Microsoft forgot to solve a problem

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the Microsoft Surface over the past few weeks, in an effort to figure out what the company is trying to accomplish. While I have given Microsoft kudos for not blindly copying Apple’s tablet strategy, what they released doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

What occurred to me is that Microsoft’s critical flaw is that they don’t solve a problem with the Surface. In fact, you could argue that the Surface actually causes more problems for users. That’s not a good start for a new product.

If we look at the iPad in comparison, Apple released a product that solved a number of consumer and business user’s problems. The tablet concept had been around for quite a while before Apple released the iPad1, but they never caught on.

The tablets of the day were big, heavy, ugly and relied on PC software2 to get the job done. It was like you were carrying around a PC. Clearly, this isn’t what the buying public or business people wanted.

Apple recognized the problem and set out to fix it with a sleek tablet that was light, beautiful and would have software designed and developed specifically for the device.

Apple developed gestures that would allow people to manipulate and navigate the iPad, giving the device even more power. It’s proven to be a hit among consumers, business executives, gamers and just about everyone else that wanted a tablet.

You could easily use those same points to show the success of the iPod and iPhone too. Apple saw a problem that needed to be solved and it developed a number of technologies and designs to meet the needs of the people it saw as its main market.

Which brings me back to the Surface. What did it solve? Microsoft loaded the Surface with a 16GB operating system that isn’t optimized for a tablet, but rather is a hybrid desktop/tablet OS that tries to do both.

The problem with that strategy is that you can’t do both successfully. One OS needs a mouse and keyboard, while the other needs touch-enabled and optimized software. These are fundamental differences in how people interact with the operating systems and the devices they are being used on.

They also loaded on a lot of software that also isn’t optimized for the tablet, further underscoring the problem for the people buying the product.

In his review of the Surface, MG Siegler said:

After using it for over a week now, it’s hard to come up with a lot of nice things to say about the Surface. Don’t get me wrong, there are some solid things here. But by and large, it’s a strange, buggy, and clunky product that I simply can’t imagine many people buying after the initial hype wears off.

Successful products solve a need or provide a solution to a specific problem. Apple has become quite adept at identifying those problems and designing products to solve them. Apple’s competition have become quite adept at copying those solutions.

Microsoft can’t seem to do either effectively.

  1. Ironically, it was Microsoft and its partners that made the tablets before the iPad. 

  2. Instead of software specifically written and optimized for a tablet. 

  • I don’t think it solves a problem just yet either. It’s a compromise on the tablet side and a compromise on the laptop side either way you use it. I do think it attempts to solve a problem though. Personally, I don’t want to travel with an iPad and a MacBook or laptop. When I am using a tablet and suddenly I need to use a keyboard and mouse to switch to doing some work I can’t do that with the iPad. I can with the Surface. The problem is it’s not perfect just yet. Like anything Microsoft, expect to see them nail it on the third attempt — depends whether that’s too late or not.

    • LaurentDaudelin

      You never heard of bluetooth keyboards? Never heard about all those cases for the iPad that include a keyboard?

      • What’s the use of a Bluetooth keyboard if I don’t have mouse support? Ever heard of apps like Photoshop where I need to manipulate data precisely? The iPad doesn’t solve that at all.

        • The vast majority of photoshop users aren’t doing complex selections so much as simple global adjustments and spot fixes for which a touch interface is not only adequate but possibly superior. Even I, who have been using photoshop since it was called barneyscan, am perfectly happy to process photos on an iPad. I think trying to come up with critical use cases for tablets for people that aren’t “me” but are more sophisticated than, say, my four year olds or mother-in-law is an exercise in self delusion. The iPad will be able to handle these fictional requirements (or already does) before Microsoft is able to refine Windows or the Surface.

          I suspect Surface will be as short lived as Zune.

          Oh, and the cool kids can already type faster on a glass keyboard than I can type on a real keyboard. (Typed this on my iPad btw.)

          • The iPad can’t even come close to emulating a full OS experience. Printing is still a farce, multitasking is completely non existent, mouse support doesn’t exist whatsoever, typing on a touchscreen is a joke compared to a real keyboard, absolutely no USB support, no mass storage support, no file management, none of this. It’s a casual device first and a productivity device for the niche or the ones that try really, really, really hard last.

          • I agree — but I think you’re missing the point. Most users don’t want or need a “full OS experience” they want to do stuff. Is multitasking on the iPad less than optimal? Sure. No USB support? Wrong but who cares? No mass storage support? There’s this thing called the cloud. No file management — agreed. For most people this is a net positive. I think Apple has definitely skewed iOS towards simplicity (as is its wont) but it’s easy to add stuff back in when it becomes a major pain point (after all, the underlying OS has all this stuff).

    • BTW, veryll well said, Tom. Personally I think MS was probably better off rolling with an Atom chip for Surface, but understand the “need” (want) to have Windows compiled down for ARM. Most likely due to size constraints.

  • What problem did Apple solve with the iPad exactly? It’s a great device, sure, but its primary usage is pretty much media consumption. I recall the main slams of the iPad when it launched was that they couldn’t exactly say what it was for. They showed a graphic of it slotting in between an iPhone and Mac, but without any clear message of what it would actually do. I think Gruber has mentioned before that he thinks Apple weren’t quite sure what it was for either, until the iPad 2. I think it is reinventing history to say that there has always been a clear problem solved with the iPad. I think now with the iPad mini it is more clear than ever the value of an iPad, but why couldn’t Microsoft do the same thing and iterate with better versions later on when they see how people use it?

    If you always address current problems you’ll be constantly stuck in the past. I don’t think you believe that all products should address only current problems. That isn’t how Apple operates, yet here you are arguing that Microsoft should do exactly that. Microsoft are skating to where they think the puck is going.

