The Surface Isn’t Rosy

Microsoft’s been in the news a little recently. Here’s my take.

This analyst roundup suggests sales for the Surface RT in the last quarter were somewhere between 230,000 and 1,000,000. No matter how you look at it, those numbers aren’t great. For comparison, Nokia sold 4.4 million high-end Lumia smartphones in the same time. (Apple sold 23 million iPads.)

What might be even more worrying than the-not-very-impressive numbers is that Microsoft didn’t announce any numbers themselves. Those Surface figures quoted above — between 230,000 and 1,000,000 — are pure analyst speculation. The numbers from both Nokia and Apple were reported directly from the respective companies. Officially. Not so with Microsoft. Not giving away sales figures for such an important and new product gives the impression Microsoft isn’t proud of them. Imagine if Apple released a new product then didn’t mention how many units were shipped during their next earnings call. There would be chaos.

How many times do I have to say it: The Microsoft Surface is a turd.

At least I figured out why the Surface RT exists. It’s more to protect Microsoft’s margins than to delight their customers. I still need to figure out why the Surface Pro exists.

My fear is that even if the Surface gets updated frequently and well, all customers who’ve bought one so far will be left out in the cold. Their Surfaces will be obsolete faster than they’d like.

And nobody wants that.

Unfortunately, today brings even more bad news for Microsoft: the 64GB Surface Pro will only have 23GB free storage space. Marco hits the nail on the head:

If your computer’s “1 TB” hard drive has 50 GB of preinstalled software and unusable space, you still have 95% of its space for user storage, which is hard to complain about. But advertising a “64 GB” Surface Pro that only has 35% of its space available to the user is a very different story.

Here’s a quick comparison of mobile device advertised storage space versus actual available space:

  • The 64GB Surface Pro has 23GB free space. That's 35%.
  • The 32GB Surface RT has 16GB free space. That’s 50%.
  • My 64GB iPad has 57.1GB free space. That's 89%.
  • My 16GB iPhone 5 has 13.4GB free. That's 83%.

It's worth noting that the space taken up with preinstalled software is generally fixed, so the smaller the device’s storage, the lower the average percentage of free space available will be. Even though that’s the case, compare the difference between a 16GB iPhone’s percentage — 83% — and the 64GB Surface Pro’s — 35%.

This is a problem.

So, this is what I think matters. First, Microsoft can (and hopefully will) make swift and meaningful updates to the Surface products, both hardware and software. These may very well make the devices more attractive to new customers. This is a good thing. However, the downside is that the more software improves, the higher system requirements this software will have. This will shorten the life of current Surfaces. If a customer purchases a Surface today, only to have Microsoft release huge software updates a few months from now which cause the device to run at a snail’s pace (or, worse, updates which the current device doesn’t even support), is the customer likely to stick around in Microsoft’s ecosystem?

The more optimistic take on the Surface is that Microsoft has a ton of money to blow and will keep beating the horse until it does what they want. The more pessimistic take is that the Surface-horse stumbled out of the gate and is only going to continue to fall down as time goes on.

I think what will actually happen is somewhere in between these strained metaphors. It’s just not roses.