Microsoft tries to challenge the iPad. But scratching the Surface, Microsoft wants you to compare them apple-to-Apple. We Beg to Differ.
I finally had a chance to see the video of the much-hyped “secret” launch event for Microsoft and look into the branding and positioning of even more hyped new tablet. Now, I’ve never touched the actual product, but just skating on the surface here, a few impressions.
Reinventing the reinvention
The format of Microsoft’s presentation seemed oddly familiar to me, like deja vu, or a vaguely remembered movie. And here’s why. Read Write Web did a beat-by-beat comparison (embedded below) of the Surface launch with the epic launch of the iPad by Steve Jobs.
And you’ll never guess who comes off looking like an innovator and who comes off like a copycat:
Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.
In the clip above, you see a brief moment where Microsoft Executive Steven Sinofsky goes pale, tightens his lips, and sprints for the podium to grab a back-up tablet after the machine he’s holding completely freezes. Here’s a blow-by-blow of that excruciating moment from UK’s Daily Mail.
Now, as someone who’s done presentations for major consumer product launches (remember CorelDRAW 8?), and had to skate through crashes in the middle of your prepared schpiel, I have great sympathy for what this guy is going through. Particularly since my screw-ups weren’t documented on YouTube for later dissection.
But this ain’t Palookaville. This is Microsoft (remember Windows 98?). So when the stakes are this high, you have to wonder how unstable the machine is to crash at that moment.
The name and brand strategy
I’m having a lot of trouble wrapping my head around the name. Maybe because it’s a two-dimensional metaphor – and most of the product shots are three-dimensional, and because Microsoft can’t seem to make up its mind whether this is a tablet (just a “surface”) or a new kind of lightweight quasi-laptop.
This confusion seems to be baffling even the most enthusiastic reviewers:
Microsoft is clearly straddling the uncomfortable divide between the old world of mice and keyboards, where it dominates, and a future ruled by touch screens, where Apple and Android devices prevail….
Surface splits the difference between a standard tablet and super-light laptops such as Apple’s MacBook Air or ultrabooks that run Windows.
So what is this thing? I’m sure a new category descriptor like “power tabs” or “laptabs” will emerge. But Microsoft could have helped us – and themselves – by figuring that out ahead of time.
Microsoft’s brand mangers also can’t seem to make up their mind whether it is a “Microsoft Surface” – like “Microsoft Word” or “Microsoft Comfort Mouse” – or whether “Surface” is a standalone brand with “Microsoft” as a lower visibility endorsement- like X Box. If it’s the latter, the Surface name is too weak to be memorable, and not distinctive enough to create a solid new product category to stand against iPad.
The wordmark is pure Apple minimalism as well, and the design of the Surface’s paper-thin launch site could easily be straight off Apple.com. Except that Apple actually tells you something substantial about their product.
And that’s the real problem with the Surface (and the substance of this product). Microsoft should have spent less time playing the Apple game (which they will never win), and more time playing the Differ game.