On Microsoft’s Surface…

For those who didn’t see it, Microsoft’s mystery announcement yesterday was the introduction of the Microsoft Surface–their “answer to the iPad.” You can watch the video here.

Personally, I think last night’s presentation was a step in the right direction for Microsoft, but only a step, when what they really needed was a jump. RIM introduced their PlayBook too early, and look where it got them. Microsoft tried this once before with the HP Slate. And it crashed and burned. And while I don’t think Microsoft should be more “Apple-like” in its culture, it definitely needs to take more cues from Apple in its strategy. Apple’s $500+ billion value is evidence of this. They’re worth double what Microsoft is worth, and they have less than 10% of Microsoft’s market.

The presentation was decent. Good, even. They did several right things: Announce the product, as they did. Focus on the business usage, as they did. Acknowledge that they came late to the game, as they did. But they should have also acknowledged that Apple achieved something in this market that they couldn’t. When the economy was going down the tubes, Apple was still selling strong, because they had brand loyalty, and people who use Apple products are passionate about them. Microsoft should have accepted that reality, and taken a stand that they’re looking to compete, and that they are committed to competing in every way. And that means making a few changes to Microsoft’s old way.

Here’s what they should have done to nail that:

What Microsoft Missed

  1. Emphasize the Windows Marketplace ecosystem. Show how it integrates, seamlessly, with the OS. Perhaps it’s obvious to some people, but not to average consumers who are used to the iOS App Store’s simplicity.
  2. Set a release date. The fact that this is still months away was a bad call. Building up hype 5 months in advance may as well be a year. They’ll miss the Christmas rush, and with Surface Pro coming out 90 days later, Apple will have a fourth iPad model at the same time Microsoft will be releasing their first professional tablet.
  3. Set a price. Saying you’ll price competitively is nonsense. It’s competitive if it’s competitive. When it doesn’t exist yet, it’s not competitive. And if you can’t do a feature-by-feature comparison, it’s hard to be competitive, or to measure a competitive price. They could argue that $1,000 for the product is competitive, because it has “USB and HDMI.” But who wants to pay more than what they pay for the highest-priced iPad?
  4. Integrate 3G/4G. Apple did it, so Microsoft should too. Not having 24/7 connectivity on a business device is bad news.
  5. Show the feature comparison. Not to single out Apple, but with Apple’s retina display and 10-hour battery life, I would think that knowing the exact screen quality and battery life would matter to most people.
  6. Make it a portrait and landscape device.┬áIf you watched the video, did you notice that the screen never rotated into portrait mode? What if I want to work on a long document? The iPad’s portrait mode plus a keyboard makes it a perfect 8.5×11 ratio for editing a full document, and on retina, it’s crystal clear, like real paper. That shortcoming in the Surface might be a fundamental flaw.
  7. Get Ballmer’s vacuous stares out of the presentation. Leave up the people who can actually smile and not look like they’re searching for Apple employees in the crowd. All kidding aside though, Ballmer’s hard-nosed, out-of-touch, corporate mentality introduces an element of Windows that may attract business users, but as the traditional business model is moving into a more “freelance” or “entrepreneurial” mindset, that kind of corporate rigidity is losing favor with people. There’s a reason why the relaxed atmosphere of companies like Google and Facebook are highly sought after.

But… to credit Microsoft, they did some things very well.

What Microsoft Nailed

  1. Those covers, and the keyboard. Assuming it works (none of the testers were apparently allowed to use the keyboard), it looks like a game-changer. I would love a soft-touch cover like that for the iPad. Rethinking the input devices (something that I think Microsoft has been a leader in for many years; they made great mice and great keyboards) is a wise strategy, and really helps to bridge the PC and tablet market in a way Apple never did. Apple’s keyboard solution was more of an afterthought product, rather than an integrated solution. Microsoft nailed this on an all-in-one product.
  2. The magnesium casing. That’s slick, and tasteful. Their focus on the strength and lightness of design was critical, if this tablet is to compete with the iPad. Furthermore, it raises the standard from the cheap form factor of other devices (laptops and PCs) that are made from cheap plastic and sharp metal.
  3. The kickstand. No need to buy lots of extra accessories: the stock products from Microsoft cover all the bases. Well done. It locks the device into a single landscape orientation (meaning, you can’t flip it upside down), but that might be a result of the tablet being a landscape-only device anyway. On my iPad, I am forever rotating it from one landscape side to the other, depending on how I’m using my case. If I want to hold the iPad in landscape mode, my case is only comfortable in one orientation. But when I want to use it as a desktop tablet with slight elevation, I need to rotate it the other way for the case to be in its propped up mode. The kickstand eliminates that constant rotating.
  4. A better presentation. Finally, Microsoft has started to show some artistic culture, and it wasn’t a “PowerPoint presentation.” I don’t know… maybe it was using PowerPoint, but it didn’t feel like it, and that’s the point. It didn’t feel like a presentation from 1995. It felt like a metro-infused art gallery. Notice the minimal text during the talks. One and two word sentences. Unfortunately, the speakers’ enthusiasm still felt a little forced, like they were trying to communicate a culture they hadn’t fully adopted yet, but it’s better than they’ve done before.
  5. A consumer and a pro version. While Apple’s “one product fits all” approach is good for Apple’s culture, Microsoft’s statement that Windows has always been “all about choice” is a good statement to make (though in the past, that would be a lie, as was proven with Internet Explorer: Microsoft did not want anyone to choose another browser). The point is, they’re providing choice, but not too much. Just two. Great call.

All in all, a job well done. We need a price, and a launch date. Microsoft has been notorious in the past for failing to meet their targets (they even started their own presentation 40 minutes late), but it’s time for them to step up their game and meet some deliverables.

Well done, Microsoft. Keep it up.