Surface Thoughts

Ben Bajarin / September 27th, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 10.10.59 AM

As I reflected on Microsoft’s Surface event earlier in the week, I was reminded again that in its current form at least, Microsoft is still not yet making a tablet. They are making a PC that kind of looks like a tablet. Unfortunately, for them tablets are successful for reasons PCs have not been. By applying a PC centric philosophy to Surface, the device in it’s current form is still likely to fare poorly in the market place.

Steve Jobs articulated what Microsoft doesn’t seem to understand.

“The iPad is more intimate than a notebook and more capable than a smartphone”

In the article I wrote last year Why I’m Convinced Tablets are the Future I made a point that I think is key from a behavioral standpoint to the above quote.

Devices like the notebook are kept at arms length. Yet a device like the iPad is held, touched, and used in a much more intimate way. Tablets to a degree are significant because things we hold we love.

Microsoft used terms like ‘lap-ability’ and the Surface has a kickstand, implying it will be set down more than held, while the iPad and Apple’s focus on the experience is more around ‘hold-ability.’ From our observational research on how mass market consumers use tablets, ‘hold-ability’ is more important than ‘lap-ability’.

We are seeing a legacy PC mentality being applied to computing by Microsoft with Surface. This is the root of the problem.

I have no doubt there are small niche segments of the business market that are interested in products like Surface but my conviction remains. Surface is not a mass market product. Perhaps that is not the point. But I still struggle to find the point of Microsoft making the Surface.

One may argue that no vendor has done a better job with this form factor than Microsoft. Therefore the Surface is the best of its kind. That will soon no longer be true and Microsoft’s partners will do a better job with these products. Which again will cause us to scratch our heads and ponder why Microsoft is in this business.

Why is RT Still Alive?

The last question that is still perplexing is why is RT still alive. Microsoft is now in sole possession of the Windows RT market. Their partners have all for the most part abandoned it. We can debate the reason for this all day but my belief is that Microsoft understands they need an ARM solution. If not for this version of Windows but perhaps the next one.

We know almost nothing about the next version of Windows. But we do know that Steve Ballmer has implemented a cadence of RAPID RELEASE FOR WINDOWS. So I expect we will see the next version of Windows sooner perhaps than people think.

My intuition regarding the next version of Windows is that Microsoft will seek to truly unify the Windows code base for PCs, tablets, and phones. To do this Microsoft has to assume that the world will not be dominated by x86 in all those segments and therefore to participate in the upside of both tablets and smartphones, Windows, the development tool kits, and the developers all need to be on board with developing for ARM as well.

RT is still alive simply because Microsoft needs the experience with regards to Windows on ARM and needs to continue to make strides for making it as easy as possible for developers to create cross screen and cross silicon software. Surface RT may seem like a lame duck now but it is the bigger picture we need to look at with regard to Windows on ARM.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio
  • Defendor

    RT is even more perplexing given the Laptop emphasis that Microsoft is putting on Surface.

    RT’s big feature is a laptop mode… that doesn’t actually run Windows laptop software??

    Microsoft treating RT and Full windows the same makes no sense at all.

    I could see some point for RT in small 7″-8″ pure tablets, where Microsoft might finally give up on the delusion of it also being a laptop.

  • FalKirk

    “We are seeing a legacy PC mentality being applied to computing by Microsoft with Surface.”

    Agreed. Here’s the thing.

    1) It’s clear to me that the board has taken charge of Microsoft; and
    2) That it is their intention to double down on their current strategy.

    Since I believe that Microsoft’s current strategy is wrong, this means that Microsoft will go even further, even faster, in the wrong direction.

    Microsoft may recover. But that recovery cannot start until they stop doing the wrong things and start doing the right things. Not going to happen anytime soon.

  • Anders CT

    I actually think the hardware is pretty nice. Hardware-wise it can compare reasonably with an iPad or Galaxy Tab 10. The problem of course is, that it has very few apps, and as a desktop PC it sucks. Microsoft used to be the biggest software-company in the world, and now they ship hardware that has no software? Why is there no Metro-version of Office, Outlook, Visual Studio, Visio, etc?

    The real problem is that Microsofts strategy makes little sense. Are they going to sell a platform with bundled software and services? Or are they going to use their many platforms to push Office?

  • isitjustme

    MS believe that eventually they will get it right because they are looking back at their history and they always overcame their initial problem. I think this time they wouldn’t be that lucky again.

    Been reading the innovators’s dilemma and it seems to be written for MS and not Apple but the author claimed it is Apple he was talking about. The way I see it he thinks Apple is iPhone but he left out the rest of Apple namely the iPad, retail, the Mac and whatever future product that is not in the pipeline now and yes the iPod which started it all.

  • sd173

    My Surface Pro is the only computer I need. I really don’t see how the author sees the Surface as something meant for “lap-ability” and not “hold-ability” too. Its seems as if he forgot to notice that the kickstand can be folded in and the keyboard flipped back or even taken off to be handheld. I use these functions all the time (and just because it weighs a few more ounces than other tablets only matters for little 1-2 year-old babies, who shouldn’t even be using electronics at that age anyway). As for the apps, unless an employee needs to use a platform-specific app or a little kid wants to play dozens of games, it is notvery important how many or what kind of apps a Windows 8 has (I’m ignoring RT, I think it’s a joke).

    “Therefore the Surface is the best of its kind. That will soon no longer be true and Microsoft’s partners will do a better job with these products. Which again will cause us to scratch our heads and ponder why Microsoft is in this business.” Microsoft makes the OS it’s partners use. That means it would know best how to integrate both hardware and software into a good product. Although Other companies do make higher end laptops at close prices to the 64 GB Surface Pro + keyboard, they, as far as I know, do not have as many hardware features to give the best full experience of Windows 8.

    • Defendor

      >”My Surface Pro is the only computer I need.”

      This demonstrates an often overlooked problem with Microsofts convertible strategy.

      Even those few fans who like the, “Jack of all trades, master of none” approach don’t expand the market for Microsoft products. They buy only one device.

      Microsoft isn’t adding tablet sales numbers, to it’s laptop sales numbers, and thus growing. Instead they sell convertibles, which erase/replace the laptop market. Which is no more net growth over the laptops they were already selling.

      • sd173

        I think they’re focusing more on the accessories this year. Things like the desktop dock, the new keyboards, and the Bluetooth keyboard adapter (which I was expecting last year), make it seem like that was their intention for current Surface owners since they’re backwards-compatible. Plus, the keyboard and Bluetooth adapter together could be for anyone with Bluetooth even though Microsoft appears to say it’s only for Surface.

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