Surface: Who’s It For?

July 21, 2012

I’ve just been looking at some NPD stats. I probably shouldn’t quote them in detail, as NPD does like to sell these reports. But I don’t think I’m giving too much away when I mention that the percentage of tablet owners currently using wireless or docked keyboards is  just over 10%. In other words, with Surface, Microsoft is gunning for not more than one-tenth of the tablet audience.

Of course, you could argue that the people who really want keyboards are all holding out for something better than the current iOS/Android devices. In marketing terms, that kind of argument is called “wishful thinking.” It’s not necessarily false, but it’s unhelpful at best, and dangerous at worst. (My own theory is s equally likely: that most people like tablets exactly because they lack a keyboard.)

My prediction is that Surface Pro will do modestly well, but that sales will be almost entirely cannibalized off the existing Windows laptop and Ultrabook business. (Surface RT will, of course, fail miserably, given that it doesn’t run Windows applications, has a zero base of it’s own Metro apps, and offers no particular advantage over existing Android or iOS devices.)

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Elections

July 16, 2012

It’s hard to ignore the insane election race underway in the US, awash in ‘dark money’ and over-the-top rhetoric. I can’t say how I’d vote, if it was my choice. But I do have this bit of general advice for all elections:

As long as you vote for the lesser of two evils, you will always have an evil government.

Also: I know there are billions being spent on advertising and propaganda. But you don’t actually have to listen. You could use your own eyes and ears and brain. You could look around, investigate, educate yourself. You could think for yourself. Propaganda only works if you’re too lazy to seek other sources of information.


The Dual Irony of Windows 8

July 16, 2012

I’ve been writing about the upcoming Microsoft Surface, and studying the keynote presentation describing it. It has struck me that with Windows 8, Microsoft has managed to screw up not once but twice, in a single release:

  • Windows 8 RT looks like a pretty good tablet solution. But, apart from the highly misleading name, it offers absolutely no continuity whatsoever with the 30-year-old Windows ecosystem.
  • Meanwhile, Windows 8 Pro breaks violently with that same 30-year tradition. Yet it fails to deliver a touch-based solution for existing Windows applications, with not even a token effort at making the desktop mode more finger-friendly.

This really is the worst of both worlds. Microsoft has belatedly launched a brand-new mobile OS, that’s going to have to catch up in stability and app support with two huge contenders, iOS and Android. (Even the BlackBerry OS has more of a track record at this point.) Yet it’s squandered its one undeniable advantage, by not playing off of the huge success of Windows on the PC. As Microsoft has pointed out, the potential audience for a truly Windows-like mobile OS was on the order of a half-billion users. The audience for brand-new MetrOS, dramatically less Windows-like than any of its competitors? Who knows.

At the same time, Microsoft has launched a new desktop OS without adding much-needed touch support. Windows 8 slaps on the goofy new Metro mode like a coat of paint… but, astoundingly, offers no improvement whatsoever in touch facilities for existing applications. Simply enlarging the red X ‘close window’ button might have been a start; how hard would that have been??? Microsoft has done so pathetically little to make the desktop more usable by touch that you simply can’t help thinking the company plans to kill it entirely. Thereby discarding its own most important asset: the continuity of applications, skills and user acceptance that Windows has built up over three decades. Microsoft has ensured that Windows users looking for a touch-based solution will find more continuity by switching to a competing OS.

Nice work. It’s not all that rare to see a big company shoot itself in the foot. But both feet with one pull of the trigger? That takes real genius.