ads.

The only problem with Microsoft is that they have no taste. ~ Steve Jobs


All the money in the world can’t buy you taste. ~ Horace Dediu (@asymco)

Many of Microsoft past ads were awkward, puerile and embarrassing. Compared to those, these ads are like a breath of fresh air. I attribute the change to Satya Nadella. He strikes me as a class act. It gives me hope that future Microsoft advertising will be a cut above their previous efforts.

The Bad

Criticizing another’s garden doesn’t keep the weeds out of your own.

Question: Why does Microsoft continue to rely upon Speeds and Feeds?

Answer: I don’t think they can help themselves.

People don`t ask for facts in making up their minds.They would rather have one good, soul-satisfying emotion than a dozen facts. ~ Leavitt

Question: Is pen input as attractive to customers as Microsoft thinks it is?

Answer: I doubt it.

      “This is my favorite thing. I can write with a pen.” ~ Narrator

That’s your favorite thing about the Surface? Seriously?

New Surface ads pushing pen input are how you know that, unfortunately, Gates is still running the tablet show at Microsoft. ~ Tom Reestman (@treestman)

The iPhone has been around for seven years. People have gotten very used to the fact that — when it comes to tablet computers (including smartphones) — the finger is mightier than the pen. Pen input is great for niche markets but Microsoft doesn’t want its products to be niche.

Question: Is “full Adobe Photoshop” as attractive to customers as Microsoft thinks it is?

Answer: I doubt it.

“Full” Adobe Photoshop is available on the MacBook Air. And the absence of “full” Adobe Photoshop didn’t stop the tablet from becoming the fastest adopted product in history. So what, exactly, is Microsoft’s point?

Question: Can the Surface really go head-to-head with the MacBook Air?

Answer: No. Microsoft paired the new advertising with a promotion that offers $650 in store credit to customers who buy a Surface Pro 3 and trade in their MacBook Air. This is a tacit admission the Surface is simply not price competitive.

It’s incredibly tough to imagine anyone would leave a MacBook Air for a Surface Pro 3. More specifically, that they’d leave the ability to run OS X on hardware of that caliber for Windows 8 on anything. Especially because the MacBook Air can run OS X and Windows 8. ~ Rene Ritchie

Question: Why is the Surface going head-to-head with the MacBook Air?

In The Art of War, one of Sun Tzu’s most profound principles was “to avoid what is strong and strike what is weak.”

As water seeks the easiest path to the sea, so armies should avoid obstacles and seek avenues of least resistance. ~ Sun Tzu

Why then is Microsoft going after the MacBook Air? There are so many easier targets. Why doesn’t Microsoft target Dell, HP, Lenovo, and other PC vendors instead? As Rene Ritchie put it:

People who buy PC laptops and hybrids are already Windows-only customers. All the things Microsoft is actually showing off in their ads — great specs, capacitive touch, pen input, etc. are probably something Windows-only customers would be really interested in. ~ Rene Ritchie

So why is Microsoft picking on the MacBook Air instead of other PC vendors?

Answer: Because it has too.

Other PC vendors are Microsoft’s so-called OEM partners. Microsoft doesn’t want to (literally) advertise the fact that they’re competing directly against their own partners — but they still are.

Question: Why isn’t Microsoft competing in the tablet category?

Answer: There is no good answer.

      “(I)t’s not just a tablet it’s really a laptop” ~ Narrator

“JUST” a tablet, eh? Clearly Microsoft either still doesn’t get tablets or they’re in denial.

According to the Pew Research Center, tablets are now the fastest adopted tech ever:


In 2015, more tablets will ship than PCs.


And tablets have pushed Apple into first place in computer sales:

Q2 2014 PC vendor share: Apple (including iPads) 26%, Lenovo 22%, HP 20%, Dell 15%, Acer 9%. ~ Ben Bajarin (@BenBajarin)

Yet Microsoft has virtually NOTHING to offer in this area.

Question: Why is Microsoft targeting PCs — a diminishing market segment?

Answer: I don’t know.

Each Microsoft ad ends with the tagline:

      “The tablet that can replace your laptop.”

Clearly, Microsoft is positioning the Surface as a laptop alternative rather than an iPad alternative.

If being more PC-like is what tablets need to increase sales, then PC sales wouldn’t be declining in the first place. ~ Tom Reestman (@treestman)

PCs are still very important but 1) they are not a growth sector and 2) Microsoft already owns the PC sector. Microsoft’s number one problem is their Windows and Office cash cows are trapped on PCs. They should be trying to move OUT of PCs, not doubling down on winning the PC marketplace.


