Tag Archive: Surface


When Microsoft co-founder and CEO Bill Gates handed the reins of the tech giant to his longtime comrade and right-hand man Steve Ballmer in January 2000, the path was fairly clear.

ResistanceIsFutile

After some bumps, the company was finally transitioning into an Internet era, but the PC was assured of a prominent place, and its flagship Windows was still the king of the computing world.

Things are quite different 13 years later, as Ballmer announced his plan to step down in 12 months.

In fact, Ballmer is leaving whoever will eventually take over for him with a substantially weaker and less influential company, which has just made yet another organizational change to head down an uncertain path toward something Microsoft calls being a “devices and services” company.

It’s clearly not a very pretty legacy, mostly due to larger external trends that were impossible to resist, and stubborn management by Ballmer who tried too hard to resist them.

In fact, Ballmer was famous for discounting pretty much all of the products that have defined the recent computing age.

His comments about the iPhone in 2007 to USA Today distill it perfectly: “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.”

The result of such thinking? The PC industry is tanking, and Microsoft’s longtime partners are struggling in an era where mobile devices – mostly made by others – are flourishing.

Windows 8 was a stab at redefining the company’s operating system for a world sure to be dominated by mobile devices. But, as shown by the tepid response to the software – and to the initial Surface tablet device the company makes itself – Microsoft has a long way to go in that effort.

It’s like that across the Microsoft empire, which too often feels like it is in its sunset.

In phones, Microsoft has thus far decided not to make its own products, casting its lot largely with Nokia, although the company is said to have some phone designs of its own in the back pocket, if not the front. But so far those efforts lag well behind mobile rulers Apple and Google.

In search, Bing has established itself as the only real rival to Google, but Microsoft remains a distant runner-up, without a clear path to significant profits.

Microsoft retains a key spot in core business software, but the dual trends of cloud services and the consumerization of corporate technology mean that many of today’s young companies are forsaking traditional software in favor of options from Google, Salesforce.com and others.

The continued strength in the business sector played to Ballmer’s own abilities and interests, of course. But in an era of fast-moving apps, mobile-first mentalities, and the need for nimbleness and speed over brute force, he had become the wrong leader for Microsoft.

Perhaps that’s why Ballmer recently tried to redefine the company as being “One Microsoft.”

In a memo to employees, Ballmer had written, “we are rallying behind a single strategy as one company – not a collection of divisional strategies,” and that the changes “will enable us to execute even better on our strategy to deliver a family of devices and services that best empower people for the activities they value most and the enterprise extensions and services that are most valuable to business.”

Later, in another memo, titled “Transforming Our Company,” Ballmer added, “as the times change, so must our company.”

Indeed, and just now the other shoe in that sentiment just dropped, perhaps as it had to and as it should have.

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At an internal meeting, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer admitted that the company overproduced the Surface RT tablet, leading to its recent $150 per unit price cut. As quoted by The Verge’s Tom Warren, Ballmer plainly explained that the company “built a few more devices than [it] could sell.”

But we already knew that.

In its most recent quarterly earnings release, Microsoft took a $900 million charge relating to the Surface RT tablet line, essentially admitting that the inventory that it has on hand was not worth its previous internal valuation; you can’t cut the market price of a product that you have in a warehouse and not lower its value on your books. The write down cost Microsoft $0.07 per share. It missed expectations for the quarter.

Microsoft has been on a mission to clear Surface RT inventory for some time. As I wrote earlier this year, through a combination of giveaways and discounts, Microsoft was moving to liquidate what appeared to be mountainous superfluous unit volume of its ARM-based Windows tablet hybrid.

At that time, Microsoft released a bland statement, saying that the offers and handouts were in “response” to the “positive reaction” Surface had enjoyed since launch. That felt a bit backwards: If response had been so strong, why give away a single device or discount? Wouldn’t organic demand be sufficient? Well, as it turns out, reaction hasn’t been overly positive, so the entire argument was logically moot.

Ballmer said something else during the meeting that is a non-surprise: Microsoft is not selling as many Windows devices as it would like. We knew that, too. The figures released quarterly that describe the PC market are brutal – and dropping. Even Apple is suffering from declining Mac sales in the face of nearly insurmountable headwinds that it helped to create with its leadership of post-PC product categories.

Next-generation Surface devices are being designed and tested. I suspect that Microsoft learned its lesson regarding production volume: Prove product-market fit first, and then kick the afterburners.

Top Image Credit: BUILDWindows

If you’ve been waiting for a price drop to buy a Microsoft Surface tablet, your time is now. Microsoft recently announced a significant price cut in its entry-level Surface RT tablets. These are the less powerful Surface tablets on the market, and don’t run the full version of Windows 8. However, the Surface RTs are decent in their own right, and are now $150 cheaper. A 32 gig model now runs $349, and doubling the storage to 64 gigs will cost $100 more at $449. The price cut was likely the result of a few factors, including poor sales numbers and new models likely to hit store shelves later this year. The line of Surface tablets has yet to truly take off, but Microsoft is rumored to be debuting new accessories for the Surface soon, including a battery-equipped keyboard cover. If you’re looking to try out a lite version of Windows 8 or are just looking for a mid-range tablet option, the Surface RT is now available at $349, its lowest price ever.

