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The Submerging Surface

by: Mark Reschke | Nov 15, 2012

Microsoft-surfaceMicrosoft's Surface is quickly turning into another massive "failure to launch" for the Redmond based tech giant. Here's a quick rundown as to why:

Market Positioning

Microsoft figured they would take on the full-size iPad, by out-featuring the iPad instead of staying in the familiar cheap, low-end world of PCs. But Microsoft's problem is the high-end of tech is amazingly unfamiliar territory for the company. They've always won when hardware vendors drove prices into the floor with cheap and poorly built PC's. At $499, and $599 is Surface a compelling enough product to trump the rapidly maturing iPad? Evidently not.

Hardware

While Microsoft is boasting the entry-level Surface model has 32 GB of Storage vs iPad's 16 GB for the same price, Microsoft only recently revealed how much storage is really available to the user. It turns out the 32 GB Surface has around 16 GB of storage, due to the OS and other pre-installed software soaking up half the storage space. Meanwhile, the 16 GB iPad has around 14 GB of storage by default. No wonder Microsoft is missing a 16 GB model, as their bloat-ware would take up virtually all the space. Microsoft had no choice but to sell 32 GB units as the base configuration and it is symptomatic of how inefficient and slow the Surface tablet is.

Software

There is chatter that Surface return rates are running high as 20%. The tablet is slow and buggy, but Microsoft's biggest problem is Windows. The current Surface runs on ARM processors (like Apple's iPhone, iPad and Android devices do). Thus the Windows 8 running on the Surface is not the same as the Intel-based Windows OS. Why Microsoft calls both of these Operating Systems Windows is beyond comprehension, as the ARM Surface operating system dose not run a single stitch of Windows 7 software — none. Apple chose to call its mobile software iOS. As a result, no one is confused about Apple's iOS device capabilities, and what software can run on these devices. Microsoft has effectively confused the customer with an amazingly kludged OS strategy, which is resulting in waves of returned Surface tablets. 

Sales

Evidently, Surface products are not selling. Steve Ballmer is being coy about initial sales, and as of yet there is no official word how many Surface products Micorosoft has sold. But don't count on Microsoft revealing how many Surface tablets have been sold, rather, count on Redmond stating how many Surface tablets they have shipped. This is the same tactic they used when describing their launch of the Zune. During the Holiday quarter more than any other, those two numbers can have a massive disconnect. But Microsoft hasn't even revealed those figures, which is a bad omen for future sales of a product that can't hit the ground running. 

Conclusion

Surface is buggy, slow, localized in only a few countries, supports relatively few software titles, and is as or more costly than a blazing fast, amazingly stable retina display iPad that has over 250,000 mature software titles ready to go. The name Surface implies something flat, or above water, but perhaps it will be known for another surface, such as the bottom of the ocean.

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7 Comments

  1. Peter ~ November 15, 2012 11:16

    Surface is...interesting. I got a chance to play with one last weekend. Microsoft has done some interesting things and I look forward to seeing more. But it was definitely buggy. At one point, the keyboard cut out and no amount of clicking it in or out would make a difference. We ended up rebooting, which caused an update to download. And then we still needed to click the keyboard in and out a couple of times. Now, showroom models tend to get lots of abuse, so I might cut them a little slack. But would I buy one? Not yet. But I'd definitely keep an eye on it. Microsoft has something interesting going on. By the way, for those who like to compare, the Microsoft Store in South Coast Plaza in Orange County, CA, was as full as the Apple Store. #
  2. Marty ~ November 15, 2012 14:06

    Thanks for the excellent article. Your point about the botched marketing of "Windows RT" for ARM is one that I have talked about myself. Redmond is so clueless about marketing, they have crippled the tablet with stupid cross branding, while screwing the desktop users with a foolish confusing touch interface (that isn't useful for most desktops). Good Article! #
  3. Steve W ~ November 15, 2012 14:17

    Microsoft does have some hardware experience. You compare Surface to Zune. It is just as appropriate - if not more so - to compare Surface to xBox. Zune was a mistake; a product that did not help software sales. XBox sells software, and Surface should, too. Microsoft can afford to have the patience to "get it right" eventually. #
  4. Mark ~ November 15, 2012 15:45

    RE: Steve W I would argue that Microsoft does not have time to "get it right" as they think they might. Zune was a few years late, never gained developers, and by the time they entered iPod had dominated the market. Now comes the Windows Phone and no one cares. Why is it more compelling than an iPhone or Android device? Does it have apps I use? Nope, not many. Will I need to start all over again? Yup. No ecosystem. Now we have Microsoft Surface. It's a merge of kinda this, kinda that. And it's useless in portrait mode I might add. Notice how it's always seen and advertised on a desk or table in landscape. It's a bad, slow, no software PC. Why is this compelling to anyone? With a full-size iPad, it delivers an amazingly blazing system with the A6X processor core, the best large screen in the industry, mature and proven apps, and a 3rd party ecosystem of docks, cases, and dozens of keyboard covers to choose from (should I want them - and they are cheaper than Microsoft's one keyboard is all we've got "choice"). This company is years late to the tablet world, and now Apple and Android again look set to capitalize on their phone + tablet ecosystems. Apple has one big advantage. They have a phone, tablet and desktop OS. Microsoft has the desktop and no mobile market. Android has mobile but not desktop. Apple has all three and they will soon dominate in sales in all three areas in 2013. Just watch. Redmond is washed out. This is likely Ballmer's last stand. #
  5. Neil Anderson ~ November 15, 2012 16:44

    Maybe Microsoft has the patience to eventually get it right, but I'm not sure they're customers are that tolerant. #
  6. mikhailovitch ~ November 15, 2012 18:37

    XBox does sell software, but mainly other people's, not Microsoft's. And while XBox is at last a very good product, and currently trading profitably, its years of accumulated losses means that it's still in substantial deficit over the whole of its life. All credit to Microsoft for sticking with it and turning a dud into a good product - but it's hardly a triumph for them yet. #
  7. James ~ November 17, 2012 13:54

    I played with the surface and was amazed by how cheap and nasty it felt. The keyboard was a rinkey-dink and just screamed "We spared every expense in making this." As for the Metro, ghettro, whatever GUI, all I can say is "ick." The colors are tacky, the icons nasty and the whole affair is counter-intuitive. I loved it when the win 8 interface warned me of low hard disk space; in the freaking store mind you. So the message here is buy this shoddy looking piece of hardware with a nasty looking keyboard that is unusable right out of the box because we loaded it up with so much crap that you can not put any real data on it. Well played Redmond; well played. #

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