    • deviladv

      A laptop is inconvenient to hold and lug around while doing things. An iPhone is too small to try to read all the time, only for checking things now and then and entertaining yourself. The iPad, both original and Mini, are form factors that make it convenient for reading or watching while standing or moving. It’s convenient to sit down in a chair, like it was a book, and read or watch. It solved a problem that in certain situations, a laptop or a phone was not as convenient.

      Microsoft THINKS it’s skating to where the puck is going, but it’s not. The puck is going towards pure tablets. The Surface is trying to solve a problem, just not the right problem for consumers. Microsoft is trying to solve the problem “how to create a tablet that works as well as a PC so people stay in the windows world.” That’s not how you entice customers, and frankly so far it’s not working as well as PC anyway.

    • FalKirk

      “What problem did Apple solve with the iPad exactly?” – David Bailey

      Convenience, ease of use, portability, usability in otherwise untenable situations such as standing, leaning back and even walking. Apps, apps, apps that turn the blank slate into the device of your choices. And operating system that removes a layer of abstraction and makes it a pleasure to use for 3 year olds and 93 year olds.

      Honestly, if you don’t know what problems the iPad solved, you really should be reading more and commenting less.

      • Good to see you here on “The Loop”, Falkirk.

      • In my country Ipad a gadget! It is very nice to use it, but when my daugther in law needed to work on an examination to a Master degree in US, she came to me asking a Windows computer. And after she worked with my surface RT, she saw it as a productive device (comparing with the IPad) and will buy a similar one. Both (son and her) are Apple devices owners and successful lawyers. So, which of the two devices has solved a real problem? About me, most of time I use SRT as a tablet, but when I want to work, my Office, typecover and capacitive pen fulfill all my requirements!

        • FalKirk

          Each person should use the right tool for the right job, Luis. It’s a mistake to think that either the tablet or the notebook is the right tool for all tasks. I’m a lawyer and I prefer a notebook. But there are many tasks that are better suited for a tablet too.

        • JohnDoey

          The fact that she even knows how to use Windows puts her in a small minority.

          The law office where I used to work I-T adopted iPad wholesale because it is easier to use than a 20 kilo box of paper, which is what it replaces for lawyers.

          So I don’t know how she will be a lawyer without using an iPad. There is no corresponding Microsoft device that replaces stacks of printed paper.

    • the main slams of the iPad when it launched was that they couldn’t exactly say what it was for.

      Those people simply refused to watch the Keynote, then. Jobs intent for the iPad couldn’t possibly have been any clearer.

      • JohnDoey

        iPad was quite obviously a mobile PC. It was for running PC apps for 10 hours on batteries in a sliver of a device you can use while mobile, while not at a desk.


    • JohnDoey

      iPad’s primary usage is to run mobile PC apps. ThT is because iPad is a mobile PC.

      The Mac, iPod, and iPhone were all toys for their first few years, too, until everything else worked just like them

      Most popular apps on (serious) Windows PC’s:

      • #1 iTunes
      • #2 Netflix
      • #3 Facebook

      … that is how most Windows PC’s spend most of their time.

      iPad is the only PC that can be used without a desk. Only 10% use a desk at work. iPad is the only computer for the other 90%. That is why you see iPad is huge for sales people, drivers of all kinds, airline pilots, musicians. iPad is doing serious work in those spaces because it really is the only option.

  • LKM

    I think it’s exactly the other way around. The iPad doesn’t solve a problem. It’s a nifty device, and I like my iPad, but I don’t really need it.

    The Surface, on the other hand, does attempt to solve a problem. It’s a problem a lot of people have: “I really like my iPad, but I need to be able to edit Word documents for work.” That’s the problem the Surface attempts to solve. It does a poor job at it, to be sure. Nevertheless, the premise of the essay seem the exact opposite of what is actually happening here.

    • deviladv

      You don’t need it yourself, but here are some the problems the iPad solves for many other people: 1) Portability, continuing to make a computing device more portable. No keyboard or mouse to have to lug around. It’s much more comfortable to hold and move around the house. 2) Readability, it makes reading so much more enjoyable, especially if they have the retina display, because it’s almost like holding a book. Reading long articles was never as enjoyable on a laptop or desktop to me. 3) Creating creative content. You can interact with the screen to create things, which gives you a new way to do things.

      It doesn’t solve a problem for you specifically, but I personally read a whole lot more since getting my iPad. Just remember solving a problem doesn’t necessarily mean solving your problem.

      • LKM

        When somebody says “it solves a problem”, the implied point they’re making is that it wasn’t solved before. I submit that the things you mention aren’t things that the iPad solved; they were solved before the iPad.

        Perhaps the iPad’s contribution is that it solved them well, while others didn’t?

        (Though I’d also submit that, concerning point 2, any e-reader provides a much, much better reading experience than the iPad.)

        • Steven Fisher

          That’s arguing semantics a bit, I think. If a problem is solved so poorly that it isn’t worth using the solution, you haven’t actually solved a problem. You’ve just created more problems.

          The real problem the iPad has solved has been humanizing computing. We’ve gone from computers most can’t figure out sitting on a desk or table to something truly portable that’s much easier to understand. That brings most of computing from the “problem” to “solved” state for real, non-technical people.

          It’s really more “What hasn’t the iPad solved?”

          • LKM

            Well, the last line of your comment seems a bit overly dramatic, since most people still seem to use their iPads mainly to surf the web, but for the rest of your post: point taken.

          • JohnDoey

            No, Web surfing is not the only use of iPad. It has 750,000 native apps, including the only touch PC platform. The apps are obscenely popular. So popular that some people fear for the future of the Web.

            You aren’t going to win your argument that iPad is no big deal. It is a big deal. It is providing PC computing in new places like airplane flight manuals, new users like small kids and visually-impaired, new apps like Paper and GarageBand’s touch instruments. iPad solved the tablet PC riddle and the mobile PC riddle and the consumer PC riddle.