Steve Jobs favored the quote: “Skate where the puck is going to be.” With the Surface, Microsoft seeks to do the very opposite — to metaphorically skate backwards to a place where the puck will never be again.

Further, as tablets take over the low end of the PC market, only those who really need the full power of the PC will continue to use PCs. This means most PC buyers will be power users who will want MORE powerful computers, not hybrids. ((As PCs become the choice of power users, there WILL be a place for the 2-in-1. Road warriors will love it. However, Microsoft needs to appeal to a much broader section of the market than that.)) That is one of the reasons why the Mac has increased sales by 18% while overall PC sales decreased by 2%. ((Mac is up 18% in a PC market that is shrinking at 2% (according to IDC). ~ Horace Dediu (@asymco) 7/22/14))

And we haven’t given up on the Mac. … Because we believe as people walk away from the PC, it becomes clear that the Mac is what you want if you want a PC. ~ Tim Cook

Question: Why does Microsoft think that 2-in-1s are the future?

Answer: Because they have to. It’s the only way they can justify the use of Windows 8 on a tablet.

There is no evidence — NONE — to support the proposition that 2-in-1s are a mass market product.

Microsoft has lost $1.7 billion on the Surface…so far…which reminds me of a joke:

I remember the time I was kidnapped and they sent a piece of my finger to my father. He said he wanted more proof. ~ Rodney Dangerfield

Apparently, Microsoft is like Rodney Dangerfield’s father. Losing $1.7 billion isn’t enough for them. They want more proof. So here it is.

Opportunity cost & damage to OEM relations far greater [than 1.7 billion]. ~ Ben Thompson (@monkbent)

Microsoft’s OEM partners have had so little success in selling 2-in-1s that many of them have abandoned the market altogether.

To know the road ahead, ask those coming back. ~ Chinese proverb

If you look at the Canalys chart comparing Notebook PCs, Worldwide, units by form-factor, Q1 2013 – Q2 2014, you’ll see 2-in-1s have both figuratively and literally flat-lined.

If you’re ridin’ ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it’s still there. ~Cowboy wisdom

Question: If 2-in-1s are so important, than why aren’t either Apple or Google making one?

The wise learn many things from their enemies. ~ Aristophanes

Answer: The most likely answer is Apple and Google know something Microsoft doesn’t. Which reminds me of another joke:

“Pat: Mike, I’m calling you from the freeway on my new cell phone.

Mike: Be careful, Pat. They just said on the radio that there’s a nut driving the wrong way on the freeway.

Pat: One nut? Hell, there are hundreds of them! ((Excerpt From: Thomas Cathcart. “Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar.” iBooks.

By their actions, both the marketplace and Microsoft’s competitors are trying to show Microsoft the way. But Microsoft is stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the direction that the market has taken.

The Ugly

Question: What is the glaring omission in the Microsoft ads?

[pullquote]Nature abhors a vacuum; and a vacuum abhors cats; and cats abhor mice; and mice abhor tablets; and tablets abhor Windows 8[/pullquote]

Answer: Window 8.

It’s telling that “run Windows instead of OS X” wasn’t even suggested as a benefit in any of these three new ads. ~ Rene Ritchie

Telling indeed. A Surface 2-in-1 with a Windows 8 operating system is like a gold mine without any gold. The Surface and the mine may be in fabulous condition — but in the end, you’re only going to get the shaft.

A user interface is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it’s not that good. ~ Startup Vitamins (@startupvitamins)

In “The Windows 8 Mistake“, Jan Dawson succinctly explains where Microsoft went wrong:

      Instead of taking a consumer-led approach and unifying two fundamentally similar products, smartphones and tablets, with a single OS, Microsoft tried to bridge the gap between two fundamentally dissimilar products, the desktop and tablet. And all of this was in the service of establishing the PC operating system licensing model and not the smartphone OS licensing model on tablets.

      – – – – –

      A PC model applied to tablets would allow (Microsoft) to continue charging high licensing fees for Windows, make Office applications easily available on the devices, and make them compatible with existing Windows applications from third parties. But it’s important to note that (the Windows 8 operating system) was a decision driven entirely by what was perceived to be best for Microsoft, not by what would be best for the actual users of the products.

