Why Did The Surface Never Take Off?
I write this post on my trusted, beloved Microsoft Surface Pro 7, for me it is the near-perfect device. I have it coupled with not the default keyboard cover but rather the Logitech MX Keys that is just sublime to type on and this setup has earned me thousands, given me hours of enjoyment.
I can also prop it up by my main monitor and use it as a companion device or to scroll while stuck in non-important meetings — it’s just a joy to use.
It also runs Windows which to me is so much faster than trying to use Mac devices that appeal to a different kind of user than I am — it basically combines the functionality of a tablet with that of a laptop.
Drawing works fine, the pen is great, it even recharges via USB-C (if you have a compatible power bank) — I can not find a fault with it.
And then, just as a last killer feature you get that cool built-in stand that makes it easy, quick to use anywhere.
So why, then you may ask, why has the Surface line never really taken off? And is that even true as a statement, because it’s clearly a device you can buy, that many own and depending on how your company is set up it might be the smarter choice compared to Apple devices?
Is the Surface line really an underdog?
I will leave the number crunching to more talented people to underly my claim and rather give you the personal impressions that I base my take on:
- I know dozens of people who use Windows computers but their tablets are ipads.
- When you watch reviews online they often go “is it as good as an iPad?” while missing completely the point that it’s basically an iPad and a MacBook combined with none of their individual drawbacks (for example the iPad could be great for writers if you could run text expension / autocorrect on them).
- Go on a train today (or well, last year) and find me someone who uses a Surface. I can find you five using Apple devices in the same time.
- Do the same with a coffee shop and it’s not even a fair fight.
- Find me someone who does art on their Surface on YouTube. They exist, they just don’t advertize it.
- I know three people who use Surfaces at work and Macbooks as soon as they clock off.
For comparison here you can find sales figures for ipads since the first launch.
So why did the Surface line never really take off?
So with my totally-scientific analysis out of the way let me get to the mistakes that I believe were made and for the most part continue to be made to this day.
They artificially castrated their top-of-the-line product
I will never understand why they did not release a version of the Pro X that ran the usual architecture of Windows. As things stand you can go and ask any tech enthusiast what they think of the Surface Pro X and they will shrug and say “well, if it could run all Windows software it may have been a good product. I mean it looks better than the originals, but…”
You can do this to an experimental model, something mid-range maybe that comes with improved battery life in exchange for a new operating system — but if your best, most expensive model out there leaves the review market with “well it could be great if it worked” that is a self-made disaster.
Anything but their top-of-the-line product lacks in the visual department
Why do people buy Apple devices? Because they look good and because they always have. Until the M1 release lately you could always buy a bigger, better computer for less money — and I’m sure Windows will eventually catch up to that as well.
Powerful workstations still rely on Windows (or Linux) for GPU support and extendability, but in the everyday use segment we’ve all been spoiled for a long time now. Pick what fits you best which is likely based on the operating system choice you made growing up.
That leaves the looks and I’ll readily admit that the Surface line apart from the Pro X looks dated. It has a thick bezel, square design, looks nowhere near bad but it’s something that immediately jumps to mind.
Initially their drawing experience was inferior
I remember noticing this myself, the drawing experience on ipads was and still is great, levels ahead of even professional drawing tablets.
But the Pro 7 that I bought? Perfect drawing experience, no issues with anything. But that impression still sticks.
Their top-level marketing sucks if it even exists
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a “buy the new Surface” ad even when they launch a new version. Stores don’t advertize it, the only way for me to get a Surface ad online is to search for one myself and watch as the algorythms pick up on my buy intent.
On YouTube there is usually a bit of bubbling during new releases but it quickly dies off.
Their grassroots marketing pretty much doesn’t exist
Let me give you an example of what I mean here: As I started this post I searched on Unsplash for “Surface”, then quickly realized my erronious ways and searched “surface tablet”. That alone is pretty bad, but eh, I’ll take it.
So what came up were literally dozens of ipads and just two pictures showing actual Surface tablets. The first one you encounter shows a Surface with a broken screen.
If you search for “laptop” you’ll find dozens of pictures with ipads, if you search for “computer” you’ll see a lot of imac screens. This is subliminal marketing and for Mac, it’s everywhere. For Windows it’s not, it’s surprisingly hard to find Windows machines in tangentially related searches.
They never have any kind of killer features
You might argue that neither have the latest iPad releases, but somehow they still manage to bring out something new — even if it’s as useless as the lidar sensors that I’ve never seen anyone use or talk about.
They are “just” solid devices that are great, fluent, can run all (most) Windows applications and are a joy to use — you know, the reliable tool that gets the job done.
I feel like at this point they would be better off just plastering that slogan everywhere: Microsoft Surface — get the job done.
But with Apple you always have some kind of nifty things like automatic coupling with your iphone, a “new, universal charger” after years of making everyone ask “does anyone have an iphone cable”.
Summary: I wonder that this is such a one-sided battle
I can’t quite comment on the very entry-line models of Surface tablets but my 700€ Surface Pro 7 is a really, really solid piece of engineering that I use daily, that runs all I need it to run and that works both stationary and on the go.
It is everything I could want from a device and actually made me sell my old iPad Pro to a friend. So thank you, my little boxy friend with the thick bezels, you are fun to write on, work with, watch on.