          • LKM

            I did not say that web surfing was the only use of an iPad, I was pointing out that, for most people, the iPad is mainly a content consumption device. I said this as a response to the last line of your comment, where you asked if there was anything the iPad had not solved. The answer is yes. There are a lot of things the iPad has not solved.

            And I did not say that the iPad wasn’t a big deal, anywhere, in any of my comments. In fact, I explicitly said that you made good points.

            (You know, during the 90s, it was understandable why we Mac users were so defensive. But now that Apple is the biggest freaking company on the planet, it’s starting to feel a bit weird, no? 🙂

        • LaurentDaudelin

          Of course we’ve been able to survive before the iPad showed up. What the iPad “solves” are all those things that you had to do sitting in front of a computer or that laptop that you had to carry around. But, of course, it doesn’t “solve” anything by itself.

          • JohnDoey

            Before the iPad showed up, I didn’t have an LTE network around me that is faster than my home Internet, and I didn’t have a job where I was expected to have a PC with me 24/7. Now, I have those problems and iPad is by far the best solution.

            How many of the world’s workers sit at a desk? Only 10%. Before the iPad, you might not have noticed the problem of workers without desks also having no access to PC’s because you thought of PC’s as desktop PC’s. Now, iPad solved the problem of workers who don’t have desks requiring PC’s.

            The world changes, huh? You can’t get by with a clipboard anymore when your competitor has an iPad with 24/7 Internet and GPS. Just writing stuff on a clipboard and doing an hour of data entry at the end of a day on a shared desktop is not going to cut it.

            Keep in mind that the Mac was designed in the early 80’s and so was Microsoft Office. A lot has changed since then in computing. We have new needs that are simply not answered by a 1985 workflow like a Windows PC or Microsoft Surface.

        • JohnDoey

          Before the iPad, there was no such thing as a mobile PC. Now, there is.

          Yes, iPad solves PC problems — it is a PC! But it solves them in a mobile way, it provides PC computing to workers without desks.

          How do I get PC computing to my team of car salesmen in 2005? I make them drag their customers from the car to a desk with a generic PC on it where they laboriously gather information from the tense customer click by click. How do I do it in 2012? I give them iPads they use at the car to close the sale in a few taps, with no customer intimidation.

          So iPad is a solution to the problem of how do I use a PC without a desk?

          That is why the music studio I work at had a Mac on the mixing desk in 2005 and no other computers. One desk — one desktop computer. Now, there is an iPad on every music stand, piano, and flat surface because all the musicians have them, and musicians don’t have desks, like 90% of humanity. That is why iPad and other mobile devices so easily outsell desktops.

          I could also argue and win on your idea of new computing needs — GarageBand on iOS has a piano keyboard, guitar fretboards, drum kits all built-in, immediately playable. Even a Mac with Logic has none of that. iMovie on iOS has a built-in HD video camera that even Final Cut on a Mac does not have. So if you watch a consumer try to do these tasks with either iPad or another $329 PC, they have radically different results. The other $329 PC’s can’t do those tasks without some assembly required, if they can do them at all.

    • FalKirk

      “The iPad doesn’t solve a problem.” – LKM

      100 million iPad sales are telling us that you are oh so very wrong.

      • LKM

        Millions of pet rocks are telling us that sales don’t prove your point.

        • FalKirk

          Ha! Good counter-point. But even the sales of Pet Rocks proves my point. They solved a problem – one of entertainment – just not a problem that you view as important.

          I think we can distinguish a fad that came and went in a matter of months from a computing tool that has not only generated billions in income but has also taken the computing industry by storm. Before the iPad, the tablet market was virtually non-existant. After the iPad, not only have tablets taken off, but the their usefulness has diminished the necessity for both the notebook and the desktop computer – tools that we’ve relied upon for over 30 years.

          If you choose to think that the iPad has not solved a problem – that it’s another “pet rock” – then more’s the fool you. It’s like saying that the car is just a fad and that we’ll soon all be riding horses again.

          • LKM

            If Dalrymple’s original point was that iPads solve the “problem” that it wasn’t easy enough to watch movies while sitting in bed, then I concede that point 🙂

            (Note that I’m not saying that the iPad is a pet rock. I was merely offering the pet rock as a counter-example to your assertion that high sales prove that something solves a problem.)

        • JohnDoey

          Nobody bought a pet rock with their PC money and then demonstrated 90% customer satisfaction — much higher than PC satisfaction.

          So pet rocks have nothing to do with it.

          iPad is the #1 PC model for 2 years now. iPad by itself if spun off from Apple would be the world’s largest PC vendor by volume. iPad demand goes up 100% every year while other $300–$800 PC’s are down 20%. So it is actually incumbent upon you to prove that a non-iPad PC is a good choice, not on iPad to prove itself. It already has proven itself.

          • LKM

            Yes, nicely observed. Pet rocks have nothing to do with it. Pet rocks were merely a counter-example to the assertion that high sales prove that something solves a problem. They were (quite obviously, I think) not meant as an general analogy to the iPad.

    • See that’s the thing- I don’t believe there are that many people who are going, “I want to edit Word documents on my iPad.” I understand it’s a nice feature and there are people who want it, but IMO it’s not one that the majority of the (very large) iPad customer base is looking for.

      • LKM

        Pretty much every non-geek iPad user I’ve ever seen has, at some point, asked me a question along the lines of “can I install my Office on this?” or “when will Office be released for my iPad?” or “what app do I need to install to edit this Word file somebody emailed me?”

        This may seem strange to many readers of this site, but a lot of regular people with regular office jobs use Word (and sometimes Excel) a lot.

      • adrianoconnor

        If you work for a big company that uses Office, and you receive 4 or 5 Word documents every day, the Surface has a very compelling feature…

        • JohnDoey

          Everyone I know who tried Pages, Keynote, or Numbers on iPad loves those apps. I use Pages all day long on iPad with an Apple Wireless Keyboard, it is ridiculously productive.

