Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Surface detail

As a Mac fan, you might be unsurprised to know that your humble Devil is pretty underwhelmed by Microsoft's new Surface tablet.* Although, to be fair, the video is not as cringe-inducingly embarrassing as Microsoft's usual promos.

It does underscore one important thing, of course—that Microsoft has understood that having control of both hardware and software makes it easier to create a great user experience. Further, Microsoft are trying to lock down some of the software elements too—restricting the choice of web browsers on the ARM version of Metro.

Anyway...

Many media outlets are hailing the Surface as Microsoft's competitor to the iPad. Whilst I think some serious competition to Apple's iPad is a good thing, I share Justin Watt's opinion that Microsoft is not, in fact, competing directly with the iPad as such.

Whilst I know from personal experience that people in businesses are loving their iPads and iPhones, as Justin points out, the "enterprise" IT-integrated iPad experience is very locked down—for reasons of "security", of course.

Basically, most IT departments that I have encountered are highly conservative at best: at worst, they can be lazy, hide-bound and arrogant. Personally, I think that many IT departments are signing their own death warrants**, but they will be around for a good long time yet.
Enterprise employees can be inspiring, but that depends on said enterprise that they work for. A place that fosters creativity, thinking outside the box, and new ideas leads to happy workers who are open to change if it means making their day to day routine more enjoyable. Let’s just say that having 30,000+ workers doesn’t make for an accomodating work environment for new ideas and embracing change. Integrating iOS and thinking of mobile development in parallel with desktop software development for this many users isn’t an easy or quick task and for that reason the Surface may succeed very well in the enterprise. It’s more of the same. Buried underneath that beautiful Metro interface is Windows. Pure Windows able to run that software developed in 1992, not needing Citrix remote desktop apps, and not needing 100’s of new apps bought to open Office documents that don’t format or display properly on iOS.

Goliath Wants Your Market

In enterprise, Apple is David. The Goliath in enterprise that is Microsoft wants Apple’s market in mobile enterprise. Apple hasn’t entrenched itself nearly deep enough in enterprise. Microsoft has the ability to successfully corner the mobile enterprise market just as it has with the desktop enterprise market. Goliath is bringing the Surface to the table and inside of the enterprise market, it has a fighting chance of succeeding.
I agree with this: the Surface will be largely adopted in enterprise environments.
Outside of enterprise, I think it’s a different story. I think the Surface will fail miserably, but that’s another post I intend on publishing later this week.
I'll look forward to that.

* For a start, there is no firm availability date, nor any indication of pricing.

** In the businesses that I work with, I am finding more and more CEOs and executives are becoming more tech-savvy. And, in all too many organisations, the IT departments are fighting the management.

The result: more and more outsourcing of entire IT functions. This is especially happening amongst many of the smaller, nimbler organisations but larger ones are also started to adopt this trend.

And, of course, if your IT supplier says that they won't support the CEO's shiny new iPad, then it is far easier to change them supplier than it is to fire your IT department.

Especially when more and more of your productive work environments are outsourced to web suppliers or Cloud applications.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Microsoft has understood that having control of both hardware and software makes it easier to create a great user experience.

I don't think anybody could genuinely suggest that Apply provides a great user experience - the reality is a poor experience coupled with a heavy style-over-substance marketing effort.

What Microsoft is attempting is to replicate the thing which underlies that poor user experience - restriction, lock down and control in order to limit competition at all stages of product use.

Anonymous said...

Jeez - you are so predictable. They could cure cancer and you would carp.

Devil's Kitchen said...

"I don't think anybody could genuinely suggest that Apply provides a great user experience - the reality is a poor experience coupled with a heavy style-over-substance marketing effort."

Yay! A troll!

DK

Devil's Kitchen said...

Anon,

"They could cure cancer and you would carp."

Let me know when they cure cancer—rather than producing crappy operating systems and failed music players—and I'll praise 'em to the skies.

But, looking at Microsoft's record over the last ten years or so, they could produce a cure for cancer and still make it a market failure.

DK

Anonymous said...

Yay! A troll!