“Microsoft appears to be ‘sold out’ of its 128GB tablet/notebook hybrid Surface Pro,” Daniel Eran Dilger writes for RoughlyDrafted.

“Selling out of your inventory means ‘the market has spoken,’ says Ed Bott of ZDNet,” Dilger writes. “This is because subtracting an unknown number of sales from an unknown number of units in inventory provides clear proof that an unknown number of events have occurred.”

Dilger writes, “Unfortunately for Ed Bott and the ‘Surface Must Be Successful, Damn the Reviews’ crowd, this isn’t isn’t the first time Microsoft has sold out of a product that subsequently did so poorly that the company abandoned the entire business. Remember the Zune HD? That was just over three years ago in 2009, back before Microsoft scrambled to port Windows 7 to the ARM architecture for the Surface RT. It was widely reported to have “sold out” from Amazon to Newegg to BestBuy. Two years later it was discontinued because in reality it never sold well.”

Read more in the full article – recommended – here.

MacDailyNews Take: GWAK.

With the release of the Windows 8 Surface Pro, Microsoft has reclaimed some of the good will it lost with the Surface RT. Unlike the earlier Surface product, the Pro features the full version of Windows 8, uses a powerful Intel Core i5 CPU, and can install and run just about any software app that a standard laptop or desktop PC can. But while it’s probably the single best example of a Windows tablet we’ve seen to date, it’s far from perfect. The modest battery life, high price, and lack of features all mean the Surface Pro is unlikely to be your main PC, or a serious challenge to popular tablets such as Apple’s iPad (although some will insist that’s an apples-to-oranges comparison). Having used the Surface Pro, I’m happy to say that it’s one of those products that come off even better in person than on paper.

Read the full story at CNET.

Microsoft_Store_Flanders_Surface

With its new Surface tablets fighting for market share with more well-established rivals, Microsoft is doing all it can to spur consumer interest in them. To that end, the company is expediting what has to date been a methodical/slow retail store rollout.

Back in December, Microsoft announced plans to open six new brick-and-mortar stores in the U.S. by summer. Today, the company added five new locations to that list. The chosen cities: Natick, Mass.; Portland, Ore.; Honolulu, Hawaii; Troy, Mich.; and Schaumburg, Ill. — assuming that Microsoft has its geography right, which isn’t always a sure thing.

Microsoft’s decision to ramp up its minimalist brick-and-mortar retail presence follows criticism that early sales of Surface were hamstrung by far too limited distribution. The company subsequently expanded Surface sales to Staples and Best Buy.

A wise move, of course. But big-box retailers like those aren’t going to showcase Surface and other Microsoft offerings the way an eponymous store will. By expediting its retail store rollout, Microsoft is not only increasing locations where consumers can have meaningful hands-on time with its products, it’s constructing a brick-and-mortar marketing juggernaut of the sort that has been quite effective for its rivals. The company said in 2011 that it would open 75 more retail stores in the next few years. These upcoming openings are another sign that the pace is quickening.

Surface

Unlike its competitors, Microsoft has largely stayed out of the hardware business. They have the Xbox and a line of input devices, but coming up with the Surface RT was a big step for them. And the Surface RT is a genuinely different computing experience, one that can be enjoyable in the right circumstances.

Those interested in a laptop replacement may find the Surface RT insufficient, which is why the Surface Pro is being released early next year. Even though the Pro is not yet available, there are some pretty clear areas where I feel the RT version isn’t quite ready for prime time.

Surface

The many keyboards of Surface

I had a lot of hope for the Surface’s keyboard. I’ve noticed that Windows Phone 8 has a fantastic software keyboard — it handles auto-correct well and has excellent logic when it comes to figuring out where your finger is trying to press. The same can not be said for Windows RT, unfortunately. The virtual keyboard has pretty good auto-correct, but the layouts for both docked and split modes leave much to be <a href="http://xphonegadget.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/waterproof-ipod-shuffle-green-4th-gen-2gb-by-underwater-audio-free-and-discounted-waterproof-headphone-promotion/&quot; title="Waterproof iPod Shuffle GREEN (4th Gen 2GB) by Underwater Audio – Free and Discounted Waterproof Headphone Promotion! <>” target=”_blank”>desired. The split keyboard, for example, makes the keys either too small or positions the keys away from the edge of the tablet. As a result, I am not nearly as capable a typist on the Surface’s virtual keyboard as I am on an iPad or Android tablet.

Fortunately, Microsoft released two different very clever keyboards for the Surface. There’s the Touch Cover, a buttonless touchpad with grooves and raised “keys” that allow you to type in much the same way you do on a virtual keyboard. It takes about a day of serious typing to get used to, but once you do adjust the keyboard a very good experience. Then the Type Cover is available for those of us who would prefer to hit press-able keys when typing. The Type keyboard feels about twice as thick as the Touch Cover, which adds a little to the bulk of the tablet when carrying it around, but the keyboard works well and will mean more words per minute for almost all users.