          Here is the thing, though: even hardcore Microsoft shops are on their 3rd or 4th year of iPhone. If you enforced your users only editing office documents with PC’s, then you missed mobile. The CEO is reading and editing office documents on his iPad now. The days when Microsoft-brand office were important are going away because systems that don’t have Microsoft Office now outnumber the ones that do.

          • adrianoconnor

            Pages is great, sure but what if you’re working for a company that are using, say Documentum on a closed network? What then? Let’s also say this company has 22,000 desktops, all running Microsoft office. There are going to be a lot of Word documents regardless of how well pages works. I’m not talking about boutique start-ups here or agile small business, I’m talking about banks, utilities, insurance, travel, pharma — big enterprise. That’s where you absolutely need Microsoft Office, because it is so deeply entrenched. One day it might change, but that day is a long way away yet. Google Docs probably isn’t the answer, much as we’d like it to be. Pages certainly isn’t the answer.

          • steven75

            This sounds similar to the argument that the floppy disk/USB port/optical drive/VGA shouldn’t be removed because there are so many floppy disks/USB devices/CDs/VGA projectors.

            This is how progress works; Things get replaced by newer things that are better in most ways.

          • adrianoconnor

            Sure, and VGA is a great example, because look at how long it has taken to replace it despite there having been a far better standard around for 10 years now. That’s what I’m trying to say — all of those Windows laptops still ship with VGA connectors for a reason. It’s that kind of momentum in the marketplace that will keep Microsoft Office alive and churning a sizable profit for another 10 years or more. It will come to an end, of course, when the time is right. Somebody needs to dream up and create the viable alternative, and it needs to poised to explode at the exact moment that the rest of the world is ready for it. That’s what Google are trying to do with Google docs, and it’s also what Microsoft are trying to do with Office 365.

          • Proto

            The iWork suite on iOS is a very good reimagining of what productivity apps should be in the age of touch-based mobile devices. There are still some key areas where it doesn’t match with long-established workflow patterns. For one example, Pages can import and edit Word documents, but it cannot save those documents back into Word format. Word, of course, can’t read Pages documents. This makes collaboration with colleagues running MS Office more difficult.

            Another limitation is in round-tripping documents. Many office workers receive documents by email, edit them and send them on. In iOS, documents are attached to messages in the document editing program, not in the email client. This means that editing a document and sending it back by email breaks the email thread, which may have held important context for the document.

            Of course, Surface doesn’t necessarily address either of these shortcomings. I only wanted to point out that the iPad has been very successful in office environments, but it still has some rough spots.

          • LKM

            Perhaps the days where Office compatibly is important are going away, but they sure haven’t gone away yet.

    • JohnDoey

      You can edit Word documents on iPad. You will likely make better output on iPad also.

      If you need to use Microsoft Word, you don’t need Surface. There are $200 PC’s that run Word. Every Mac since 1985 ran Word.

      What does Surface do that no other device can do? iPad does thousands of unique things that no other device can do, not even Macs.

      • LKM

        I’m going to assume that you have not worked with Word files on the iPad, using Pages? Because if you had, you’d know that Pages doesn’t support a lot of the features of your average Word document. Editing a Word file in Pages and sending it back to a PC, expecting that it will look right, is generally a bad idea.

    • KRT186

      Before this thread meandered down a path strewn with pet rocks, it started with the claim that the Surface solves a problem that the iPad cannot: the ability to edit Word documents for work. This inability comes as a great surprise to me, a college teacher, who just finished grading 75 term papers on my iPad, 70 of which ended in dot-doc, using Track Changes, and will definitely come as a great surprise to those 70 students who have by now read my Track Changes and responded to them using Track Changes on their end as well.

      Anyone have any suggestions for how I should handle this inability?

      • LKM

        Apple added Word-compatible change tracking in Pages 1.7, which just came out. The speed at which you must have gone through these 75 term papers between the time Pages 1.7 came out and the time you posted this comment sure explains why the corrections on my papers always were so lousy 🙂

        To be sure, it’s great that Pages now supports Word-compatible change tracking. Unfortunately, this is just one of the many incompatibilities that still remain, and that make Pages unsuitable for any work where a reasonably complex visual layout of a Word document must be preserved.

  • Kim Grant

    I cannot disagree with you more. The “problem” now is that several of those business executives, students, etc. want to ditch the laptop and carry around one device with the form factor of the tablet but with the Office suite. That is exactly what the Surface RT is. I also disagree that you “need” a mouse to interact with it. Yes. You are doing things differently now, but as soon as you get over someone moving your cheese, you realize what a pleasure using the Surface is. No different than learning how to do things on an iPad that you used to do on a laptop. There’s just more tolerance and forgiveness where Apple is concerned.

    • You’re probably right. Not having access to Office files is a real problem for a big segment of the population (business users). For now. Hopefully Microsoft will have time to really improve the tablet in the near future because that can’t be a permanent selling point. There’s just too high of a chance that Google Drive (formerly Docs) or some other tool will give people Microsoft Office, or another new format entirely, outside of the desktop. Heck, maybe Microsoft will even do it themselves by putting the main features of the apps in the cloud, opening them up on the iPad and other devices. The demand is just too great.

      • JohnDoey

        Every single iOS device can display ever single Microsoft Office document. For $30, yo can add editing to every single iOS device.

        Most companies are small and they have been terrorized by Microsoft Office. The endless training, the ribbon, the different formats The people that I know are ery happy with Keynote, Pages, and Numbers.

    • From all reviews I’ve read, it seems like you do need a mouse, at least for Office apps. That’s not to say your argument is wrong, just that Microsoft hasn’t done a good enough job of “touch-enabling” their apps yet. As it stands right now, it’s a weird paradigm kludge: they have seemingly two OSes on the one device, based both on the shift from one UI to another (Metro vs. standard desktop), and on the relative ease of use of different input models (touch being just as easy as mouse+kb on the Metro side, vs. mouse+kb being much more reliable on the standard desktop side).

