Three symptoms of the problem with Surface RT

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Ballmer is reported to have said recently that Microsoft built more Surface RTs than it can sell. I think there are three symptoms of the product that hint at some of the reasons why it didn’t do as well as expected.

Surface RT

It’s called Surface RT

Seriously, you are betting the future of your company on this but you still don’t have the discipline and focus to do one thing right? Pro, RT, what??? This is symptom of a deeper problem at Microsoft where paralyzed by deciding what to focus on, they bet on doing more than is needed. It’s ok to experiment and cast a wide net, but not at the expense of diluting efforts.

Surface with Kickstand
The best Kickstand in the world

How many tablet users complain that the biggest annoyance they have with tablets is the lack of an inbuilt stand. Yes, stand-like accessories are sold a lot, but it only kicks in for specific use cases that aren’t core to what a tablet needs to be. This is a great example where Microsoft uses the best minds to create the slickest, most awesome kickstand in the world, but was it a problem worth solving? Why take on more complexity, moving parts, and make your hardware opinionated for an unvalidated problem? It kinda breaks, you know, and then users have to shell out $300 to get it replaced! Wouldn’t Microsoft be better served by focusing hardware innovation on battery life and weight – which is a more significant differentiator? This is another symptom of Microsoft not being good at understanding and solving for top user frustrations. This also shows that Microsoft thinks of tablets as work and productivity devices while Apples design approach is for the tablet to be very universal with no right orientation and infinite possibilities – be unfettered to laptop use cases.

iPad and Surface RT side by side
It was priced the same as the iPad

What an unfortunate assumption to think that people can’t do math. A brand new, sub-par, v1 hardware software combo with no apps being priced the same as an iPad??? An iPad with 16bg of usable space and retina display at that time was priced at $499. The Surface RT with 16gb of usable space was also priced at $499. With the much touted keyboard costing an additional $129. The reason the iPad 1 flew off shelves is that when they announced it everyone thought it would be $700+. $499 was such a sweet price for what at that time was the only thing like it. Apple’s most wicked move here was pricing it at $499. Had Surface RT launched with $349 as the start price, we would be having a very different conversation now.

I think Windows 8 is  a great leap forward. I think the quality of visual design is awesome. I still think that the interaction design of Windows 8 is subpar which complicates the experience more than it needs to, but I like the possibilities it brings. No organization is too big to take a lean approach to innovation, though, and a lot of the issues here would’ve been mitigated if the development was more iterative and incorporated more external feedback loop. I want healthy competition in the marketplace and would like Surface to take their rightful place – but it’s going to be a lot of hard work to do less and get it right.

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