Neither of these keyboards use the same auto-correct as the virtual keyboard, so when you misspell something there’s no pop-up or suggestion to replace. You are left with that menacing red squiggle as though you were using a regular laptop. To make things all the more frustrating, the Touch Cover does offer a basic form of auto-correct where the OS assumes you meant to type a word and corrects it without even warning you. This seems to only happen if the keyboard detects your fingers on more than one key, and then it makes a judgement call for you. While this sounds really helpful, it’s somewhat maddening to see some words change right in front of you without warning or explanation while completely ignoring other words that you have clearly misspelled.

Surface

A barren wasteland of apps

When I first booted up the Surface RT I knew that the app selection wasn’t going to be stellar. I have been using Windows 8 on my desktop since the Developer Preview (in other words, over a year), and have watched as the slow trickle of apps seeped into the corners of the Windows Store. It makes perfect sense — neither iOS nor Android had a bustling ecosystem at launch, and there is a clear chicken-and-egg issue that must be dealt with. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a ton of developers interested in making quality RT apps and Microsoft isn’t making any public cries for help, like Google did in the early days.

This situation is made worse when you see paid apps for things like “meme generation”, basic services that are available on dozens of websites for free. This is not unique to the Windows Store, it also plagues iOS and Android, but when crapware like this show up in the recommended rotation you’ve got a problem. Because Microsoft can’t let the store appear stagnant by promoting the same 30 apps, occasionally you open the Windows Store and see offerings that are clearly not something anyone would recommend.

Surface

The perils of Desktop Mode

Desktop Mode is the place you go to when you want to be productive. It allows you to escape the Modern UI (formerly known as Metro) and go back to the real world with, you know, windowed apps. It works great on my desktop and the Windows 8 laptops I have tested. Sadly Desktop Mode isn’t touch friendly, which puts the Surface RT at a disadvantage.

While the Touch Cover and Type Cover do include trackpad areas, they are quite tiny and not particularly comfortable to use for more than a few minutes. For the most part this is fine because the Surface is a tablet. Because of the touchscreen you would ideally never need a mouse, unless maybe you were on a website that wasn’t formatted for touch. Explorer for Windows 8 includes a lot of functions that make touch use easier. For example, folders include select all functions and when you long press you can get to the right-click pretty quickly. Selecting multiple items out of a folder or trying to use any of the menu options in the top right of a given window are just a few of the things in Desktop Mode that aren’t particularly finger friendly.

Doing anything at all on the taskbar, aside from accessing pinned apps, is just a bad idea. The icons are way too small and you will miss more often than not. This isn’t such a big deal on Surface RT, since not a lot happens in the taskbar. For the Surface Pro, especially if you install a lot of apps that prefer the desktop for use, this is going to become a problem pretty quickly. Since the Surface Pro isn’t out yet, there’s not a lot to say about how Microsoft plans to handle that.

Commendable, but not recommendable

My time with Microsoft’s first attempt at their own tablet confirmed that a Surface Pro is something I am interested in. The Surface RT hardware is fantastic, combining everything I want out of a 10-inch tablet and everything I want out of a travel laptop. I feel like Windows RT struggles to compete with Chrome OS, and I hope that Microsoft is learning from some of the things that aren’t quire right with this first Surface and makes sure that the release of Surface Pro goes off without a hitch. Otherwise, I’m afraid that the first generation may be the only generation of Surface.

Read more: 5 cool Surface RT features

What an iPad and Microsoft Surface Parody Commercial Looks Like

Cheery piano music and then *drop* DUBSTEP BOW WAH KEKEKEKE CHIGGCHIGGCHIGG BADOOM chop your stupid hand off music. It’s kind of hilarious to see the two tablets (and its ad strategy) next to each other, no? Kind of like seeing a Mitt Romney and Barack Obama dual commercial or something.

The ad parody was made by Steven Hudson. [YouTube]

“Microsoft’s temporary, or “pop-up,” stores will open Oct. 26 and will sell the Surface tablet, according to the company’s website,” Gregg Keizer reports for Computerworld.

“And in all but a few cases, Microsoft will go toe-to-toe with Apple: 29 of the 32 stores are located in the same mall or shopping center that houses an Apple retail store,” Keizer reports. “The 32 stores in the U.S. and Canada were first announced last month. The temporary outlets will be open only during the holiday season, and are not permanent locations like the two-dozen brick-and-mortar Microsoft retail stores already in operation. Although Microsoft has not come out and put it plainly, it looks like the pop-ups will push the Surface tablet; each of the 32 stores’ detailed pages highlight the Windows RT-based device.”

Keizer reports, “The biggest unanswered question about the Surface RT tablet is its price; Microsoft has not yet revealed that, although CEO Steve Ballmer has hinted at numbers between $300 and $800… Ballmer also promised that Microsoft would unveil pricing before the Oct. 26 ship date, but would not say how long before. It could be as late as a day earlier, as Microsoft has set a New York City launch event for Oct. 25.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Temporary kiosks selling an untested tablet with no ecosystem from the company that brought the world the Kin – and then promptly discontinued it 48 days later.

Buy with confidence now, ya hear?!

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Frank Boecherer” for the heads up.]

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