    • I have seen Windows 8 used on a 70′ Sharp touchscreen. The touch targets still were not accessible. After 30 seconds of fumbling, opening wrong objects, closing windows accidently and invoking unwanted dialogue boxes, only the sharp pen and/or a mouse could be effectively used to manipulate the standard Windows environment lurking beneath the Surface. (HA!)

      Windows 8 is a horrific touch screen experience that absolutely requires a mouse or trackpad to do the “real work” (browsing directories is “real work” apparently) with which Microsoft and it’s advocates are so obsessed.

    • JohnDoey

      No, a lot of executives want to be 100% mobile computing focused, that is the problem that needs solving. How to do Pc computing while mobile? Solution: iPad.

      Microsoft may one day have their own solution for how to do PC computing while mobile, but they do not right now, and Surface is not it. Surface is a 1985 era Mac style desktop Pc shrunk down for portability between desks, apparently. Not a mobile PC. Surfsce also has only 4000 apps, no video editor, no music and audio, no photography.

      If it has a mouse and keyboard it is not mobile.

  • Microsoft has IDENTIFIED the problem. The Surface, as it stands now, has not solved it.

  • What problem does the iPad solve? Maybe watch the original keynote again. My mom, 77, sent her first email on one. She actually emails me now. I never get a call with “how do you do this or that” or that something no longer works. She can’t program the time on her VCR. I wouldn’t wish a PC operating system on her. U-s-a-b-i-l-i-t-y.

    • What’s a VCR?

    • Exactly. Nerds fail to grasp this, buried as we are up to our necks in years of use: technology itself is the problem, in that until recently it required a learning curve of some significance. The iPad had a battle tested UI that made the most arcane operations instantly usable to “muggles”. THAT is one of the major problems the iPad solved. It put the power of technology in the hands of anyone with fingers.

      • …the iPad simplified basic operations, but still doesn’t provide answers to all simple operations.

        • Of course. Some it entirely obviated.

        • JohnDoey

          That is why there are still Macs. But iPad plus Mac together is extremely productive.

          If you use Windows, then you go from there to iPad. The reason is that the software developers and leading users in the $300–$800 PC market are already on iPad. That part of the Pc market has already gone to touch and ARM. Those that are not on iPad yet are just the extremely long tail of the low-end PC market where Windows XP was only just knocked out of #1 installed base position.

          • But it shouldn’t have to be that way. I think Apple tried to incorporate some iOS like functionality into OS/X, but it still feels wrong and half baked. Microsoft went all in with the Modern (Metro) UI for better or worse to create a consistent design language across all devices: tablet, phone, desktop, laptop, xbox/tv, etc.

            Windows 8 will push the UI into the mainstream of being accepted, but it will take time. And hopefully during that time we’ll have the perfect device. As these SoC’s become more and more capable, the idea of an instant on, run all apps, get great battery life with decent performance will allow the user to have both a tablet and a laptop without having to pay for both or carry around both.

            It’s funny, the cloud exists to move data (or just have data available) for all your devices. It solved the problem of a much less capable device like the iPad and an accompanying laptop/desktop not sharing content. But the issue is still the inconvenience of carrying around both.

    • JohnDoey

      Also, if you redesign a computer for 24/7 persistent wireless Internet and GPS, you get an iPad. You do low power and batteries because wireless Internet is pointless with wired AC.

      A Mac is designed for AC power and Ethernet and a desk. Surface descends from the Mac. iPad descends from iPhone because the wireless Internet is THE killer app. Start there and iPad is the resulting PC. It suits the time because it suits wireless Internet and its applications. The network is with you everywhere, so you need a PC that goes everywhere.

  • [My personal use case is the only one I consider valid for this discussion.] [Microsoft Word.]

    • LaurentDaudelin

      Pages on the iPad is as capable as Word. I bet you don’t use 10% of all the features that Word offers…

      • I try not to. I despise Word.

      • adrianoconnor

        The problem isn’t Word Processing features… The problem is how well Pages handles Word documents vs how well Word handles them. It looks like this week’s update to Pages focused entirely on this one thing, so it’ll be interesting to try it out again. Previous versions of pages were hit and miss (at best) — try setting a page background, or anything but the most basic headers and footers, for example.

        • JohnDoey

          No, the problem is that there is no touch version of Micrsoft Office. So no matter how much of a purist you are about your office documents, you are now in a world where your documents will e read and edited on iPads and iPhones.

          • adrianoconnor

            Don’t get me wrong — I do get that. I’m the Apple person at a software company that is mostly Microsoft focused, and Pages works pretty well for me. I’m just saying that that Office is Microsoft’s ‘reason’ for the Surface, that’s all. And I agree, it’s not a great reason — especially for us — but it might be good enough for quite a few people.

            Not as many as Microsoft need though.

  • Respectfully, I think you forgot to actually try a Surface for longer than 10 minutes before you wrote this article. Perhaps you should pick one up, put your laptop and ipad aside for a couple of weeks and then see if Microsoft solved a problem or not.

    • Laptop replacement? It’s a gimmicky netbook. Anyone who is sold on the things Windows 8 claims to offer is in need of an actual laptop.

    • The thing is, Surface is not a valid laptop replacement based solely on the fact that you can’t use it in your lap. The keyboard requires a hard surface (ironic) in order to be used, which means you’re still tied to a desk to get any serious work done. So essentially you have a portable desktop that’s less portable than a laptop. Not saying the iPad solved this problem either, but the Surface most certainly does not.

  • bitbank

    The Surface does try to solve a problem. It tries to be a tablet and a laptop and doesn’t do either well. I should be the perfect customer for a Surface. I do a lot of actual work on the go. I use my laptop resting on my lap while seated on chairs, benches, and sofas. The Surface fails as a device for me because it can’t run “real” software (e.g. Eclipse, Visual Studio) and it doesn’t work resting on your lap. The Asus Transformer devices are a better design for a dual mode computer – A true laptop and true tablet. The problem I have with these ultrabooks and hybrid devices is the that the screen is too small. I need a 15 or 17″ screen to get work done. I don’t mind the extra weight to be able to get actual work done on a full sized keyboard and reasonable sized display.

