The Surface Solution

Jim Dalrymple, commenting on the Microsoft Surface, notes that he sees the fundamental flaw of the Surface being that it does not actually solve any need or problem:

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.

At first read I was nodding along and right there with Dalrymple on this, but then I got to thinking about it just a bit more and I think Dalrymple is actually wrong on this one.

If we take iOS and Android devices, I think it is safe to lump them into the focused device category. They are purpose made to not doing everything, but to do many of the things one would want to do. The reward is ease of use and high portability with great battery life. The downside is that you likely will still need another device at times to accomplish all that cannot be accomplished on these diminutive devices.

Now take Mac and Windows — both are full blown desktop operating systems. Both can do just about everything one could want to do with a computer and do it exceedingly well. There’s not much (if anything) that iOS or Android can do that Windows or Mac OS X cannot do. However there are tons of things that only can be done on these larger OS devices — almost everything is faster on the larger OSes too. Of course the trade off with a full-blown OS is that the devices required to run them are not nearly as portable as iOS and Android — more importantly they are power hungry devices with relatively short battery life.

Of course certain devices turn these generalizations on their heads (the MacBook Airs for example), but overall a user chooses between highly portable and less capable, or highly capable and less portable.

This is where I think the Surface comes in. I think it is a device that fits between these two categories. Not quite as easy to use, portable, and battery efficient as the iOS and Android counterparts, but it is more capable (at least on paper). And unlike full-blown OSes it is not as bloated, more portable, and more energy efficient. It’s a hybrid of the two as Dalrymple noted. The Surface does nothing better than either category, but does (hopefully) all the good of each category. (That goes for both the Surface RT and the Surface Pro.)

So back to Dalrymple’s question of what the Surface solves, which I would answer with: it solves the same problem that car manufacturers solved (or tried to solve) with SUVs. Some people want both a car and a truck, but can’t afford both. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Surface solves the problem well, but it solves the perceived problem of needing a hybrid device. It’s essentially the same thing original tablets tried to solve, just in a different form factor this time around.

The problem is really a manufactured problem — because you can’t really have a truck that drives like a car. Just as you can’t have a full-blown OS that drives like a mobile OS. You can however create a new class of devices that are good enough at some of the things that the other two categories excel at and you will find a very willing and large user base.

Essentially the Surface is for the “soccer mom” of mobile devices — who the “soccer mom” of this category is has yet to be identified, but I’d wager there are millions of them out there.

The analogy isn’t a perfect fit, but the idea is. The Surface is trying to be the best of both Windows and Mobile/Touch Windows, yet as of right now it doesn’t do either very well, but it may also not have to do both well as long as it does both well enough. The idea of the Surface is a very good one, but the execution of the Surface is, so far, very poor.

That’s why the introduction of the Surface excited many iOS lovers, while the actual product has disappointed almost all that held hope for it.

Originally posted for members on: December 5, 2012
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