A tale of two ‘best pieces’

Since it’s generally been concluded that the Surface RT has to date been a massive flop, I noticed two pieces that two different watchers of Microsoft have called “the best” analysis of what went wrong.

Ed Bott called this piece by Tim Anderson “The best analysis I’ve seen so far of the Windows RT/Surface RT”.

“Windows RT and Surface RT: Why Microsoft should persevere”

Anderson identifies four problems with the Surface RT.

  • The price was too high.
  • While it solved some traditional problems with Windows, users couldn’t run legacy applications.
  • A dearth of applications.
  • Applications that existed were “poor to indifferent”.

That’s not a bad summation, but I feel his conclusion is off the mark.

Microsoft’s biggest mistake with Surface RT was not the concept, nor the quality of the device. Rather, they manufactured far too many thanks to unrealistic expectations of the size of the initial market. The sane approach would have been a limited release with the aim of improving and refining it.

Was that the problem? It seems to me that Microsoft was hoping to kick off a gold rush of Metro app development, like Apple did with the App Store. The only way to do that was to get a lot of units into people’s hands. And if you think the problem was they made too many, then wasn’t price point they chose perfect? Because, you know, they sold exactly as many as they did.

The only improvements Anderson suggests are:

Give it better performance with something like Nvidia, Tegra 4, Windows 8.1, and improved app support, and it is near-perfect.

That may be true assuming “improved app support” means more apps — and, most importantly, more Metro apps — but it’s easier said than done.

Despite a billion dollars thrown away on excess Surface RT inventory, it should follow through rather than abandon its strategy.

I wouldn’t say Microsoft should abandon the Surface RT, but its strategy for selling the Surface RT definitely needs to change.

Now here’s another piece which Ben Thompson calls “The best piece you’ll read on the Surface debacle”, and here I agree.

“Fixation on Margins: The Surface RT Debacle Edition”

Microsoft, in entering the devices market, could either go for market share or margin. They went for margin. According to IHS iSuppli, the gross margins for the Surface RT were (based on original pricing) higher than the Apple iPad. And they did that at exactly the same time that overall tablet prices were being driven down by the introduction of 7-8″ devices, often with a subsidized price.

Would you rather pay $500 for a device with Office but very few other apps and no keyboard (which you need for Office) or $200 for a Kindle Fire?

If Microsoft had actually been able to sell several million Surface RT’s at its original pricing then this would have looked like a brilliant move and Steve Ballmer would have been a candidate for CEO of the year. But it turns out the “go for margin” strategy completely failed.

Hindenberg-style! KA-BOOM!

Microsoft Office is indeed a compelling capability on a tablet.

I would argue it is for business but isn’t for consumers.

But, Microsoft missed on the tablet version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Near the base of pyramid that represents the hierarchy is “Run the applications I want”.

To me, the Surface RT should have been a consumer device. Businesses were always going to wait for the Surface Pro, anyway. Instead of using Office, a better hook might have been some decent touch-enabled games pre-installed.

Microsoft itself, in tweaking Office for touch and then including it in Windows RT, showed developers how they could avoid creating Metro apps in favor of tweaking their desktop Win32 apps.

And they didn’t send a great message when they backed away from their Windows 8 choices in Windows 8.1.

Again, I’m not at all arguing that Microsoft should abandon the Surface RT, but I think it needs some more serious rethinking than Anderson does and, seemingly, than Microsoft does.