Microsoft new Surface line targets Apple’s weaknesses better than any previous effort. Windows disasters are over. We can now look back at Windows ME, Vista and Windows 8 as past experiences.
The only one I had issues with of the three was ME. It was a train wreck. Windows 95 was also a train wreck. Not so much because of the product, although it was good for its time. But because Microsoft didn’t fully understand how to manage the entire ecosystem (like security, drivers, hardware, etc.) and not just the OS.
Let’s discuss the Surface PC product that best demonstrates how Microsoft can compete against Apple.
We’ll end with the Surface Duo 2 as my product of choice, which has emerged as an alternative to the iPhone lead in smartphones. This lead is ending due to flexible and foldable screens and Apple’s stubbornness.
Steve Ballmer, then CEO of Microsoft, didn’t understand why the Zune failed and created the Surface line. He believed that a Windows iPad clone with Windows Stores next to Apple Stores was the best path.
If Microsoft had invested the same amount of marketing to launch Windows 95, this strategy may have been successful. Ballmer did not finance marketing and both the Stores as well as the Surface products failed to achieve their initial goal of displace Apple.
Ballmer was not the only one. This is a common mistake made by CEOs who lack the power and authority of a brand. A moving target is another issue. It takes time to create copy and the item you’re copying is likely to change. It is not always possible to be competitive with something that looks at first glance.
The Surface Book was Microsoft’s first product to try and take market share away from Apple’s iPad target. It was an engineering marvel but it had some Apple-focused elements.
The Surface Laptop Studio will replace the Surface Book. This is the closest product to Windows-optimized products so far. It targets the same creative audience as Apple, and that is why you should make a rival offering.
Create a Competing Product
As I mentioned above, it is a common error to copy another vendor’s product that you are trying to replace. Zune was designed to be a better iPod. Palm and BlackBerry tried to make a better iPhone. GM and Ford tried better Toyotas with Pinto and Vega. Even Apple failed with their first phone, ROKR E1.
Pepsi is able to compete with Coke but the marketing costs are huge and Pepsi generally loses market share. This is a way to build a company. 7UP created its own space, forcing Coke to copy Sprite.
Companies make the mistake of focusing on the product, and not the customer.
Toyota did not beat GM or Ford when it created GM/Ford knock-offs. Toyota beat Ford because it was better at building the product that customers wanted, and then marketing that benefit efficiently at scale. It wasn’t about being a better Ford or GM, but rather to create a better product for the customer and fund marketing to make this clear to potential buyers.
Tesla’s success strategy was very similar. It was not like Toyota. Instead, it copied no one and moved straight to a differentiated product. This drove interest through advocacy. The very low marketing budget of Tesla was offset by one of the largest advocacy efforts I have ever seen. The former is much more difficult. Tesla was the only electric vehicle company with scale, whereas other companies were not meeting the requirements for global warming mitigation or alternative fuels.
Finding a significant unmet demand and addressing it is the best competitive strategy. This is better than trying to create a copy. Ironically, at Microsoft and Palm, there were groups that wanted to make an iPhone-like product before Apple. However, they were stopped by top executives from both companies. These executives didn’t see the need.
It is interesting to see that Steve Jobs recognized the danger to the iPod and created the device first to avoid any competition. This strategy is known as “eating your children”, which is not my favorite term. It involves realizing that there is going to be a market shift and that you need to pivot to prevent your customers being taken over by a competitor.
Both the Surface Book and later the Surface Duo broke with the Apple target mold and tried to make alternatives that met unmet Apple users’ needs. Both had their initial teething issues. Surface Book’s tablet mode was slow and had poor battery life. The Duo was plagued by a bad camera, a slow processor and a host of software problems. They were both engineering marvels but also self-destructive.
The new Duo 2 fixes almost all the problems of the original Duo. It uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 for a superior camera solution.
Surface Laptop Studio is a flexible, no-compromise solution for creators that displays Windows 11:
- With Nvidia and Intel technology, it has the power to deliver the performance that creators need.
- The screen cantilevered makes it more suitable for entertainment on planes.
- It works well with Microsoft’s enhanced pen, which is great for creative people working on many projects.
- It has superior (Omnisonic-quality) speakers.
- The pen mimics the feel of paper (haptic tech). And
- It has an AI-powered neural camera that can improve your appearance on conference calls.
Over a decade of Windows development has been focused on creators. This is the first hardware product to truly embrace this user group, without trying to make an iPad clone. This product will better meet the needs of creators and highlight the Windows 11 features that target them.
Apple has many weaknesses. It is laser-focused on margins and its products are generally more expensive than comparable offerings of the same performance level. It isn’t open to new designs and its market-leading marketing efforts have been substantially defunded. As a result, it is currently unable to create another iPod, iPhone or iPad-like wave.
Apple’s focus is now on customers, not creators. Instead, they are focusing on product consistency and control. Apple’s image is also being damaged by leaks from employees and disclosures about how Epic Games treats software suppliers.
Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Studio is the best way to target this market. It offers a high-end alternative for the Apple iPad. This solution is more competitive than other iPad clones, and focuses on the user rather than creating an iPad replacement.
It remains to be seen if Microsoft will create the marketing campaign that will enable this offering reach its full potential. Although we don’t yet know the outcome, this is the best execution of hardware Microsoft has done.
Microsoft Surface Duo 2
The Surface Duo was my favorite smartphone for much of the past year, despite some initial issues.
Surface Duo’s first version felt like a product in which finance had too much control. It had poor camera performance, was slower than others in its class and didn’t support 5G. The software was also often frustrating to use. It was so primitive.
It was still a great tool for reading. I read a lot. In fact, I love to read and immerse myself in books whenever I have the chance. My Duo was often mentioned by people, and they didn’t notice my wife’s new iPhone. This suggests that there is a wider appeal.
Surface Duo 2 addresses all the shortcomings that plagued my original Duo.
It features the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 technology. There are four cameras, as well as optical image stabilization. AI image correction transforms the camera from being a liability into an asset. The software has been vastly improved.
Surface Duo 2 comes with side notifications, so you don’t need to open the app to see what’s happening. One of the screens can be turned into a gaming controller making it a superior gaming device than any other smartphone. It’s also available in Obsidian Black and Glacier White, if you like that color.
Microsoft Surface Duo 2Android-based, with a Microsoft overlay. It runs all Android apps, but will be more compatible with apps designed for the dual screen.
Revolutionary products such as the iPhone and Duo generally require three versions before they can scale to mass production.
My personal needs have been met by the Microsoft Surface Duo better than any other smartphone design. Microsoft has removed all the flaws I had with the original version. The Microsoft Surface Duo 2 is now my product of choice.