  • tyr

    The moment I saw the Surface I though “oh, so it’s a tablet for people who do a lot of typing.” I think that’s the market they’re going for : students and journalists. In fact the person I immediately thought of was Andy Ihtnako, and he has been quite positive about the Surface. I don’t think it’s enough of a “problem to be solved” to generate a market but at least they were shooting for something.

    • JohnDoey

      Andy is also really nerdy and knows how to use Windows. That is it the typical consumer.

  • I don’t really like to comment about a product before I actually put my hands on it. But It’s pity to see a huge company like Microsoft with so much experience rushes to do something and expects it to be a hit when the bar is set this high. But, this has always been the case with Windows OS, they released and tried to fix it afterwards.

    Oh, you probably saw the Surface commercial with Lenka’s song. It plays in my mind as “I’m a wanna be, everyting at once.”

  • Microsoft did solve a problem. It just wasn’t a user problem. What Microsoft addressed was the increasing irrelevance of desktop operating systems. They are not going away anytime soon, but peoples computing needs will be met by a range of computing devices and that’s a problem for Microsoft. So Surface was designed to try to keep people in the PC camp. That’s why the Surface makes no sense to users it solves a problem they didn’t have.

    • But instead of nicely executing on that strategy, they left the desktop mode in Windows RT, so you’re dumped into when you want to use an Office app, trying to click around in dialog boxes in an environment that isn’t completely optimized for touch.

      I do think there are some nice things there – being able to snap on a keyboard, or use a mouse is nice to have, but as an iPad user, I’m much happier just having a bunch of really great tablet-optimized apps to use.

      I’ll go back to my desktop (laptop) when I need to be truly “productive”.

    • Good point. From their perspective, they solved the exact problem they perceived It’s just becoming clear that it’s not a problem many other people were actually concerned about.

  • I think of the Surface as another iteration in the ultrabook line, only better. I have an Ultrabook now – I can boot in under 30 seconds return from sleep instantly and use it as my main PC. But, when I am at home, I have no desire to crack it open and try to navigate with its horrible touchpad (why can’t MSFT OEM partner integrate a nice touchpad in their ultrabooks?) To me, the Surface solves that issue with its detachable keyboard and ports – it can be the ultimate bridge device between work and play. The ipad is great but I can’t do everything I need to do at work with an ipad. I can’t do hardly anything without making some serious compromises. I’m hoping the Surface line up is perfected and MSFT can get some developers on board to fill its app universe. I’m gonna buy one but I might see if MSFT puts another version out next year.

    • JohnDoey

      Get a Mac, duh.

      With a MacBook Air and an iPad mini there is basically nothing you can’t do.

      The reason you think your Ultrabook (MacBook Air clone) has a crappy trackpad is they cloned the trackpad size and functions but not the technology. The Mac trackpad has an iPhone chip in it, the Mac OS has touch features. The Mac has “indirect touch” not just a trackpad. You are running software from 3 or 4 vendors to get a fake Mac trackpad that doesn’t work in your crappy clone notebook.

      You are like the people who buy Android and complain the touch sucks. Android devices have 2–4 points of touch (like your trackpad) while Apple devices all have 11 points of touch. That is what is required by the apps. You have a system problem, not a trackpad problem.

      • I don’t want a Mac, duh. You are such a douche its comical.

  • Zenfar

    The could have just left out Desktop mode on Windows RT, one of thing to learn from Apple is sometimes less is more…

    • JohnDoey

      But there is no Metro Office. The desktop mode runs the only desirable Windows apps.

  • Instead of blatantly copying Apple like they did in nineties with Windows and like Google did with Android, Microsoft tried to create something original. I think this is the problem.

  • DazzlingD

    No, Surface solves a problem, just not YOUR problem. If all day you use a Mac, iPad, Google Apps and web based content management for your blog, just like most of the reviewers of the Surface who didn’t “Get It,” then Surface is not for you. Surface is meant for the 1.2Bn Windows users and 1Bn Office users to be productive on a lightweight, easy to use, lower power consumption device. Whether this means writing your thesis, kids doing their homework, writing a business case or managing your home budget. That Surface can play Angry Birds or stream HD video is a bonus. The desktop is there for a reason. For compatibility and familiarity. Making a “Touch Friendly” version of Office might make files compatible but it would throw away years of user familiarity and make users far less productive. Being able to connect to 400K USB devices is huge (printers, mice, keyboards, external displays…) Consider the release of the ribbon in Office 2007. People are still complaining about the Ribbon to this day, over 5 years later. If a Metro version of Office was introduced, it would break workflows and require a huge amount of retraining. End users expect multiple windowing and multitasking when being productive. They expect the document to look the same across all devices and to the people they collaborate with. They are regularly juggling two Word docs, a PowerPoint doc and three Excel Spreadsheets. The Surface can do this. Good luck with an iPad or an Android tablet. Windows 8 (and RT) was designed to have touch up front for light usage and the desktop for serious use. It is supposed to be the perfect hybrid. Party up front and business behind the scenes.

    • Julio

      So you’re saying the Surface is a mullet?

      • DazzlingD

        Reverse mullet. 🙂

    • Surface is meant for the 1.2Bn Windows users and 1Bn Office users to be productive on a lightweight, easy to use, lower power consumption device.

      A problem already solved by the wide range of laptops. So Microsoft provided a solution to a problem to which there were already more viable and sensible options.

      And throw around all the numbers you want. If the myth of the patient Microsoft advocate waiting for a Microsoft branded solution was at all true, Microsoft’s partners tablets wouldn’t have disappeared without a trace and Windows Phone OS for Windows Phones would have a market share that amounted to more than a rounding error.

