Microsoft launched its new Surface line last week, and it better targets Apple's weaknesses than any previous effort.
I have been covering Windows releases since 1994 when I first started as an analyst. Every release has some that get excited and others that are overly concerned.
The days of Windows disasters are behind us and we can look at Windows ME,Vista, and Windows 8 as experiences that will remain in the past.
The only version I had personal issues with was ME, and it was a train wreck. Windows 95 was a train wreck because Microsoft hadn't yet fully understood it needed to manage the entire ecosystem, not just the OS.
The new Surface PC product shows how Microsoft can compete with Apple.
The Surface Duo 2 is my product of the week because it has become a viable alternative to the iPhone lead in smartphones, thanks to foldable and flexible screens, and because Apple is stubbornness.
The birth of the surface.
Steve Ballmer thought the right path was a Windows iPad clone and Windows Stores located next to Apple Stores, so he created the Surface line.
Had Microsoft invested in the same level of marketing that Windows 95 did, this strategy might have worked. Ballmer failed in his goal to replace Apple with the Stores and Surface products.
Ballmer was not the only one. This mistake is a problem with CEOs who don't have a brand. It takes time to create a copy of a moving target, and during that time, the item you are copying advances. Something that initially looks competitive isn't released by the time it's released
The Surface Book was Microsoft's first attempt to take market share from the iPad. It was an engineering marvel, but also represented an ugly tradeoff and still had Apple-focused elements.
The Surface Book is being replaced. It is the closest to a genuinely Windows-optimized product so far, with little connection to Apple other than targeting the same creative audience, which is how you should create a competing offering.
A competing product is being created.
A common mistake is to clone another vendor's product.
GM and Ford tried to create better Toyotas and even Apple messed up with their first phone, the ROKR E1, which was created to be a better iPod.
The marketing expense is massive andPepsi lags in market share. 7UP carved out its own space and forced Coke to copy it.
The mistake companies make is to focus on the product.
Toyota beat Ford when it did a better job of building what the customer wanted and then marketing that benefit effectively at scale than Ford did. The successful strategy was to deliver a better product from the customer's perspective and then funding marketing so that prospective buyers understood this advantage.
Rather than creating a clone, the best path is to find an unmet need and address it. It is ironic that at both Microsoft and Palm, groups wanted to create an Apple-like offering before Apple, but were overruled by the top executives in both companies. The execs did not see the need.
Steve Jobs saw the risk to the iPod that a phone would represent and created it first to prevent competitive displacement. This tactic is referred to as "eating your children", where you realize that a market change is coming and you should pivot first to avoid a competitor taking your customers.
The Surface Book is used in the Surface Laptop studio.
The Surface Book and the later Surface Duo tried to create alternatives that addressed unmet needs in the Apple user base. Both had teething problems. The Surface Book had poor battery life and limited performance, while the Duo had a poor camera, a downlevel processor and several software issues. Both were engineering wonders, but also self-destructive.
The new Duo 2 is a far better alternative to the initial Duo because it addresses virtually all of the issues, has a black color option, and is powered by the top-of-the-line Snapdragon 800.
The Surface Laptop Studio created a solution that is closer to a no-compromise flexible solution for creators that showcases Windows 11.
A laptop studio.
This is the first hardware product that genuinely embraces that user group without first trying to create an iPad clone, which is what the Windows development effort has focused on for over a decade. This product should better address the needs of those creators and highlight the features in Windows 11 which target that audience.
The thing is wrapping up.
Apple has weaknesses.
The company has a laser-like focus on margins, which makes its products more expensive than competing offerings at any given level. Its once market-leading marketing effort has been defunded because it doesn't experiment with new designs. It can't create another iPod, iPhone, or iPad wave.
Apple is no longer focused on creators, but on product consistency and cost control, so these customers are more vulnerable. Apple's image is being hurt by employee leaks and disclosures surrounding how they are treating software suppliers.
Microsoft's Surface Laptop Studio best targets this opportunity with a proper high-end alternative to the ugly blend of an iPad and Apple PC It shows a better response to the market because it focuses on creating a solution better-targeted at the likely user rather than trying to be better than an iPad clone.
The only question is whether Microsoft will build a marketing campaign that will allow this offering to meet its true potential. This is the best hardware that Microsoft has made so far.
Microsoft Surface Duo 2.
The Surface Duo was my favorite phone for a long time.
The first version of the Surface Duo felt like a product where finance had too much say. The camera was horrible, the performance was terrible, it didn't support 5G, and the software was difficult to use. It was very raw.
I am not a fan of white products and that was the only color you could get.
I loved using it for reading. I want to lose myself in a book whenever there is downtime, because I read a lot. People commented on my Duo and didn't notice my wife's new phone, suggesting there was a broader potential appeal.Surface Duo 2
The Surface Duo 2 addresses every shortcoming of the original Duo.
The software is vastly improved and there are four cameras, a leading technology, and Artificial Intelligence which takes the camera from a liability to an asset.
You don't have to open the Surface Duo 2 to see what's happening.
You can turn one of the screens into a gaming controller, making it a better handheld product than virtually any other phone.
It comes in both Glacier White and obsidian black.
The Duo and the iPhone take three versions before they are truly scaled to volume.
Even though the second version of both the iPod and the iPhone were vastly improved, it took three versions to take off.
The Microsoft Surface Duo has addressed my personal needs better than any other design. Microsoft eliminated all of the problems I had with the first version. The Microsoft Surface Duo 2 is my product of the week.