[Emphasis added.]

The real distinction is between those who adapt their purposes to reality and those who seek to mold reality in the light of their purposes. ~ Henry Kissinger


Question: Should Microsoft be doing hardware?

I answer in the affirmative with an emphatic “No.” ~ Sir Boyle Roche

Microsoft’s Surface ads are good. However, the best ads in the world won’t help a bad strategy. The worst thing about the Surface ads is they show that Nadella has not gotten his priorities in order — he’s still rushing headlong down the wrong path.

[pullquote]Microsoft has forgotten the purpose for which the Surface was made[/pullquote]

PREMISE #1: Windows 8 was designed to make Windows relevant on tablets as well as desktops.

PREMISE #2: The Surface 2-in-1 was designed to assist the transition of Windows 8 from notebooks to tablets.

FACT: The current ad campaign targets the Surface at notebooks, not tablets.

QUESTION: So what purpose does the Surface serve?


By losing your goal, you have lost your way. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Satya Nadella said Microsoft will show ‘courage in the face of reality’. Now is the time to display some of that courage.

Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go. ~ Hermann Hesse

Ironically, Microsoft’s Surface ads fully demonstrate the futility of Microsoft’s Surface strategy. If the Surface ever had any purpose, the new ads make it abundantly clear that the Surface is no longer serving that purpose.

We are a software company at the end of the day. ~ Satya Nadella

It’s time for Microsoft to re-remember their purpose, to re-remember who they are, and to acknowledge that sometimes it’s more courageous to let go of what you’ve got than to hold on to what you’re not.

Published by

John Kirk

John R. Kirk is a recovering attorney. He has also worked as a financial advisor and a business coach. His love affair with computing started with his purchase of the original Mac in 1985. His primary interest is the field of personal computing (which includes phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops) and his primary focus is on long-term business strategies: What makes a company unique; How do those unique qualities aid or inhibit the success of the company; and why don’t (or can’t) other companies adopt the successful attributes of their competitors?

1,143 thoughts on “Microsoft’s Surface Ads: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly”

  1. While we disagree on the importance of the desktop market, we agree that Surface is a mess.

    I think Microsoft’s big mistake was attempting to make Windows into some kind of touch first OS, and attempt to leverage desktop users as some kind of psuedo touch users, to gain “pseudo touch” market share. Doing so only compromised Windows it in it’s central(desktop) role.

    I believe this actually contributed to the slowdown in the Desktop business, by making desktops less compelling and more confusing to users, which were for the most part, comfortable with Windows as the dominant desktop OS.

    I have been extremely critical of this direction from day 1 (long before actual release).

    Metro should have been a lightweight separate OS that ran standalone on smaller tablets and could be integrated, into convertibles.

    At least then it wouldn’t have wrecked a perfectly good Desktop OS. I make no claims that it would have helped them any on the tablet front, though they couldn’t have done much worse.

    I believe in convertibles, but Surface isn’t the answer. Even good advertising probably won’t sell a bad idea, at least not for long.

    My main view of what a good convertible is, is one that delivers an excellent performance in at least one of it’s roles, and IMO a convertible needs to deliver on laptop front first and foremost. Something Surface (despite recent leanings to the laptop side) doesn’t really do. Its novelty keyboard puts it far behind the traditional laptop with solid keyboard and solid hinge, with the weight properly in the base.

    A Lenovo Yoga is a much better convertible, that gives up essentially nothing in the laptop department, while delivering some minor desk mode touch/tablet usage.

    I wonder if Microsoft will eventually:
    1) exit the PC HW business.
    2) give up on its novelty keyboard and build a decent convertible.

    Surface just seems like Dead weight for now.

    1. Microsoft was caught between Scylla and Charybdis. They had nothing going in smartphones. They belatedly recognized that tablets were the real deal. All of their best customers (IT departments) and developers were on notebook and desktop devices.

      They could try to create a third operating system to compete in the tablet market but this was problematical. First, they were very late (again) and they would probably be relegated to a distant third place as they are with smartphones. Second, a separate touch optimized operating system would do little to support their existing Windows franchise.

      Frankly, I’m not sure there were any optimal choices at that point. Apple had re-imagined yet another market and Android fast followed. By the time Microsoft realized that touch was a thing, it was already too late for them to be a player.

      I think Microsoft should:

      1) Abandon mobile hardware;
      2) Milk Windows and Office for all they’re worth; and
      3) Expand their back-end services (Azure, etc.) and re-create Microsoft in the Cloud.

