The Microsoft Death Watch: More Surface Silliness

August 12th, 2014

As Microsoft prepares to shed 18,000 employees, you’d think the company’s marketing team would be working overtime to boost income and shore up weaker products. Instead, it doesn’t appear that any lessons have been learned from the ongoing failure of the Surface.

Now in a previous round of Surface ads, Microsoft touted the ability to run Office and Skype, forgetting, or ignoring the fact that you could also do both on a Mac or an iPad. So where’s the advantage? Besides, the consumers that Microsoft was targeting would care about the latter more than the former. In addition to Macs and iPads, they could also run Skype on an iPhone or an Android phone, not to mention Windows Phone. So?

In other words, if a company is touting something as advantage, make sure it’s an advantage. It’s not an advantage to mention a product or service that the competition also has. It just coneys the impression that, in this case at least, Microsoft must think potential customers of the Surface 3 aren’t very smart.

More to the point, are those advantages relevant to the target audience? Now flashy TV ads would tend to impact consumers. If you want to reach the IT market, maybe go to Computerworld or a similar enterprise-oriented publication. Consumers may care about Skype, but not so much about Microsoft Office, unless it’s needed at work, but it’s not considered a sexy feature by any means.

Microsoft, as their marketing team probably expected, got some attention from the Mac media for the latest series of ads touting the Surface 3. Typical of previous campaigns, though, Microsoft doesn’t quite get the audience they’re trying to reach, which continues to explain why the Surface tablets have failed in the marketplace.

This time, Microsoft is presenting the Surface 3 as a slightly costlier — but superior — alternative to the MacBook Air. So after the Windows critics attacked Apple for selling overpriced gear — the alleged “Apple Tax” — now we have a product that, with optional keyboard, is more expensive than an Apple note-book. So the question is why?

It’s certainly not more powerful than the MacBook Air, so what is there that you can’t live without?

Well, it seems that Microsoft is still pushing the tablet trope that has gone nowhere for well over a decade. Although slimmer and lighter than most PC equivalents, Microsoft has clearly learned no lessons. So the Surface 3 is better than a MacBook Air because it has a touchscreen, a stylus and a detachable keyboard. Well, actually it’s an attachable keyboard because the core product doesn’t have one.

A stylus?

The stylus and the touchscreen have been part of every single failed Windows tablet for years. As I’ve mentioned in the past, our former family doctor had a network of those tablets, a thick old Toshiba, which actually hampered entry and retrieval of patient information. I still remember watching him and his assistants combing through complex interfaces to manage a patient visit. I expect it actually made the visits take longer, hence the doctor made less money, since the prices charged were the same as other physicians. In the end, he moved his practice to a member-only scheme, where you pay an annual fee in addition to the price of the office visits.

I would not assume the change was due to the harm caused by using inefficient convertible note-books.

One thing has been clear, though, and that is that convertible note-books haven’t done a lot for the PC market. Indeed, the success story this past quarter was the traditional desktop minitower, largely because businesses are rushing to upgrade their computers in the wake of Microsoft’s decision to end support for Windows XP. Old systems that won’t work efficiently with Windows 7 had to be replaced. Once that replacement cycle is finished, perhaps PC sales will return to the doldrums.

As one blogger suggested, Microsoft isn’t going to persuade many MacBook Air owners that the clunky Surface 3 is a superior alternative. They might persuade other PC users, at the expense of competing with OEMs. Of course, Microsoft has never been above competing with OEMs in the past, so that would be nothing new.

But now that the targets for Microsoft’s corporate blood letting have been identified — and they appear to be mostly employees of Nokia’s handset division — perhaps the next task would be to get the marketing division working full-time to identify the correct markets and demand for a device or service, and to do their level best to expand those markets.

Trying to pigeonhole an existing product into a category in which it doesn’t fit isn’t going to magically move millions of copies of the Surface 3 into the hands of customers. Revisiting old, failed strategies isn’t going to help either.

For the future, I gather Microsoft is hoping that Windows 9 will help people forget the stench of Windows 8, perhaps the worst OS failure in the company’s history. But the early feature set seems a throwback. The desktop interface will get greater emphasis, there will be a redone Start menu, and the addition of virtual desktops. But OS X and Linux users have been taking advantage of virtual desktops for several years. There have been third party alternatives for Windows, too, so adding native support would be a useful feature, but hardly unique, and hardly worth the upgrade from Windows 8 — or Windows 7 for that matter.

In contrast, take a look at the immense feature set for OS X Yosemite. If Microsoft manages a tenth of what Apple is offering, Windows boosters will tout that as a significant development.

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2 Responses to “The Microsoft Death Watch: More Surface Silliness”

  1. DaveD says:

    The Microsoft Surface, as many have stated, is a compromised product. A jack of all trades in mobility and a master of none in computing as it is compared to the iPad and MacBook Air. Most users would say to themselves, “Why should I buy a Surface?” For light productivity and high mobility, an iPhone/iPad would do and for more demanding productivity and adequate mobility, a MacBook Air/MacBook Pro would do. Carrying around with just an iPhone and a MacBook Air is not a deal breaker and could handle a majority of things to do. For those who don’t want to go Apple, an ultrabook and/or an Android device would suffice.

    Microsoft has been in the mobility market for a very long time providing an OS for tablet/pocket PCs, and cell phones before Apple came along. Apple introduced a game changer in 2007. Microsoft never was able to recover and in 2014 looking at their retail stores, Windows Phones, Surface tablet/notebooks, everyone can see a common denominator, low demand and sales.

  2. Microsoft Burned Me Way Too Many Times says:

    dudes & dudettes!!! there is a god! we are seeing the demise of the evil Micro$oft. for over 25 years i have fought the evil M$ and lost more times than i won. they have taken unfair advantage, gouged me on useless service contracts and hopelessly useless products. they are reaping the rewards of their evil ways. i am glad to see them go.

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