I went to the Microsoft store in Times Square yesterday to see for myself the new Surface tablet with the spiffy keyboard, since nobody I know actually has one yet.
I had an open mind [“Open” in the sense that he assumed the Surface would be unnecessarily complicated given Microsoft’s Achilles’ Heel, which is the need to promote Windows in everything it does—ed.], and was hoping that it would give me something unusual to say: i.e. that Microsoft had finally figured out what consumers actually want. [Fat chance!—ed.]
And first impressions about the store itself weren’t bad: while small relative to the Apple mega-store on 57th Street, the Microsoft store has most of the same touches, i.e. glass windows and long counters with tethered products to play, and plenty of blue-shirted Microsoft people to help.
Unfortunately, they do not have many customers to help—for despite long lines at the TKTS discount booth just a couple of blocks away, and the usual pre-holiday masses streaming by on the sidewalk right outside, there were no more than two dozen potential customers in the Microsoft store itself, and none were lingering at the tables playing with the merchandize with wide eyes and no sense of the time, the way they do at Apple stores.
And playing with a Surface tablet, I found out why: the Surface feels a bit chunky, i.e. not as smooth as an iPad, and it has more of a toy plastic play-thing feel than a smooth, business-ready metal-thing feel. [He’s not much for technical jargon, is he?—ed.]
But it’s not the feel that’s the problem: it’s the way it works.
And the way it works is non-intuitive. Unlike your first time with an iPad or a Galaxy, it’s hard, in a short period of time, to figure out how to find what you might want to play; how to get out of programs once you’ve gotten into them (weirdly, things somehow feel more like programs than apps on the Surface); how go back to where you began; and how to look for new stuff.
Certainly, you can run spreadsheets on it, and yes you can use Word, but the cool new keyboard, being flat, is not easy to type with. Anyway, not many people were bothering to even try the keyboard, once they messed around with the screen.
I like to poke fun at Microsoft’s new product approach by claiming they make so many versions of things there’s even a “Model Train Enthusiasts’ Edition.” And while there was no “Model Train Enthusiasts’ Edition” of the Surface [That he could see—ed.], it does seem like, once again, Microsoft has been undone by its corporate culture of striving to make everything for everybody, in one package, that promotes Windows.
Apple’s Tim Cook has been saying for some time he didn’t see the need to blend two form factors—notebooks and tablets—because you’d end up with a compromised muddle. Converging “a toaster and a refrigerator,” is how he put it.
He’s right. But that’s not just my opinion. I saw not one person actually purchase anything, or look like they were getting ready to purchase something, or just be really engaged in a product, in the brief time I was there.
Author “Secrets in Plain Sight: Business and Investing Secrets of Warren Buffett”
(eBooks on Investing, 2012) Available now at Amazon.com
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