      1. 4.) Microsoft’s response to the Ipad should have been to become the go-to app developer in the app store, for world-class enterprise-focused apps…

        I previously commented on a Techpinions article that Metro or Windows8 was a dead duck – you can’t have both concurrently. Unfortunately for them, it is rather looking like you can’t have either… they are both turkeys destined for the chop.

      2. I agree fully. At one time all the hardware Microsoft sold was a mouse and keyboard – the the obvious accessories for a desktop computer.

    2. “Metro should have been a lightweight separate OS that ran standalone on smaller tablets and could be integrated, into convertibles.”

      Truer words have never been spoken!! I’ve shared the same sentiment since before Windows 8 was released.

      I still remember that early footage from the development team and how impressed I was with the minimalist aesthetics, monochromatic, flat design that felt very European. It was amazing. And then he launched into the Desktop. The short-lived, 3 or so minute honeymoon was over. Now the slick, minimalist interface was ruined by adjoining room to a legacy we should be trying to abandon, not celebrate.

      It felt like a tour through a modern smart-home with all the accoutrements and style of such a dwelling only to find out that the TV viewing room, with stadium seating, cup holders and surround sound, featured a 12″ B&W TV with rabbit ears and a separate dial for UHF channels. Going into the kitchen you see an avocado-colored phone attached to the wall, wood-burning stove, and a washboard and clotheslines in the backyard.

      Save for a Hall of History your fancy new smart-home is nothing more than window dressing (no pun intended) from the stuff you’ll really do.

      And with Microsoft now trying to tout that the laptop is the true future of computing it seems like a huge step backwards and an enormous opportunity for Apple and Google to exploit.

  2. Hats off! Brilliant. Windows 8 is their current and main problem. Windows in general in a small tablet form actor doesn’t cut it for me and for the rest of the world. I have tried it believe me buy I am really happy with my iPad. I can do more than I could have imagined with my iPad.

  3. “Question: If 2-in-1s are so important, than why aren’t either Apple or Google making one?”

    I’d say Apple already makes a Many-in-1, with all the accessories you can add to an iPad. Imagine the computing power of the iPad just a few years from now, why couldn’t the iPad plug into a few accessories and act like a desktop/laptop when you need that? I agree that most people don’t need a 2-in-1, but for the odd time you need something more than the stock iPad offers, there can be all sorts of accessories.

    1. “Imagine the computing power of the iPad just a few years from now…”

      It’s not about computing power, it’s about metaphors. Desktop/notebook computers use a mouse or trackpad. It’s an abstraction. You move your finger on the trackpad or your mouse and a cursor on the screen reacts with pixel specific targeting. The smartphone and the tablet use touch. It removes a layer of abstraction since you’re actually touching what you want to interact with. Also, the finger is much larger and much less targeted than the mouse/trackpad.

      In order to make the two different user inputs work, you need two different operating systems. Try as they might, Microsoft has been unable to combine their desktop and their touch operating systems. Two different operating systems means two different metaphors. Switching between them causes cognitive confusion.

      The tablet and the notebook will not merge because they demand different user inputs and different user inputs demand different operating systems. The technology involve is almost irrelevant.

      1. “In order to make the two different user inputs work, you need two different operating systems.”

        I’m not so sure about that. There are hardware accessories and apps that essentially change the UI somewhat already. I think it will be app-specific. You’ll learn a new input/manipulation method for an app, not for the OS. The app = job-to-be-done. This, for me, seems like an elegant modular solution to enable complexity for some while keeping the OS simple for most people.

        When I talk of computing power, I’m thinking about new apps that become possible as the power increases, and with that, I think naturally, different app-specific models of interaction (some of which may come with hardware accessories as well). We’re already seeing some of this. Off the top of my head, the way Sketchbook Pro deals with pixel-level precision. It’s very slick. Or the Nomad brushes.

        1. App specific alternate interfaces are inherently niche since they are custom and inconsistent with the wide majority of apps. That is not “elegant” in any way a mainstream market would recognize.

          But if your point is that any sufficiently powerful technology can be repurposed for specific niches it was not explicitly designed for, then certainly you are right.

        2. “When I talk of computing power, I’m thinking about new apps that become possible as the power increases, and with that, I think naturally, different app-specific models of interaction.”

