On Tuesday, May 20, Microsoft unveiled the Surface Pro 3 Tablet. You can view the webcast here.
Yesterday I reviewed and analyzed the introductory comments of Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella. In essence, I concluded Microsoft was at war with itself — the conflicts inherent in Microsoft’s tri-part business strategy pitted its hardware products against its cloud customers and its hardware partners. That’s no way to run a business.
Today, I will explore why Microsoft’s grand strategy is self-contradictory and self-defeating. Why, in essence, Microsoft is playing a game of Roshambo (rock, paper, scissors) — Microsoft wants to simultaneously throw the rock, the paper and the scissors — with wholly predictable results.
In the game of Roshambo, each weapon (rock, paper, scissors) has a great strength along with a single fatal weakness. Rock easily defeats Scissors, but Paper defeats Rock; Scissors destroys Paper but succumbs to Rock; and Paper smothers Rock but is cut down by Scissors.
Instead of rock, paper and scissors, Microsoft has Cloud, Software, and Hardware. While each Microsoft product or service is strong on its own, combining all of Microsoft’s various services and products under the umbrella of one company actually makes those products weaker, not stronger. The strengths of one tool negate the strengths of the others and exposes its vulnerabilities as well.
— Microsofts’s cloud wants to be the friend of everybody (other than other cloud service providers). It wants to be ubiquitous and available across all platforms and running on all devices.
— Microsoft’s software (Windows) wants to be the friend of all computer hardware manufacturers. However, it wants nothing to do with competing operating systems, which it abhors. In other words, the ‘Paper’ that is Windows software attacks the very customers the ‘Rock’ that is Windows Cloud is trying to woo.
— Microsoft’s hardware wants to be the friend of the end user while directly competing with other hardware manufacturers. In Roshambo terms, the ‘Scissor’ that is the Surface Tablet cuts the hardware manufacturers that the ‘Paper’ that is Windows is trying to partner with.
Microsoft is trying to win in every engagement by throwing rock, paper and scissors on every occasion. Rather than helping Microsoft defeat their competitors, it has instead simply nullified its own strengths as it competes against its Cloud customers and its hardware partners.
Question: If the Surface Tablet hardware conflicts with both Microsoft’s nascent Cloud services and Microsoft’s venerable software licensing businesses, then why are they doing it? Well, it’s like the old lady who swallowed the fly. Allow me to explain.
There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly
In the children’s poem, “There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” an old lady, somewhat unsurprisingly, swallowed a fly. What was surprising was how she responded to that unfortunate turn of events. The old lady in the poem proceeded to swallow a variety of increasingly larger animals — including a spider, a bird, a cat, a dog, a cow and a horse — in order to rid herself of the fly and later, the consequences of ridding herself of the fly. Microsoft is acting just as foolishly.
The Fly Microsoft Swallowed
In January 2007 and again in January 2010, Apple announced the iPhone and the iPad, respectively. That was the fly Microsoft was forced to swallow. Ever since, Microsoft has been swallowing bigger and bigger strategic mistakes in order to rid itself of the fly that is mobile touch computing,
— They built Windows Phone 7, now 8, but it never gained any traction.
— They built Windows RT. Why is anyone’s guess. No one seems to know.
— They built Windows 8.
— They built Surface Tablet
Like the little old lady who swallowed a fly, each attempt by Microsoft to rid itself of the “fly” that is mobile touch computing, leads it to create a newer and bigger problems for itself. Things went from worse to worse until, at last, Microsoft didn’t know how to get rid of the cow that was Windows 8, so they swallowed the hardware horse that was the Surface Pro 3. They’re dead of course.
Microsoft Is Giving Us Excellent Answers To The Wrong Questions
The wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he poses the right questions. ~ Claude Levi-Strauss
I can almost hear the howls of outrage echoing across the internet in response to my suggestion the Surface Pro 3 is dead. Those protestors are missing the point and they’re missing it badly.
In his fine article entitled “It’s Time To Kill Surface“, Ben Thompson writes:
(I)t is not enough to consider whether or not Surface in isolation is a successful (i.e. profitable) product (although, like the Xbox for much of its existence, it’s not). Rather, we need to consider the overall goals for Surface… ~ Ben Thompson
What is the overall goal for the Surface Tablet? To answer that, we need to take a step back and view the forest rather than the trees.
Windows 8 is supposed to be supporting Microsoft. Instead, we now find Microsoft trying to prop up Windows 8 by designing hardware specifically optimized to work with Windows 8. ((“Wait,” I hear you saying. “Isn’t this exactly what Apple does?” No, it is not. Apple sells hardware and gives away their software for free. Microsoft is trying to sell BOTH its hardware AND its software.)) This is completely backwards and it can never work for two reasons.
First, as we’ve seen above, the Surface Tablet competes with Microsoft’s Cloud customers and its hardware partners. The more successful the Surface is, the worse the problem becomes.
Second, Microsoft, like the little old lady who swallowed the fly, has forgotten its original problem. The little old lady was supposed to be ridding herself of the fly. Microsoft was supposed to be ridding itself of the pain of mobile touch computing. Swallowing a bird, cat, dog, cow, horse had nothing to do with the fly — it had to do with fixing ever worsening decisions. Creating Surface also has nothing to do with the original problem (mobile). The Surface Tablet is an attempt to fix Windows 8, which was an attempt to fix Windows 7’s inability to work on tablets, etc, etc, etc. In no way does the Surface Tablet make Microsoft better in the mobile space. In fact, the Surface Pro 3 is clearly an attempt to move AWAY from the mobile space.
So, again — and this is crucial — no matter how successful the sales of the Surface Tablet may become, those sales won’t be fixing the problem that Microsoft is supposed to be solving i.e, Mobile Computing.
The future ain’t what it used to be. ~ Yogi Berra
QUESTION: Should Microsoft be building its own hardware and thereby poisoning its relationships with its Cloud customers, gutting its hardware partners, and virtually destroying its Windows licensing model, just to prop up a declining Windows franchise?
ANSWER: Well “duh”, of course not.
Abraham Maslow is famous for saying “when all you have is a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail”. The Windows franchise has been Microsoft’s “hammer” for a long, long time. And with apologies to Mr. Maslow, in Microsoft’s case, the saying should be “when all you have is a hammer, every problem begins to look like a thumb”. That’s why Microsoft, in its desperate efforts to save its Windows cash cow, keeps painfully hammering itself.
Microsoft’s Surface tablet harms its efforts to build a new cash cow in the Cloud and it actually attacks and corrupts the very Windows business it is supposed to saving! The Surface 2-in-1 Tablet is not, as its proponents claim, the best of all worlds — strategically, it’s the worst of all worlds.
If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin’. ~ Cowboy wisdom
Microsoft needs to kill the Surface and they need to do it as soon as possible. The further down the hardware path they go, they further back they’ll have to run when they realize just how wrong they’ve been
If the answer is wrong, fix the question. ((Excerpt From: C. Michel. “Life Quotes.” C. Michel, 2012. iBooks.))
Microsoft is giving the right answers to the wrong questions. They don’t need any more “right” answers, like the Surface. What they need is to change their questions.