What happened to the first generation of Surface?

  1. What happened to the first generation of Surface?
  2. When pundits are not.
  3. Why Windows RT?
  4. How many “apps” do you need?
  5. My Surface 2
  6. Is the Microsoft Surface 2 right for you?
  7. Tips
  8. Addendum (January 2014)

Published November 27, 2013.

Just so we’re perfectly clear, this is an editorial review about the Microsoft Surface, where the editorial part contains my observations and opinions about the Surface’s history in general, and the review is for the Surface 2.

Microsoft Surface 2
Microsoft Surface 2

What happened to the first generation of Microsoft Surface?

Nearly every “expert” review about the second generation of Surface these days introduces the device line first with commentary about Microsoft’s $900-million write-down of Surface RT. I’m constantly amazed by how all of these people won’t acknowledge how they had a significant role in the Surface RT’s poor sales, though Microsoft was hardly an innocent victim either, as I’ll explain.

It’s called human psychology, the same thing that drives the stock market, which is a wee bit terrifying when you really think about it. The concept I will review with you today is “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

First, Microsoft’s screw-ups.

Now, do remember that while Microsoft has produced other hardware like accessories and gaming consoles, the Surface line is the first complete computing product they have endeavored to create. All the design and engineering from hardware to software is Microsoft, no preexisting experience. So I can forgive them a little for various first generation hiccups, but that doesn’t absolve the company from shooting its own foot in other ways.

Original Surface RT commercial
Original Surface RT commercial

Microsoft’s very first misstep was audience targeting in the first generation Surface RT marketing, and this misstep helped paint the landscape when it came to first impressions. I was, fortunately, spared from the ridiculously useless dance advertisements, but if you actually saw them, you would be hard-pressed to discover what the commercials were selling: Dancing? Being cool? Pissing off your boss? Clicky keyboards? Check them out on Youtube; they were quite entertaining in all the wrong ways. I’m fairly certain that Marketing 101 involves picking your target audience and attempting to show the value of your product, but Microsoft clearly dropped the ball in the 2012 marketing campaign. Because Microsoft wanted to market the things to the broadest possible audience, they ended up with highly diluted and “desperately cool” ads that said nothing about the Surface device itself.

So Microsoft made two lethal mistakes right off the bat: wrong target audience for niche product, bad advertisements with no information.

Microsoft’s second misstep was, unfortunately, quality and performance issues, and most of that was in the software side of things. Microsoft Office RT, though a powerhouse in its final form, is preinstalled as the “preview” version on the first generation Surface RT. This “preview” version is like a beta product, and to make matters worse, the free update to make Office RT complete is an optional update not available from the Metro interface. Cue consumer confusion and disappointment with beta software performance. On top of this, coupled with the haphazard targeting of the Surface RT to businesses, Microsoft made the mysterious decision to include the Home and Student version of Office (though licensing was clarified later in that corporate Office 2013 umbrella licensees could use Surface) without Outlook, the bread and butter communication software for most businesses. On top of that, the included first generation Mail app was quite lacking according to user comments (I only used Gmail in the web browser). The lack of Outlook was addressed in the release of 8.1 for RT devices.

Microsoft also made the mistake of locking down the Internet Explorer 10 browser when a “full web browser (with some limitations)” is one of the biggest selling points of Windows RT tablets. They did this by installing a Flash white list; many users found their preferred websites didn’t work, and editing the white list was not straightforward. In March of 2013, Microsoft then changed the white list to a black list, which rectified compatibility issues for the vast majority of users, but the damage was done. A non-technical user who knew nothing about IE compatibility mode or how to edit the whitelist could only experience “this website doesn’t work,” and thus blamed the entire device. Not cool, Microsoft.

Early adopters who decided to tough it out through all the patching ended up with a very functional device for their needs, but that doesn’t help with the decision-making at point of purchase, especially for non-techies who simply can’t filter good information from dross. However, wouldn’t you expect tech pundits, who supposedly spend most of their time online and physically surrounded by a museum of gadgetry, to be able to cut through the fog? That’s exactly what most consumers waited for, as Microsoft’s own efforts were not helping in the least.

NEXT – When pundits are not.

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