New Surface to Clear the Air
By Adarsh Matham | Published: 01st June 2014 01:00 AM |
Two years ago when Microsoft introduced its first tablet computer, the Surface Pro, the only surprise was that it did not name it the ‘Windows Office Xbox multimedia player and enterprise touch device’. The Surface isn’t the first product that Microsoft has designed and manufactured itself to take on an Apple device that is sweeping the markets. There was the Zune player that was supposed to be the iPod killer, then came the Kin smartphone the supposed iPhone killer which itself was killed in 48 days, and then the Surface. The first time round it had to take a $900-million hit on its revenues because of unsold Surface RTs. Then came Surface 2 which was definitely supposed to kill the iPad once and for all. By some analysts’ estimates, the company sold two millions of those last year while Apple sold 16 millions just in the last three months.
Now that the iPad killing plan did not pan out as planned, Microsoft is hoping to be third time lucky and last week announced the third generation of Surface. And this time the tactics changed. Apparently this new Surface is supposed to be a Macbook Air killer. The plan seems to be that if you can’t kill them, just ignore them and get into a fight with someone more powerful. Because in a PC market that is going downhill faster than last government’s reputation, the Macbook Air is the only computer that has gained market share in the last eight years. It would have been tough enough for Microsoft to take on that laptop with another well-designed laptop, let alone with a device that is having an identity crisis about whether it is a laptop or a tablet. Make no mistake. Surface 3 is a very well-crafted piece of engineering. That too coming from Microsoft, a primarily software company, it is an achievement to boast about. The problem is not with how it looks or how much technology it packs. The problem is with how Microsoft wants us to use it.
Two days after Microsoft’s corporate vice president Panos Panay showed off his latest creation, I watched the keynote presentation on a Sunday morning, in bed, on my iPad. Then I got off the bed, pulled up my chair, booted up my Macbook and started writing this. That is where Apple is successful and Microsoft is a failure in understanding how people work. A tablet is a device for consuming content. And a laptop is a device geared towards primarily creating that content. Most of the people who just want to browse the web or check email or watch movies or read books don’t need a laptop. And people who use those laptops for work do need a tablet to just lay back and relax and consume content. Microsoft’s first failing was in creating a very awkward operating system in Windows 8 which wants to serve both of those people. Now that it has created that operating system it is now trying to create a device which wants to be both at the same time and ends up doing neither of those things perfectly.
This was always a problem with the company. Of trying to be everything for everyone. The Surface is a manifestation of that philosophy. It wants to be a tablet that is too big with software that is supposed to run on a PC. It also wants to be a PC with a clumsy keyboard with tablety touch software getting in the way. If only Microsoft chose its battles wisely and made a laptop with the same finesse. Then again pigs would fly.
Matham is a tech geek. Follow him on Twitter @AdarshMatham