      • JohnDoey

        Not only did PC’s already solve that problem, but do did iPad. If you are a Windows user and you wanted a low-power go-everywhere productivity device then you already have an iPad.

        Another myth is the idea that anybody values the Microsoft brand. Nobody is passing up iPads and holding on to their $300 to put towards a $600 Surface.

        The solution can’t be something that requires you to already be a Microsoft customer. Mobile is 10 times larger than desktop. Microsoft is losing customers to Apple but not the other way around. Microsoft needs solutions for the world, not just for current Microsoft desktop users. Especially not solutions that do less and cost more than a Windows PC.

        • “Another myth is the idea that anybody values the Microsoft brand. Nobody is passing up iPads and holding on to their $300 to put towards a $600 Surface.”

          Indeed. With the exception of the XBox, I’ve only known one person who has been enthusiastic to own Microsoft products and he currently works there.

    • JohnDoey

      Why would the traditional Windows user buy a $600 device with 4000 apps when they are used to buying a $400 device with hundreds of thousands of apps?

      Computing revolves around the Web today, not the PC, not Windows, and certainly not office.

      Today, kids in schools make 5 minute video documentaries with iMovie, not term papers with Word. And if writing a term paper, there are apps for that. No need to use a 1985 office system for that.

  • sirshannon

    Let’s face it: the “problem” Surface (and the Zune before it) solves is “we need a product not made by Apple.” I don’t see that as a problem at all but some do. Those people will buy a Surface. Will anyone else?

  • Most of your commentary is on target, but you are wrong for concluding that Microsoft forgot to solve a problem. Refusing to accept that their decade-long tablet strategy is fatally flawed, Microsoft has always deferred blame for their tablet failings to their hardware partners. By bringing hardware design in-house, Surface solves that perceived problem. Of course, this does nothing to solve the real problem with their tablet strategy (which you have identified), nor does it solve any problem for the end-user, but it’s not like they forgot to solve a problem.

  • The concept behind the “tablet” word is: mobile computer to be used everywhere. Tablets are the only computers that can be used comfortably and are meant to be used on your lap or in your hands while seated on a couch or walking around.

    Before the iPad tablets could not do that after the ipad position of use is the distinguish factor. It is the position that requires multitouch not vice-versa. Surface is meant to be used on a desktop, it is realized to be used with this soft keyboard with trackpad that can only work efficiently on an hard surface. If you try to use it in your hands while seated you have to forget the keyboard and you are cut away from the desktop part of the o.s. which is a significant part, both for the support of legacy software which should be a selling point and for the office software which is sold with the device. If you try to use it on a desktop, you have a good usability for the desktop part of the o.s. since you can effectively use the keyboard and the touchpad (I assume everyone buy the keyboard it is unusable otherwise) but you get difficult usability for the touch part since you have to operate with your arm stretched in front of you, a source of serious trouble if used intensively.

    It is not a problem of not having a solution, the surface in theory has both solutions in the o.s., it can offer software for tablet or for keyboard so in theory when appropriate software will be developed for touch you could have the wider solution space possible. The problem is the position. Since the touch and the desktop mode are not separated but are incredibly meshed together, every position you take, every software you use you will have to deal with some part of work done uncomfortably. That is absurd. The only way out is to rewrite the o.s. in a way that could create two complete different use case. One for touch with only touch apps without the need to go to the desktop mode at all, for nothing, so with all the power now reserved for desktop mode, so with office only touch, explorer full power only touch, control panel full power only touch etc… The second mode only desktop with the start button and without the need to go to touch mode for anything, nothing. That would be a no compromise use in any position tablet but it will have two o.s. with double software everywhere so it will have space problems, bug problems (double the code double the errors) battery problems and so on.

    I don’t think it can be done now, perhaps future powerful tablet will have an emulate desktop mode to support legacy, but today the apple way is the only realistically effective.

  • Is it long form week on “The Loop”? Good to see longer articles delineating your thoughts on these subjects. I almost always follow the articles linked on this site, but Like to see the opinions and ideas as well. Good Stuff.

  • Manuel

    I am a Mac user and definitely not a fan of Microsoft. But I thought it was clear what the Surface is intended for – media and internet consumption as on an iPad PLUS comfortable creation and editing of Office documents (the idea of a cover with keyboard included was a brilliant one).

    And this is exactly what’s missing for me on my iPad. Yes, I can type very comfortably on my bluetooth keyboard (which I now take with my iPad on trips more and more), but I cannot replicate the preformatted Word docs that I need regularly (Quickoffice is pretty bad at it and Pages is a nightmare). My workflow would be so much easier if I had Word on my iPad and / or if Pages were fully compatible with Word and integrated with Dropbox. None of this I have, and that’s the issue that the Surface was trying to solve (I think). They just don’t seem to have done a good job at it.

    • “I cannot replicate the preformatted word docs that I need regularly (Quickoffice is pretty bad at it and Pages is a nightmare)”.

      I can’t speak to your specific work needs, but I work with a couple of dozen templates in Pages – works like a charm. What’s more, I routinely open templates up from Dropbox into pages, and save back to Dropbox from Pages when I’m done (using the “open in another app feature”). I also distribute documents as PDF’s – again done in Pages – on a regular basis.

      My iPad is routinely used to edit – and write – documents. It works exceptionally well for exactly the purpose you ascribe to the surface. And more.

    • JohnDoey

      If Word is your main app, your solution is a $300–$800 Windows PC or a $999 and up Mac, not a Surface. You can get a PC and an iPad for Surface money.

      Also, keep in mind you are a dinosaur. You are running a 1985 workflow. Editing Word documents is a tiny niche of mobile work because it used to be 90% of all computing. People who want Word have Word on a PC already. They Re not driving the PC market today.

      For the record, Pages on iPad with Apple Wireless Keyboard is the best word processor I ever used, and I wrote books with many different generations of Word on the Mac. Pages just works for me, and it is available in all the places a stack of paper used to be, like on a music stand, so it is simply better workflow now that printing is obsolete.