          I have to respectfully disagree and take Mr. Kirk’s side on this one. I don’t believe power immediately increases usability/functionality. At least not in the context of what Kirk is saying.

          What I believe Kirk was trying to say is that mouse input vs. touch input are two completely different use cases, both physically and psychologically. Mouse input consistently disconnects you from the content you’re interacting with (even if it’s just for a split second). Once you grab the mouse you have to find the cursor, which might be lost in the corner of the screen or blending in with onscreen content. Now you’re in the midst of a Where’s Waldo? session with your cursor, your eyes forced to look away as they dance around your screen looking for a monochromatic arrow. Moreover, unintentional clicks can occur as you move your hand away from the keyboard to the mouse. You might highlight an entire paragraph or click on a pop-up or some other website asset.

          With touch you’re a proverbial sniper: never losing sight of your target you select what you gaze upon with certainty and confidence. Some devices even offer slight tactile feedback giving you confirmation through your senses further increasing the chances that what you’re clicking on is what you actually want.

          All of this input has very little barring on processing power or increased memory. Today’s computer was science fiction 20-years ago and yet how we interact with our computers hasn’t really changed all that much, like so many other things in our everyday lives. A million horsepower and an 80-speaker Bose system won’t change your steering wheel, gas, brake or gear shift. But a car that drives itself, now THAT is something different and it doesn’t matter if the engine is a 4-cylinder or a V-16 that makes it better (although that would certainly help) but rather HOW you interact with the car.

          While I do agree that styli and brushes are improving screen interaction the fundamental nature of holding a pen/brush hasn’t shifted our use of the canvas (the screen) we’re interacting with.

          Which leads us back to Windows 8 and its schizophrenic nature. You go from gigantic buttons/tiles and finger-friendly scrolling to pint-sized right-click menus and the need for precise movement, navigation and interaction.

          The Surface isn’t Microsoft’s problem, it’s Windows 8. And Windows 9 sounds like a Herculean, gargantuan, monumental step backwards. By bringing back the Start menu, removing the Charms bar and allowing Metro-styled applications to operate on the Desktop, Microsoft is all but admitting that incapable of pushing the industry any further than Windows 7.

          1. “What I believe Kirk was trying to say is that mouse input vs. touch input are two completely different use cases, both physically and psychologically.”

            I agree. When I said “act like a desktop” I didn’t mean mouse input, not necessarily. I can imagine how that might be done, with the iPad as a kind of engine, powering a second screen, shared processing power. That’s all a ways off though, and it doesn’t seem like an elegant solution.

            I do think we’re headed towards models of interaction re: the iPad that tackle some of the jobs-to-be-done that aren’t great on the iPad right now. That feels natural to me, especially when we get larger screen iPads.

            But you’re right that mouse input would be problematic, you make a good case against it.

            Touch is different, in exactly the way you describe, but I do think we’re already seeing new models of interaction within the framework of touch. With iOS 8 I think we’re going to see more of that. I would say the Many-in-1 nature of the iPad makes this inevitable.

          2. “What I believe Kirk was trying to say…” – Mark

            Thank you, Mark. I can use all the help I can get! 🙂

          3. And with the utmost respect Mr. Kirk. I hold every word and supremely related quote you scribe in the highest regard.

            Reading back my comment I realize my words could’ve been framed differently/better. Rather than saying what you were “trying to say” I should’ve stated that as, “What I believe Kirk is conveying…”.

            Emphasis on “is” saying because you already said it. I was merely piggybacking on your eloquently stated position.


          4. I should have been more clear that I meant ‘act like a desktop’ more in a jobs-to-be-done way and not necessarily mouse input. I just stumbled across another Many-in-1 accessory example, the Drop scale, We’re going to see all kinds of new models of interaction (maybe not exactly new in a larger sense, but tailored to a job-to-be-done) with the iPad and accessories going forward.

      2. In the future ARM chips will be so powerful, they will catch up to the present! 😉
        Agree about the metaphor, disagree about two different OS’s. Just two UI’s.

        1. It is interesting to try and understand where the UI stops and the OS begins. For example, iOS and OS X share a kernel. As of iOS 8 the UI libraries have many more commonalities than in the past. But almost no one would say they are the same OS with different UIs.

          Apple has a very different philosophy than Microsoft when it comes to desktop vs. tablet operating systems. Apple sees where they can reuse components across different platforms. This can be done piecemeal and carefully across many generations. It makes for a very elegant solution that evolves over time for each platform as needed.

