Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Surface: I Came, I Saw, I Left

 I went to the Microsoft store in Times Square yesterday to see for myself the new Surface tablet with the spiffy keyboard, since nobody I know actually has one yet. 
 I had an open mind [“Open” in the sense that he assumed the Surface would be unnecessarily complicated given Microsoft’s Achilles’ Heel, which is the need to promote Windows in everything it does—ed.], and was hoping that it would give me something unusual to say: i.e. that Microsoft had finally figured out what consumers actually want. [Fat chance!—ed.]
 And first impressions about the store itself weren’t bad: while small relative to the Apple mega-store on 57th Street, the Microsoft store has most of the same touches, i.e. glass windows and long counters with tethered products to play, and plenty of blue-shirted Microsoft people to help. 
 Unfortunately, they do not have many customers to help—for despite long lines at the TKTS discount booth just a couple of blocks away, and the usual pre-holiday masses streaming by on the sidewalk right outside, there were no more than two dozen potential customers in the Microsoft store itself, and none were lingering at the tables playing with the merchandize with wide eyes and no sense of the time, the way they do at Apple stores.
 And playing with a Surface tablet, I found out why: the Surface feels a bit chunky, i.e. not as smooth as an iPad, and it has more of a toy plastic play-thing feel than a smooth, business-ready metal-thing feel.  [He’s not much for technical jargon, is he?—ed.] 
 But it’s not the feel that’s the problem: it’s the way it works. 
 And the way it works is non-intuitive. Unlike your first time with an iPad or a Galaxy, it’s hard, in a short period of time, to figure out how to find what you might want to play; how to get out of programs once you’ve gotten into them (weirdly, things somehow feel more like programs than apps on the Surface); how go back to where you began; and how to look for new stuff. 
 Certainly, you can run spreadsheets on it, and yes you can use Word, but the cool new keyboard, being flat, is not easy to type with.  Anyway, not many people were bothering to even try the keyboard, once they messed around with the screen.
 I like to poke fun at Microsoft’s new product approach by claiming they make so many versions of things there’s even a “Model Train Enthusiasts’ Edition.” And while there was no “Model Train Enthusiasts’ Edition” of the Surface [That he could see—ed.], it does seem like, once again, Microsoft has been undone by its corporate culture of striving to make everything for everybody, in one package, that promotes Windows.
 Apple’s Tim Cook has been saying for some time he didn’t see the need to blend two form factors—notebooks and tablets—because you’d end up with a compromised muddle.   Converging “a toaster and a refrigerator,” is how he put it.
 He’s right.  But that’s not just my opinion.  I saw not one person actually purchase anything, or look like they were getting ready to purchase something, or just be really engaged in a product, in the brief time I was there.

Jeff Matthews
Author “Secrets in Plain Sight: Business and Investing Secrets of Warren Buffett”
(eBooks on Investing, 2012)    Available now at

© 2012 NotMakingThisUp, LLC
The content contained in this blog represents only the opinions of Mr. Matthews.   Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews’ recommendations.  This commentary in no way constitutes investment advice, and should never be relied on in making an investment decision, ever.  Also, this blog is not a solicitation of business by Mr. Matthews: all inquiries will be ignored.  And if you think Mr. Matthews is kidding about that, he is not.  The content herein is intended solely for the entertainment of the reader, and the author.


Anonymous said...

I went to the MS store in Austin to see the Surface. I thought it was kind of cool, but there was one big difference to me... Someone had to give me a couple of tips before I knew how to work it. "Swipe in from the right to get this menu," etc...I didn't need that with an iPad.

CurmudgeonlyTroll said...

Upstream orders allegedly cut by half

in the old days MSFT would have got it right by v3, but they don't have that luxury any more.

James O'Hagan said...

If it is any further indications, I have not had one student come to me and proudly show off their Surface tablet. Not one has said to me they wish they get a Surface for Christmas. A high school is a pretty good indicator of how tech is "taking."

Anonymous said...

I think your condescension to MS is a bit overdone...

In fact, for a serious business tool, the ability to import your sensitive files and keep them out of the cloud is critical.

Being able to edit the defacto standard files in their native tools (Office) is also important.

And having to nicely integrated AND POWERED keyboard that is light and doubles as a screen cover is really clever... no need to lug around a separate bluetooth or USB board powered with AA's.

I think you guys are so stuck on worshiping Steve Jobs that you are missing the things that MS did right.

Jeff Matthews said...

Anonymous may be right. Maybe all that stuff matters more than the stuff Steve Jobs obsessed over, like ease of use, quality design, simplicity.

We just tried the product and reported on what we found. No worshipping of Steve Jobs was involved, just trying it out like the kind of consumer Microsoft has been losing for years now.


Anonymous said...

I looked at a Surface in the store. Didn't by one, since I want the x86 compatibility. Yes, there are the added edge gestures which are not obvious at first, especially since the iPad doesn't have them. But once you know edge gestures are there and how to use them, I think the Surface UI / Win 8 is a much more versatile UI than iOS.

Everyone expects a new tablet to be as "simple" as iOS, but in reality, iOS can be a pain to use. It's popular to criticize Microsoft because they have made a lot of mistakes. But Jobs himself said that Microsoft is not to be underestimated since they keep working on things until they get it right. Win 8 is rough around the edges, but it really does offer a better experience than iOS which is now dated, IMHO. I also thought the Touch cover and trackpad were easy to use. I have an iPad - I don't plan to buy another one.

Anonymous said...

Based on your June 27 post of this year, I can't help but wonder if you pre-decided to hate the Surface. Confirmation bias, anyone? Nevertheless, MS still has enterprise by the short hairs. Don't be surprised if this product upends the current BYOD trend since corporate IT departments will probably love it.

Jeff Matthews said...

Yep, shoot the messenger.


Jason said...

I am just surprised that Steve Ballmer reads this website.

TashTish said...

Jason, that was a priceless comment.