  • Based on their marketing, it seems like the main problem Microsoft thinks the Surface solves is not a more powerful OS, but ‘built in’ keyboard input- perhaps to address the ‘tablets are bad for content creation’ thing.

    The OS and Office goes towards that too, but there’s not a whiff of Office shown in the dancing commercials, only a bunch of clicking and kickstanding.

    Unlike all the clicking and snapping together of keyboards and tablets in the commercials, There’s a TOTAL disconnect between the Microsoft commercials and what actual Surface fans and proponents are posting online about the Surface.

  • Spot on.

  • Avatar Roku

    The idea of owning both a tablet and a laptop seems incredibly stupid to me. They are 90% the same device. I was a MacBook owner, but I will only ever use hybrids going forward. Surface and similar hybrids solved the problem of needing to buy 2 separate devices that were mostly the same.

    Can you imagine buying a refrigerator today that doesn’t include a freezer section? That’s what I think of buying a laptop without tablet functionality.. Apple still thinks your freezer should be a separate device from your refrigerator. No thank you.

    • JohnDoey

      You are partially right.

      Most users only need a tablet. But some of us write code, or need to patch the kernel with pro audio drivers to make a music album, and so we still need Macs in addition to our iPads.

      Most people do not have a need for desktop computing at all once they go to mobile computing. Same as I don’t have a desktop phone anymore.

  • I think it’s on its way to solving a problem. Think about the iPad, it’s a device that was originally created as a secondary device…and it still is. Print? Only if you have an appropriate printer. Need secondary storage since you’re running out of space? Nope, no SD card. Want to transfer stuff from my phone or external hard drive. Nope, can’t do that either. Not with a proprietary cable and a lot of workarounds. Want to position your iPad to watch like a TV? Can’t do that either…not without propping it up or buying a cover. Want to use a real version of Office with the iPad? Nope. How about use Flash on your web browser with the iPad? Nope. How about do 2 things at once with the iPad? Nope.

    Now, the Surface isn’t perfect, but it’s doing exactly what W8 is trying to do: bridge the gap between tablet and laptop (or even netbook and desktop). There’s no reason why the iPad and Android should have such a handicapped OS unless it’s strictly being used as a secondary device.

    You can have your cake and eat it, too. But not complete…not yet. It’s on its way, more so than the competition.

  • Ray

    “Apple is demonstrating that you don’t make a great product by trying to think of a great product—you make a great product by asking, ‘What is a pain-point in my life, and what’s the best and easiest way to fix it?’. Then they take the solution to that problem and figure out a way to make it into a usable product.”

  • JohnDoey

    Surface is the solution for when you are sitting at an outdoor stone desk and you want to do 1985 Mac office computing.

  • def4

    Just like Windows Phone, Windows RT and the artist formerly known as Metro don’t try to solve any of OUR problems but Microsoft’s problems of irrelevance in hot markets.

    When you understand their motivations, suddenly all of their choices and actions make perfect sense.

  • The problem with the Surface is that it solved a problem poorly that another device had the ability to solve well until it was hamstrung because it was not profitable enough.

    Small, light computing device with a real keyboard that could surf the web and run Office?

    Yeah, it’s called a netbook.

    Netbooks were selling like hotcakes. Did they always perform well? No, but economies of scale and Moore’s Law were kicking in and their performance and quality were increasing at such a rate that, by the time tablets supplanted them, you could get one that performed pretty decently. My daughter has an ASUS netbook with an AMD Fusion processor, SSD and 6gigs of RAM that will run almost anything thrown at it. But Intel intentionally hamstrung its Atom processors so they would not cannibalize its more expensive parts. And then Apple proved the viability of a tablet with a scaled down OS that ran scaled down applications that could be sold for much better margins. Bye bye netbook. The iPad, ironically, was the best thing that ever happened to INTEL.

    The Surface is just an expensive netbook with a half-baked OS and poor ergonomics. For that matter, “Ultrabooks” are just really high-quality netbooks. The demand for a small, light, well-designed computing device that runs Windows and Office (or any relatively mature, powerful OS and office suite) has been around for ages and still is. The initial solution just wasn’t very profitable. Apple solved the issue with the iPad, at least sort of, others jumped on board. Microsoft is now trying to find a way to give everyone the whole ball of wax but in a way that is truly profitable FOR MICROSOFT. Surface is but isn’t the answer.

    BTW the coolest thing I’ve seen recently is the newest Samsung Chromebook with ARM on which someone got running Ubuntu. At $250, it’s pure awesomeness, the Netbook Perfected. Me wants.

  • I’d have to say in Microsoft’s defense that if iPad had failed commercially you’d probably say the same thing about it. After all, Steve Jobs is famously purported to have asked what use a tablet was for anything other than surfing the web on the toilet.

    In the end, I don’t think Surface is a failure of vision — “you can have it all” — but a failure of execution. If Apple (post the return of Steve Jobs) were to have tried something like this (and it probably has tried and continues to try things like this) it wouldn’t release it until it was ready, and if it couldn’t be made ready in a timely fashion it would have dumped the product.

    I was shown a pen-based variation of the Powerbook Duo by a guy at Apple (I probably am under NDA but never mind it was more than fifteen years ago) that was as good as anything Microsoft did in the tablet arena in the 2000s, which Apple never released because they didn’t think it was good enough at the time.

    It all comes down to knowing when to say “no”.

  • yet another steve

    The solution for users who really need a PC – class device and still want tablet features when they travel (this is already a niche since you can pretty much just use your PC class device) was answered by Apple: a smaller and lighter tablet, making carrying to devices unburdensome. I am reminded of the Zune launch which came just before the true iPod killer was announced: the iPhone.

    The real problem for MS though is that everything said here can be applied to Windows 8.

  • Business 101… Find a need and fill it.

  • Nope

    Reading this was a complete waste of time… typical impaired mind