          Microsoft is trying to create a single OS to cover all UI requirements for all platforms. It strikes me that this cannot be done separately for each platform’s needs. Everything must be done at once. This looks like a much more difficult strategy to get right. Any mistakes and one platform suffers from the other platform’s needs. This is what happened to Windows 8. Few consider it elegant.

          1. OSX and iOS share some of the same kernel. Though I can’t obviously know for sure, the filesystems are different, or are highly masked in iOS.
            I don’t think you could say that any flavor of Linux isn’t the same OS, regardless of choice of UI.

          2. Other than being compiled for different architectures, iOS and OS X use the same kernel: XNU Darwin 14.0.0. iOS uses HFSX the same as OS X.

          3. I appreciate the response, thank you. Would removal, or modification, or hiding the filesystem not make it sufficiently different? Since, in Unix, everything is a file, would iOS be a subset of OSX that’s sufficiently different to be another OS? Put in another way, you could skin OSX to look like iOS, but it will always be able to do more.

    2. ” Imagine the computing power of the iPad just a few years from now, why couldn’t the iPad plug into a few accessories and act like a desktop/laptop when you need that?”

      Congratulations, you just described Windows 8 tablets today.

      1. Nope. I haven’t articulated my thoughts very well on this subject. Windows 8 tablets are the wrong way to do it, as John Kirk and others have already gone over. I’m talking about the Many-in-1 nature of the iPad making the device both flexible and expandable to take over jobs-to-be-done that desktops/laptops traditionally have done. I don’t believe this will happen by simply switching to a different OS and plugging in a mouse. I do think it will involve hardware accessories, but I think it will be app-specific. Just as we already see accessories and apps with new models of interaction within the touch framework, I believe we will see an expansion of this. I can’t even guess where it will lead, but I’m certain it will happen.

          1. Well, until we discover how to add actual magic, I guess *software* and *hardware* will continue to be the two components of any and all devices. So in that sense, yes, software and hardware will be the only advantage of future iPads. Sigh, you’re just so petty. Could you try just once to not be that guy?

          2. I thought your argument was really that generic. Any tablet, given better software and hardware, can do what you said. Some arguably do it today.

            Was just curious why you picked the iPad in particular, given the fact there aren’t even rumours to describe what you want.

  4. Not just Microsoft, but a huge portion of techie people have a fundamental problem — they see everything through the lens of using Adobe CS and Office. Show them the Ipad, and they see it in terms of its ability to replace a notebook. They get tunnel visioned on “how can I do *real work* on this” and thus they totally miss the fact that the tablet is not designed for that, that you shouldn’t be putting office productivity apps on it, that it’s worth is in being something *other* than a regular PC that can run office-style apps.

    Example: Recently I found myself perusing old reviews on Anandtech and came across this exchange in the comments of the Ipad 2 review, in which despite being presented with use cases for the tablet which are completely outside the realm of “notebook replacement,” all Anand can see is a tunnel-vision focus on how it’s not yet good enough to replace a macbook air in his workflow.

    I don’t know what brain disease is causing so many tech writers who should know better to complain so endlessly about how lack of multitasking/CPU power/some other pointless thing is the factor that ruins the Ipad’s worth as anything other than a “content consumption” device. But Microsoft has that disease in spades.

    Microsoft’s response to the Ipad should have been to become the go-to app developer in the app store for world-class enterprise-focused apps that a) integrated seamlessly with Microsoft’s desktop and server software, and b) took advantage of the tablet’s strengths to provide the perfect device for field workers and other mobile employees. “Microsoft Field Notes for Ipad,” “Microsoft inventory control for Ipad,” and so on. They could have done this, easily. Peel away from their MacOS office team and churn out a half dozen tightly focused use case apps that synch seamlessly with Word/Excel/Access/etc, then let their enterprise customers know that bespoke customizations are available for a reasonable fee.

    But MS had become too wedded to their Office blinders and their desktop tunnel vision, which caused them to see the tablet merely as another kind of semi-inferior desktop. In South Park terms:
    1. see new class of device, declare it to be just like the old thing only not as good.
    2. Create knock off version which is much more like the old thing, declare it perfected.
    3. Wonder where the profits are.

