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.