Surface impressions: Microsoft just nibbles the Apple.

Microsoft tries to challenge the iPad, apple-to-Apple. But scratching the Surface, it is bruised at best, and may even be a lemon. We Beg to Differ.

Microsoft tries to challenge the iPad.  But scratching the Surface, viagra approved 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, price I’ve never touched the actual product, ask 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.

Tough day on the Jobs: Steve Sinofsky’s “somebody’s gonna get fired” face.

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 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.

But, my fellow brand-watchers, what do you think? Am I being too hard on this little West-coast start-up?

3 thoughts on “Surface impressions: Microsoft just nibbles the Apple.”

  1. There’s a reason why I didn’t buy an iPad and I DID get a new Dell laptop. It’s because having owned a lot of macs and having owned a lot of PCs, often both, I am of the following opinion: 
    1-Touchscreen technology is highly over-rated; I don’t much like it on my big screen desktop, my telephone, or my camera. I find it a pain in the butt. It hurts my wrists, too.
    2-If I want to actually get something done, like edit photos, write a column, design a book, take care of my finances, I do NOT want any kind of a tablet … I want a desktop and a mouse.
    3-I have a big investment in PC based software.
    4-I want a keyboard on which I can type with 10 fingers. A virtual “tablet” keyboard doesn’t do it for me. If you start adding a keyboard, why not buy a real computer in the first place?
    5-If I want to get some work done, I want a computer and if I want a computer, pretty much any PC gives you a lot more bang for your buck than a Mac. Since bucks are limited in my world, I’ll cope with more setup time and get the power and versatility for half the price buying a high end PC and no kind of Mac at all.
    I didn’t buy an IPad because it has very limited value to me. I am unlikely to buy a Microsoft version of the same concept I rejected already. I sure hope Microsoft doesn’t plan to force this stupid OS on us because I think it’s going to backfire bigtime. 
    The core users of PCs use them for a reason … If I wanted an  iPad, I’d have bought one. 

    1.  @MarilynArmstrong I completely agree with you. I’m far from an Apple fan-boy, and I’m typing this on a Dell laptop as we speak, so I came down on the same side of almost all of your decision points above. I’m also very interested in the Surface as a product that might span the PC / Pad divide – although I’ll wait a couple of generations before I make my final call on that one.
      But this post was about the launch and branding of the product. So yes, the consumer decision will be based on a lot of factors that extend beyond the branding – and being Microsoft, they don’t need to do a lot of the work a newer brand would have to to get the attention of potential buyers. But Microsoft tried too hard to follow the Apple template on this one, rather than finding their own path, and in that I think they did all of us a disservice.

      1.  @DenVan Yup. Mind you I’m not an “apple hater” or even close, but Microsoft isn’t the Anti-Christ either. I don’t see what the point int MS trying to emulate Apple. I believe … fervently … in CHOICE! I don’t need another apple. We got one. I wouldn’t mind a better PC OS, but I’m okay with Win 7 these days.

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