28 May 2014

A foggy Surface over the lost boys of Redmond.

The new Surface 3 Tabtop (tablet + laptop) is being heralded as the best vision yet of the “post-post-PC world”. Whatever that means. No question, Microsoft makes hardware that, from a construction perspective, is at least on par with anything that Google or Apple has created recently. The problem for the lost boys in Redmond is that they still do not comprehend the cloud universe that so many of us are living in now.

The argument for the Surface is that it is two devices in one - your tablet and computer in a pretty package. And, hey, they are absolutely correct that the new generation of tech owners carry two devices today. A smartphone and a tablet. Yes, corporations and geeks like you and me probably roll with a personal computer because we are messing with Creative and Visual Studio in our free time. (We will ignore the fact that the original Windows 8 release gave our group a middle finger salute.) However, the new generation of silicon users have no need for an old fogey laptop.

Do not be fooled by new terminology. Two "post"’s cancel each other out leaving only the "PC world" behind. Your typical consumer reads email, shops on Amazon, hangs out on Facebook, creates the occasional word processing document and posts photos to Instagram. There are countless web tools for document creation and photo editing that allow anyone to bypass the graduate degree needed for Photoshop. People live happily on nothing but an iPhone and iPad, yet Microsoft is attempting to get them to come back to Windows when they do not need it.

I admit that I question the usefulness of a Surface 3 in a corporate environment, too. Most businesses have either arrived or are setting sail for a land where all of their information is available securely through a web browser. Whether it is Citrix or adopting Google Drive, the days of storing your work locally on a computer that requires heavy-handed software running locally are as modern as a Friends episode. Even if there is a special need for a “grab and go” tablet/laptop for your Visual Studio coders, they are still going to need an internet connection. Did Microsoft mention that their $900 to $2000 Surface 3 is wifi only? Microsoft has built the perfect replacement for a MacBook Air while ignoring that the core demographic does the bulk of their work in iOS, Android or Chrome device, often with a built-in cellular data plan to back up their home wifi.

Home PC’s are on the road to dinosaur status and even the tablet market is being replaced by large smart phones. The “future” of mobile technology can be found in devices like the Chromebook. For one third of the lowest price Surface 3 you can carry an HP Chromebook that is solidly constructed, runs lickety split, has access to just about any cloud application you need and includes a cellular connection with free data for the life of the device. It truly is a “grab and go” product that meets the needs of 90% of the market for a dirt cheap price.

Microsoft can continue to provide the Surface devices for niche markets, much like Apple happily builds OS X systems for graphic designers. If they want to compete for what people are buying "next" then Microsoft needs to toss out the Windows and build a true cloud device. How about an "Internet Explorer Book"? Build something that only runs IE, is designed as beautifully as a Surface, includes a cellular modem and sells for under $300. They will sell more of these cloud-only devices than all the Surface sales combined in less than a few months.

Most of the consumer world left Windows for cloud options two cellphone contracts ago. There is still plenty of room for Microsoft up here, though. I would hate for these beautiful cumulus formations to pass by before Microsoft even realizes what they were missing.