OEMs feel threatened by Surface? Only the lazy ones! (Too bad the pundits don't get it!)

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2013/10/14 07:01 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2013/10/14/10456199.aspx

Today's blog is dedicated to Charisma Carpenter who played Cordelia Chase on the TV show Angel, in the episode where she famously stated "What do you get when you look beneath the surface? More surface!" years before Microsoft released the Surface RT!

I never graduated from college.

Now I have no special reason to point this out, other than to make it clear that there may be people out there who may ultimately prove to be smarter than me.

In fact, some of the pundits and personalities who write about how Microsoft has angered its OEM partners with the Surface might be considered to be smarter than I am.

So why, if that's the case, are they widely unable to understand the purpose of Surface?

Surface RT and Surface Pro have a simple purpose in the marketplace.

They provide a simple example of how cool Windows 8 and 8.1 can be.

In the end, the only reason they are a threat to anyone at all is that so few OEMs out there have been able to produce high quality alternatives to what Microsoft was providing in its showcase hardware.

Every OEM that is out there unable to provide something at least as cool let alone not significantly cooler than what the Surface can do.

If you are such an OEM, you have only a few choices:

No matter what you do, you need to just shut the hell up about the "threat" of the Surface.

No one has forgotten that a skunk works project from Apple produced Boot Camp, a product many consider superior to most official OEM-produced versions of Windows.

It can hardly be considered a flaw in Microsoft that most of its OEMs lack creativity or originality.

I like to think of Surface as Microsoft reminding everyone that products running Windows are allowed to be cool!

"Why didn't we think of that?" should be what you say any time you see one of those commercials where a Surface embarrasses an iPad.

Why didn't you think of that?

I suppose you can blame Microsoft a little for letting OEM partners get away with such shoddy and unoriginal hardware in the first place. We should have encouraged more originality in our partners -- so everyone could look better! Maybe providing bonuses for original ideas? We were never good enough setting up OEM relationships in Windows as I think we have been with Windows Phone. We need to be better about encouraging them to delight customers, to benefit both Microsoft and the OEM partner, like we have with Windows Phone and Nokia, for example.

I have no idea how those relationships are being built up in this new world, and I could be mistaken but I doubt that our brave new strategy is only about embarrassing them into being cool...

Remember that all those "I'm a PC/I'm a Mac" commercials that slammed Microsoft were actually slamming the OEMs for producing unoriginal hardware configurations!

Surface is Microsoft's subtle turn playing Glinda the Good Witch, tellingreminding you that you had the power all the time....

Do you get it now?

If you scratch beneath the Surface, you see the place where some OEM can be awesome, or they can be ordinary and embarrassed? 😏😏

John Cowan on 14 Oct 2013 7:51 AM:

"Surface RT and Surface Pro have a simple purpose in the marketplace.  They provide a simple example of how cool Windows 8 and 8.1 can be."

I think that is *exactly* what the OEMs are concerned about: the threat of a product not intended to make money, pushed by a cash-rich corporation that can afford to undercut the competition on price, all the while exploiting to the hilt its makers' knowledge of the undocumented features of Windows 8.  It's not like it hasn't happened before, unfortunately.  "Some might think one kick of the breech enough for a gentleman."

Joshua on 14 Oct 2013 8:18 AM:

Pull the mandatory key signing from the ARM logo requirements and watch the environment change.

not important on 14 Oct 2013 9:15 AM:

Michael - I don't think you get it. OEMs have very thin profit margins, they don't have the money to gamble it all on a new platform. Did you pay attention when MSFT wrote off 900 million (nine hundred million) dollars worth of Surface inventory? If an OEM would have gambled their business on Surface they would be out of business. OEMs did not do that - and they are still in business.

Michael S. Kaplan on 14 Oct 2013 12:58 PM:

Surface was a wakeup call to all of them that their PC  their laptop, or their tablet can be as cool as aj iPad and maybe even cooler!

John Doe on 14 Oct 2013 4:48 PM:

The OEMs know what customers want, they know what will sell well. Microsoft obiously does not or does not care. In fact, when every PC was bundled with Windows, Microsoft simply had not to care if their products were good or not, since they were bought anyway. But with Ipads and Androids, the customers get a real choice to choose the solution with the best price-performance ratio. And about coolness: It's not cool not to listen to your customers but to behave in an arrogant matter like "We know better what you want": Taking away the start menu and forcing an unintuitive touch interface even on desktop PCs and servers is not cool. If Microsoft were cool, they would give its users a real choice whether to use Modern UI or classic desktop. The OEMs have well observed how they might end if they rely too much on Microsoft: Nokia quasi went extinct, they surely did not benefit that much from the close relationship with Microsoft. Omitting the RT from the new Surface RT tablets seems to be a cheap sleight of hand to bring inattentive buyers to buy a Surface RT by accident: Microsoft really must be desperate. And to blame the OEMs clearly shows that Microsoft obiously is not willing to put their own house in order first.

Michael S. Kaplan on 14 Oct 2013 5:23 PM:

And *now* that are tablets competing with iPads, they have to learn how to be just as interesting...

Simon Bucha on 14 Oct 2013 11:43 PM:

Just so it's not a complete one-sided slamming of Michael here: It's totally acceptable for OEMs to make high-volume low-margin products. But to *only* make low-margin products? For *years* after Apple's resurgence and massive profit margins based on marketing a premium product? When the whole goddamn *point* of PCs is that they are flexible? *That* is not cool. OEMs might not be able to afford writing off 900M, but they sure as hell can't afford Apple getting a majority share.

(Can't believe that comment timeout bug is *still* here after so many years)

not important on 15 Oct 2013 12:00 PM:

I am not vested in this discussion (I don't have a Surface) but I think MSFT is on another planet when it asks the OEMs to promote Surface:

1. Surface is not established in the marketplace. "OEMs, please take on the risk for promoting this product. What if you don't have that much money in the bank because of the shenanigans we played on you for 20 some years. Make it happen somehow! It's for your own benefit!"

2. MSFT will end up being one of the biggest competitors. "OEMs: it's for your own benefit that we, MSFT, will grow and be your biggest competitor. After all, this means that the market is getting bigger."

Bigger picture: MSFT forgot how to come from behind and take over the world. They have done it with MS/DOS, Windows, Office. But they don't know how to do it anymore.

Boris on 17 Oct 2013 7:29 AM:

Is it just me, or does anyone else think of "Microsoft Functional Testing" or similar upon seeing 'MSFT'? Wouldn't 'MS' be less stock-exchange-jargony? Or 'Microsoft'?

Klimax on 20 Oct 2013 8:45 AM:

OEMs have one thing Microsoft strangely doesn't: Global distribution

I reside in small country bordering Germany, yet we cannot get shipping from Ireland. (The only way I got ahold of Surface Pro was through eBay with extra 150USD...)

John Cowan on 22 Oct 2013 11:05 AM:

Boris:  On this blog, MS means "multiple sclerosis", so Microsoft has to be something else.  MSFT is widely understood.

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