    1. Good comment. Let’s concede that the tablet is a lousy notebook. But let’s also acknowledge that it was never supposed to be a notebook replacement. Microsoft has not yet learned that lesson or, more likely, they are refusing to heed that lesson because it means that their Windows desktop operating system is relegated desktops and irrelevant in the fast-growing smartphone and tablet arenas.

      1. Moreover, when Steve Jobs introduced the iPad he specifically pointed out that it was meant to fit in between the smartphone and the laptop, not replace either one. Jobs and Apple created a new device category. Microsoft seems intent on erasing the category with a smoke and mirrors, or rather, a 2-in-1 hybrid system that isn’t really either of these things.

        True, Microsoft (or rather their OEMs) began creating tablets well before the iPad was conceived but it was nothing more than a laptop with a reversible screen and stylus support. At the heart it was still a desktop OS that still operated primarily by keyboard and mouse. And if you weren’t familiar with Windows using a tablet in 2002 wasn’t any easier, if not harder.

        Then comes the iPhone, the gateway drug to the iPad that got us to today.

        Bottom line, Microsoft is desperate so they’re trying everything just to stay afloat. I doubt they’ll completely disappear but based on how they squandered the last decade I can’t help but feel that Microsoft’s future is all but grim.

      2. “But let’s also acknowledge that [the tablet] was never supposed to be a notebook replacement.”

        Certainly not in the same way a laptop became a desktop replacement. There are many things a computing device can be used for that don’t require a PC. MS cannot concede this without completely remaking the company.


      3. “they are refusing to heed that lesson because it means that their
        Windows desktop operating system is relegated desktops and irrelevant in
        the fast-growing smartphone and tablet arenas.”

        I’d put it a bit differently. They were seeing everything new and different (media players, phones, tablets) as either irrelevant to, or a threat to, their Windows/Office duopoly. Every action on their part had to be about strengthening their castle’s defenses. No new products can be launched because all energy must be devoted to shoring up the foundations of the existing duopoly.

        They could have instead seen every new/different thing as an opportunity to expand their reach. They could have looked at smartphones and seen a new platform that needed new apps that would let you do new things on the go, that you’d then find magically synched into Office when you got back to your desk. Ditto for tablets.

        I don’t know whether this is Ballmer’s fault or if the disease is more deep-seated than that, but the company allowed its default posture to become defensive and fear-based instead of hope-based. It’s like they got stuck on the “extinguish” part of the “embrace, extend, extinguish” cycle, and forgot how to do the other two.

        I don’t need to go searching on the app store to know that you can buy field note apps there — something that lets you take photos, annotate them, maybe with speech-to-text dictation or handwriting recognition, bundle it as HTML or RTF and send it back to your desk for insertion into a formal report in Word. But none of those apps are made by Microsoft. Ditto for apps that let you create a blank PDF or HTML form at your desk, send it off to the app, and then fill out the fields on the device(s) and have the CSV data sent back to your desk for insertion into Access or Excel. Apps that let you pick pictures off your camera and have them dumped into the skeleton of your next presentation, with dictated notes. Apps that will OCR the date on a letter notifying you of an appointment or deadline and dump the info (plus original photo) into your Outlook schedule at your desk. And so on.

        What I’m trying to convey with these quickly brainstormed ideas is that the only reason MS is “irrelevant” in the phone and tablet arenas is not because their OS is desktop-only, and it’s not because Office didn’t run on mobile devices. It’s because they failed to imagine ways in which they could use these new devices to make Office (and thus Windows and the desktop) more important and essential than ever. It’s because they were driven by fear instead of hope, because they got obsessed with “extinguish” instead of “embrace, extend.”

  5. I have no clue why Microsoft behaves that way – of course one can run Photoshop on Surface (even on iPad for spec sheet purposes). Can anyone run Garage Band (or any competing software of the same performance) with many audio tracks running an mixing on Surface Pro? Even it is possible – how easy is that to work on that keyboard? And does Microsoft ever consider the quality of MacBook trackpad? In fact I feel, Apple trackpads are better than most touch screens. Instead of wasting time on scroogled or MBA comparison they should concentrate right here –

  6. One thing you didn’t discuss
    is that Microsoft used Surface name
    to lump to different products.
    RT or mini was ipad competitor.
    Pro was always a MBA competitor.

    But because they share the same branding and type of ads.
    Even analysts are confused even more so now that mini
    is missing in action.

    PS. Kissinger should never be quoted for anything.
    I would have better opinion of you if you had quoted Hitler.