I suppose when you have the mindset of a football fan, rather than critically assessing hardware and software, that it that kind of response we should expect.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Anon,

It was the only appropriate response to your comment.

Perhaps you'd like to explain why you feel that the Apple experience is bad?

DK

Anonymous said...

It was the only appropriate response to your comment.

Not really. You seem to have been become able to ask a direct question, which would have been no less appropriate then.

Perhaps you'd like to explain why you feel that the Apple experience is bad?

Because it is designed to be that way, as I highlighted, particularly with iPod & iPad devices, but increasingly with more traditional computing devices. The frustrations I've heard from users as a result include - an inability to change the battery, an inability to swap memory, an inability to manipulate files on the device, an inability to install applications which do not please the manufacturer, limited Bluetooth useability and a requirement to connect the device to an Apple or Microsoft computer at first use and after each crash. I believe the latter may have changed in recent devices, but it is still indicative of the overall approach.

There is also the lack of Flash support. From a personal perspective, I'd be glad to see the back of Flash on the web, but from a usability perspective, it's another complaint I've heard frequently.

Now, don't get me wrong, as a marketing effort, Apple is obviously incredibly successful. In terms of creating a brand and selling fashion accessories, they are probably without equal, but that is a very different proposition to producing user friendly computing products.

Anonymous said...

When you say "CEO's are becoming more tech savvy", do you mean they know how to set up their home router and synch their phone with itunes? This is why IT Depts are fighting with management, because they take the little knowledge they have and think they can apply it to an enterprise corporate network. "Why can't we all have unlimited mailboxes like Gmail!?!?"

You may well be able to find an outsourcing company to look after the bosses ego pad, they'll promise everything and not say no to any of your requests, and they'll also be dilligent in how they bill you for the amount of time they spend on site cleaning up the mess they leave behind, like crippled Exchange Email servers in the case of the iphone. And all this should be tolerated for what exactly?

So execs can watch Sky Player and play angry birds? You may well be seeing people loving their ipads and iphones, who wouldn't like free gadgets supplied by their company that allow them to piss around wasting time

Thankfully, plenty of companies are also run by professional executives that don't indulge the egos of their management and instead understand the role of mobile and handheld devices, and the what they can and can't bring to an organization, and how they should be controlled to protect the companies data

You sound like the very worst kind of user to be honest, crying like a baby that you can't use your ipad because the mean, nasty IT Department are more interested in the security and integrity of the companies data, whilst being unable to provide any valid reasons why compromises should be made other than to let you show off your latest gadget

If Microsoft create a tablet that people want and works in a corporate environment, the iPad will be dropping off a lot of IT Depts lists of hardware they are willing to buy quicker than you can plug a USB device into it

Simon Jester said...

Here's a post by Joel Spolsky, musing (in part) on the differences in usability between Microsoft and Apple:

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/design/1stdraft/03.html

Sacerdoteuk said...

It's horses for courses. I have MND and can't use a keyboard, so the Metro interface on an appropriately powerful tablet will be great for me. Why? Because all the software and hardware for disabled people runs on Windows, a tablet fits better on a wheelchair than a laptop, and Metro looks ideal for eyegaze control.

I don't imagine that this will materially affect sales, but it's nice to have a commercial device that's useful for us crips.

Anonymous said...

"It does underscore one important thing, of course—that Microsoft has understood that having control of both hardware and software makes it easier to create a great user experience."

I suppose the rest is from your experience in the sector, so I can't dispute this. But as someone who's running Windows 7 on a custom-built PC, I must say that I would rather stab myself with a pitchfork than do my personal computing with an Apple product. Limiting people's capacity to tailor and manually upgrade their computing experience in favour of just a string of updates and mandatory biannual reinvestments in the same product isn't what I call an enhanced user experience; but perhaps I'm not a Starbucks drinking creative type who won't understand the "experience" (why does that word crop up so much when Apple is on the agenda?) of it all.

Then again, you may be discussing the tablet and smartphone market. And as a person who hates both with a passion that borders on the irrational, it may be I who is missing out on the joys of... erm... things.