    1. PS. Kissinger should never be quoted for anything. I would have better opinion of you if you had quoted Hitler. – dumbA

      If the words have meaning, I use them no matter who said them. And I have a couple of Hitler quotes in my data base.

      “I quote others only in order the better to express myself.” ~ Michel de Montaigne

      “We should not only use the brains we have, but all that we can borrow.”~ Woodrow Wilson

      1. Glad you did. That Kissinger quote perfectly illustrates the problem so many tech companies have — their motives are not aligned with what they produce.

        Amazon makes a thing to sell other things through their store.
        Google makes a thing to acquire your data and (ostensibly) improve search/adverts.
        Microsoft makes a thing so they can license Windows and Office.
        Samsung makes a thing because they make the parts that go into the thing.

        Apple makes a thing to sell you that thing. It’s what allows them to burn the boats in service of creating an even better thing.

  7. I love the Rodney Dangerfield quote. It’s as though Microsoft has said it would give its right arm to make the Surface succeed. Now the real question, after losing $1.7 billion, is what else is Microsoft willing to give up? The problem isn’t that Microsoft cannot accept failure, it is that they don’t know what failure is! Also, I haven’t noticed a flood of used MacBook Airs from the Microsoft buy-back offer in the market yet. Perhaps they are re-selling them at Microsoft stores.

    1. ” love the Rodney Dangerfield quote.” – Thorntondw

      Thanks. I love throwing in jokes and I love it even more when I twist them into pertinent analogies.

  8. There is a simple conclusion to it all: buy a MacBook Air and, if you must (and some of us must), run Windows 8.1 Upgrade and Office with Parallels 9.

  9. Although I am no great fan of Microsoft (I’m Apple all the way) there is NO competition to the full Office Suite (Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint, Visio, Project, OneNote) for heavy-lifting enterprise work. If Nadella can return Microsoft to its roots as a software company I will be glad for them.

    1. Office is a great suite of tools, and they’re absolutely essential for many power users, but I don’t think they are nearly as useful for the vast majority of computer users.

    2. I agree. Many enterprises (small-to-medium).should use the iWork suite or Google docs. Most all non-enterprise users can do everything they do on a tablet, the iPad being their probable best choice. I think that is happening but large enterprises are tied to Windows, Outlook and especially Excel.

  10. John, as usual you are right on the mark. With TechPinions and Horace Dediu, I only read other tech writers for comic relief!

    1. Thank you for your kind comment, Thorntondw. Just to be mentioned in the same sentence with Horace Dediu is an honor.

      1. I’ve always thought you have come into your own long time ago. Think I was (1 of) the first to suggest that you should have your own blog.

        I now can’t miss your posts so much so that I bought cointent just for them.

        Thanks for sharing your posts.

  11. I’ve got a Surface Pro and its the best computer I’ve ever used. I love it. I gave the ipad to my 5 year old, to clog up with unicorns and fairies. Also Windows 8 takes about 2 minutes to master, which is not very much really. I think there’s too much waffle going on here.

    1. “Windows 8 takes about 2 minutes to master” – Nick

      You experience is atypical, Nick. Window 8 has received poor reviews and even poorer sales. Don’t conflate yourself with the market.

  12. “Desktop/notebook computers use a mouse or trackpad. It’s an abstraction. You move your finger on the trackpad or your mouse and a cursor on the screen reacts with pixel specific targeting. The smartphone and the tablet use touch. It removes a layer of abstraction since you’re actually touching what you want to interact with. Also, the finger is much larger and much less targeted than the mouse/trackpad.”

    I thought the touch interface of the iPad was quite special watching 5 year olds at school navigate apps, screens on the original iPad. Now having watched my granddaughter doing the same (photos, videos, watching Peppa Pig, adjusting the volume, scrolling back and forth, using the camera, selecting apps she wants to use, recording here voice etc) from around 15 months of age on both iPhone and iPad I am really in awe of what has been created here.

    I have seen my 6 month old granddaughter swiping on the iPhone to make pictures move.

    I now see 5 year olds having to be taught how to use a mouse.

    Not sure what my point is, but we are now in an amazing new world.

  13. I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own blog and was curious
    what all is needed to get set up? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost
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    Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated.

  14. Have you ever considered writing an ebook or guest authoring on other sites?
    I have a blog based upon on the same subjects you discuss and
    would really like to have you share some stories/information. I know my subscribers
    would enjoy your work. If you are even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an e-mail.

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